Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Geoff Rhodes has visited his daughter-in-law Lea’s family in Laos multiple times over the past six years. If it’s not Geoff, another member of the Rhodes family will make the annual trip from Sydney to Pakse in southern Laos to visit Lea’s relations.

The two families have shared a special bond since 2013, when a terrible plane crash in Laos killed all 49 passengers on board, including Geoff’s son Gavin and wife Lea, and their two children Jade, 3, and Manfred, 17 months.

Below Geoff talks about how he’s kept in touch with Lea’s family, and why their bond is stronger than ever.

A visit with the family

“We wanted to maintain the relationship with Lea’s family, and they are equally keen to maintain it,” Geoff says. “They are a wonderful family.

“All my grandchildren have been to Laos at least once. They can’t speak Lao and the children over there can’t speak English but they get along.”

The last time Geoff visited Laos was in February 2019. He was greeted with a mighty embrace and joyous bellow from Lea’s elder brother at the airport.

“He screamed at the top of his voice ‘Geoff!’, ran across to me, picked me up and threw me four feet in the air,” Geoff says.

The pair had met many times before, but this was the first time Geoff had, literally, been swept off his feet.

Built in their honour

The exuberant welcome was the start of a week-long trip where Geoff and three friends – Peter, Monica and John – (pictured above) were special guests at the opening of a community hall that the Rhodes family helped to build in a ChildFund-supported community in the country’s north.

Tay MacNabb was a seasoned traveller when he embarked on a trip to Indonesia in early 2019. He had been to many developing countries before but he was unprepared for how much the trip to the island of Java would affect him.

He wasn’t going for just a holiday, or for work; he was going to meet eight-year-old Yumna, whom he had been sponsoring through ChildFund for almost four years.

“The whole experience was more rewarding than I had ever imagined,” he says.

Why Tay wanted to visit his sponsored child

After years of exchanging sponsor letters, Tay wanted Yumna and her family to be able to put a face to a name.

“I really wanted for Yumna and her parents to know that even though her sponsor was a great distance away living in another country, that her sponsor actually genuinely cared for them and their community to make the effort and take the time out to visit,” he says.

“I didn’t want to be this faceless person who merely corresponded by letters but rather someone who took an active and sincere interest in the progression and development of Yumna, which I believe can only be appreciated through a sponsor child visit.”