HEAVEN ON EARTH
Last Christmas, Anne Salvador received an unexpected gift. She was at her home when her cousin, a Catholic nun based in Sri Lanka, phoned.
Soon, she heard a chorus of over 80 children singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas down the phone line.
The children were at the Bethlehem crèche, a support centre for children aged up to five whose families live in nearby slums, which for the past 16 years has been supported by Anne's charity Network Heaven. "Tears were pouring down my cheeks," recalls Anne, who has received an Order of Australia medal for her work with the charity that supports poverty stricken children in Sri Lanka.
"I felt very emotional."
Anne emigrated from Sri Lanka in 1974 and carved out a career as an accountant in the IT and financial services sector.
But in 2001, she felt a calling to do more.
"I said to my husband (late husband Laurie Dunlop), 'Something's been on my heart - I'd like to do something beneficial. My cousin feeds children in the slums while their mums go out to work.'
"And he said, 'Well, why don't you ring her?'"
Anne made the call and, not surprisingly, received an enthusiastic response.
"My cousin asked, 'Can you send a gift for each child? I will send you the list of all their names and ages,'" she tells Peninsula Living.
"The children get plenty of second-hand goods, but they will never ever get anything new because they are living in that poverty cycle. So that's how we started."
The project received an outpouring of local support, particularly from a parish belonging to another of Anne's cousins, Sherrile Sullivan.
Network Heaven volunteers put together gift packs containing new clothes, underwear, school stationery, toiletries, a small novelty item and a lolly bag - all gift wrapped and addressed to individual children.
“We started with 25 boxes. In the last two years, we've sent 246 tea chest boxes," Anne says, beaming. “I have stumbled upon a lot of good people in the Northern Beaches community."
A team of volunteers also sew culturally suitable dresses for girls aged six and above from scratch.
“It really gives you joy - especially when you see those kids wearing and holding those things you have packed," Anne says.
"So, it's making a difference. You don't have to do a lot - a simple gift pack will help that kid so much - they will have the pens they need just to get started at school, for example. We have so much and they have so little."
Anne adds, “I have on my business card the quote from Mother Teresa, ‘We can do no great things but small things with great love.' They are the things that matter at the end of the day.”