Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Why Maria has chosen to leave a legacy

Having grown up in a poor family in Portugal, Sydney resident Maria da Graca Guerreiro knows all too well how much a little money in Australia can go for children in need overseas.

She has been donating to charities since she began working at the age of 18, and over the past eight years has been sponsoring two children through ChildFund.

A couple of years ago, upon retiring from a 40-year career at the University of Sydney managing and designing postgraduate courses, Maria decided to leave a gift in her will to ChildFund.

“It’s brilliant that I have earned enough money that there is something left there to keep going and helping children after I’ve gone,” Maria, 61, says. “That’s important to me; once I’m gone and I can’t give any longer, at least I’ve left something for ChildFund to continue making a difference.

“It may not be a lot of money here, but it’s a lot of money to help people overseas. Even with a small amount here, you can do a lot in the communities overseas.”

Shaped by a childhood of poverty

Maria noticed the impacts of poverty early in her life. Although her family home was in a wealthy area in Portugal’s capital of Lisbon, she and her parents lived in a modest home.

“We were renting a place from this old, well-off lady,” Maria says. “The place didn’t have any electricity. We didn’t have a bathroom; the toilet was all the way down the backyard and it was hole in the ground with a door. To have a bath, we would boil a lot of water and put it into a big bowl.”

Maria remembers often being drawn to helping people on the streets.

With her mother she would often make sandwiches for people who were homeless, and donate her ice cream money to people with disability begging at the local marketplace.

“Poverty was always obvious to me,” Maria says. “I would always notice if someone had hardly any clothes, or holes in their clothes. We were poor, but we were never that poor.

“I just couldn’t understand why I had food, and why I was ok. It just seemed unfair. It used to kill me to see them like that.”

Maria’s passion to help others runs in her blood; her mother has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration in her life. Despite having lost both parents as a child and surviving a violent marriage, her mother was loving and generous.

“Sometimes the kindest people have the hardest life,” Maria says. “But they give you strength because you think, they’ve gone through so much and they can still be good people.

“My mother’s life was difficult from the moment she could walk; she never had anyone to love and no one to care for her until I came along. But my mother was never cynical. She gave everything she had.”

Maria flew her mother from Portugal to Australia several years ago, and they spent her mother’s last years of life together in Sydney.

Maria has decided to leave behind a legacy for ChildFund

Today, Maria lives in a comfortable home in Sydney’s inner west with her loyal dog, Princess,  whom she rescued from a shelter 12 years ago.

When it came to writing her will, leaving a bequest to ChildFund was an easy decision that she made alone. “I don’t have any children and thank goodness my brother is OK; he works and so does my sister-in-law, so they don’t really need it,” Maria says.

She says trust and credibility are key when it comes to leaving a bequest to a charity.

“If someone is considering leaving a bequest I would say go for it, but make sure it’s an institution that you know are going to do some good with the money,” Maria says. “I would suggest the charities that I support.

“Leaving a bequest to ChildFund has been important to me. I know it will be used wisely. ChildFund is aware of where the poverty is and where the difficulties are, and will allocate the money according to the need.

“It’s not just giving to a child; the money supports the entire community. It sets up children and their families to be self-sufficient. They need food and medicine, but they also need schools to be able to go further.

“It’s making a huge difference to quite a few people, not just one or two people.”

A final gift

For Maria, there is no better feeling than knowing she will leave behind a legacy that will help children and families in need.  “There’s no money in the world that you have that will make you feel that good,” she says. “It’s important to me that I’m doing something worthwhile.”

Despite growing up in a poor family Maria considers herself lucky, and encourages her friends and family, who have the means, to also leave a gift in their will to ChildFund.

She is hoping her own decision will inspire others to do the same. “All you can do is talk about it and hopefully they’ll get a message,” Maria says.

 “It’s a matter of using your head: why are you leaving to someone who has got so much? Give it to someone who needs it. That’s my philosophy.

“I’m so lucky to have everything that I have. I think it’s my responsibility to share it.

 “The world needs more money for the ones who need it. Hopefully with time, we can make a difference.”

“I’m grateful for organisations like ChildFund that are there to be able to do the things that us individuals would not be able to do alone.

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