By Sheree Hoddinett
Judy Moore and Chalon Lee’s retired life on Bribie is a far cry from the humanitarian aid work they were once a part of overseas. These days, this dynamic duo spend their time enjoying the beach, being out in nature with the wildlife, four-wheel driving, photography, and every other aspect Bribie has to offer, even including ballet for Chalon. It’s definitely a world away from integrating themselves in the culture of another country, providing food to the hungry or even being held hostage with the chance of their life being taken. But these ladies wouldn’t have it any other way.
For Judy, her move into humanitarian aid work came about purely by accident. Married at the age of 20 and with six kids (three of her own and three foster kids) to care for by the time she was 25, Judy knew by the time her youngest child turned 10 that she wanted to go back to work.
“I thought I’d look for a part time job and see if that’s what I really wanted to do,” she said. “World Vision was advertising for a 40-hour famine clerk, and I just applied for it. I didn’t even know who World Vision was at the time. Thirteen years later I was still there.”
As for Chalon, who originally hails from Atlanta in the United States, her foray into humanitarian aid work came about a little more naturally.
“I was always interested in other cultures,” she said. “At university I went with the American Peace Corp to Congo for two years and learnt French and cross-cultural work and that gave me the foundation for overseas work and it kind of stayed with me. There were droughts in North Africa, so I went back and helped out and just took it year-by-year.”
Judy and Chalon became firm friends while undertaking their respective aid work overseas and created a bond that will last a lifetime. They each have a mixture of memories from their time spent helping others internationally, some amazing stories and some not as good. Being held hostage and having guns pointed at their heads is just a part of what happens, but their faith helps them through the ordeal.
“One particular event happened when I was in Syria, I was taken out of a meeting and I thought this is it,” Judy said. “Some men came into the meeting and asked who was in charge and I said me! I told my colleagues as I left that if I didn’t come back to tell my kids that I love them. It was totally innocent in the end, they just wanted to know what I was doing, but you just don’t know. Things like that happen but you could be walking along here and get hit by a bus or go into the city and you might get mugged. But there’s more good than bad so I don’t regret one day of my journey.”
In taking the good with the bad, both women recall some of their favourite memories from their humanitarian aid work.
“I think my favourite culture that I worked in was Mali with the Tuareg Nomads,” Chalon said. “The culture is very sophisticated and interesting there. I had a camel, a horse, and a motorcycle. It was herd restocking after the drought, where a lot of the nomads had lost their livelihoods so that was a real memorable cultural environment that I liked very much.”
“There are two that stick in my mind,” Judy adds. “In Albania, we had a 6-year-old boy that couldn’t walk or talk and only weighed 9kg. We took his family food and I bought physiotherapists in from New Zealand to teach his mother how to massage his legs. After about three years of that, he could walk, talk, and go to school, which was marvellous. There was another one in Rwanda, a girl called Rita. She was physically disabled and in the confusion of war in Rwanda, families were all split up and she was left in the mud hut by herself. The rebels came and said they were going off to battle but they would come back and kill her because she was useless. We found her and took her into one of our unaccompanied children’s homes. It took 12 months, but we eventually found her mother alive in a different village. We do big things, but there’s the little things that affect individuals, so you know what you’re doing really does make a difference.”
While Judy would drop everything and head overseas again for aid work, Chalon is now more settled into retired life and tackling new challenges.
“I’m not so driven by it or attracted by it like Judy is,” Chalon said. “I’ve moved beyond that. Although I feel blessed to have been there and helping others, I’ve shifted to new interests now. When I was younger, I got my pilots licence, so I shifted into flying drones. My pilots’ licence is not active now, but it gave me a love for aerial stuff, so I started flying drones and then doing drone photography. I’ve always liked reptiles too, so I recently got my permit from the Department of Environment and Science for snake catching and relocation.
“And just for something a little bit different and out of my comfort zone, I’ve started doing ballet at U3A. It’s a challenge, probably more for the instructor than me. I’m normally taking on more active sport, so this is a bit different, but I’m really enjoying it.”
Settling on Bribie was an easy decision for both women, especially after living in war zones. They still spend their time helping others, only in a different way and enjoy being able to head off and travel when they want, especially with family in America.
“We used to scuba dive all the time, whenever we could but now, we say no we’re too old for that and instead we snorkel,” Judy said. “So, we’re doing the same sort of thing but in a different way. We actually go and do gardening for those who can’t do it themselves. You don’t have to be on the frontline, you just have to be active, and it has to feel like you still have a purpose in life.”