Fearing for her life, Sharma* had to flee her country with a young child to escape from a violent partner.
“It was a horrible experience,” she said. “But now that we are living in Australia we are happy. I want to move forward instead of being fearful all the time. With God’s help we have come through so far but we still have a little bit of fear there.”
Sharma was one of 12 women who participated in Hope Stayz, a three-day program for disadvantaged women and their children hosted by Adventist Women Greater Sydney Conference in partnership with Crosslands Youth and Convention Centre in the April school holidays.
Adventist Women director Beryl Landers (pictured above, right) said most had suffered domestic violence. “They have come from difficult circumstances,” she said. “These women won’t probably ever be able to afford to take their families on a holiday. This has been an opportunity for them to have some time out while receiving practical help to get their lives back on track, boost their self-esteem and restore some value. One of our goals was to help them understand that even when they are facing struggles in life, God is with them and He loves them.”
Hosting the retreat for the first time was an enormous undertaking, but Mrs Landers was buoyed by the amazing support she received.
“God has provided above and beyond,” she said. “I took the Hope Stayz concept to the Breathe 2015 Adventist Women’s Conference and in a single offering the women of Greater Sydney Conference gave $10,000. It was an extraordinary response.”
Similarly, when a call-out was made for clothing and shoes for the women and children, donations flooded in from churches around the Conference. The donations were used to stock the Hope Stayz “pop-up boutique”—with its beautiful decorative touches and welcoming atmosphere it brought the women incredible joy. “It was such a beautiful surprise I was nearly in tears,” said Emily, a mother of three, after coming away from the boutique with a bag filled with clothes. “It made me feel very special.”
The mums attended talks on budgeting, raising children and improving self-esteem, along with a special beauty and pampering session—relaxed in the knowledge that their children were having plenty of fun at the kids’ club. Games and crafts were among the activities enjoyed by the 30 youngsters, including Sharma’s six-year-old son who couldn’t wait to join in the fun. “He’s loving it; he even woke up at 3am today asking if it was time for the kids’ club,” she said.
The program involved 47 volunteers —from cooks to counsellors to kids’ club carers—who all helped to make it a success.
“We will be following up with the women by connecting them with their local Adventist church and we are going to invite them to this year’s Breathe conference,” Mrs Landers said. “And with donations already coming in, it’s looking positive that we will be holding Hope Stayz again next year.”
* Names changed to protect identities.
Tracey Bridcutt is copyeditor for Adventist Record.