Village elders told her they were grateful for the tank but “they yearned to give their children a decent education which they believed was their only escape from a subsistence economy”.
“Not only that but the remote villages around Tufi had fallen through the cracks left by major charities, religions and governments,” Pat said.
Returning once again to Maryborough the couple decided to make a difference by supplying school basics and clothing.
Pat’s first aim was to provide comfortable, smart clothes for the children.
She aimed to “engage the many women on the Fraser Coast” who, like herself, owned sewing machines that had “laid dormant since their children had grown up”.
“Most of these women were talented, enjoyed sewing and had the time to dust off their old machines,” she said.
“Even before the first lot of garments were complete we had enough donated clothing, school and medical supplies to arrange the first shipment to the villages.
“A working bee was called to pack and sort the goods and local company Richers Transport took them free of charge to the Townsville wharf.”
Following an unexpectedly high excise bill from PNG Customs, Pat had the boxes flown from Port Moresby to Tufi where the owners of Tufi Dive Resort, Tony and Linda Honey, distributed them according to the labels on each box.
By that stage Pat’s band of helpers had grown significantly and Maryborough parish priest Fr Paul Kelly and parish secretary Mary Kirkpatrick “added their talents to the cause”.
“Pat was able to tap into parish resources such as the hall for a fundraising soup night and an afternoon garment parade,” Frank said.
“The parish office became a clearing station and the parish meeting room a location for exchanging patterns and materials.
“(And) although the bulk of supporters come from St Mary’s parish, women and men of all denominations are involved in Sew PNG.”
In 2011, some Year 9 students from St Mary’s College, Maryborough, made waterproof shoulder bags for the PNG children who travel to school by canoe.
The college also held a trivia night to help offset the customs and shipping costs.
Rising costs of the project have also been met through donations from service clubs such as the Maryborough Catholic Women’s League and Maryborough Quota.
Frank said the “immediate beneficiaries of the project are the villages, schools and health clinic in Tufi District”.
“At a second layer Pat has found the project gives many Maryborough women a social and respite outlet from their daily cares,” he said.
“Some women care for elderly or disabled family, others are sick or housebound and still others are lonely.
“None of these women seek involvement in a structured organisation, most are happy to work from home, and all love creating beautiful garments for people living in the third world.”
Donations for Sew PNG are given by a variety of sources with a focus on materials in “good condition and suitable for the tropics”.
“Two men in Brisbane whose wives recently passed away rang Pat and donated the material their wives had collected over the years,” Frank said.
“Boltons, a furniture store in Maryborough, gave sun-proof curtain material for making the shoulder bags.
“Maryborough Junior Tennis saves old balls to be sent to village children.
“The Sandgate Uniting Church Men’s Dinner Fellowship collected school books, clothing and sports equipment.
“(And) a local charity donates its surplus for recycling into wearable garments, for example large pairs of shorts are refashioned into two girls’ dresses.
“Other garments like flannelette nightdresses are cut into nappies which are then sent to Port Moresby Hospital or the Tufi Health Clinic.”
Frank and Pat know “God is at work” through Sew PNG because it is about so much more than sewing.
“Recently a woman rang Pat asking to see the DVD of our 2008 trip,” Frank said.
“She said she had heard of the movie and although suffering from depression, would like to try sewing after an absence of 30 years.
“A week later she rang back saying that after watching the movie she made two small dresses and had not felt better in months.”
Pat’s motto, inspired by St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, is “you cannot see a need and walk away from it”.
“I’ve always known the generosity of the Maryborough community,” she said.
“(But) the depth of support for this project has left me breathless.
“And while we don’t want to come across as saints or Santa Claus, anything we get we want to share.”
During Frank and Pat’s most recent visit, a representative of the people of Tufi said, “No one ever before has cared about us, except the people of Maryborough.”
To help Sew PNG phone the Burketts on (07) 4121 2579.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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