Last weekend the Melanie Jewson Foundation was formally launched to honour the life of Melanie Jewson, a Geelong teenager who died tragically in a car accident in 2004. She was about to turn 19.

Vila, Vanuatu. Lovely from the air, lovelier on the ground thanks to the work of the Melanie Jewson Foundation

Melanie was a remarkable person who had a zest for life. She was a regular at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre where she loved to perform. She danced and sang like an angel. She had the respect and love of her peers being elected the school captain of Western Heights College in 2003.

She had a gift for communication: in movement, in voice and with the written word. On her tribute website melaniejewson.com there is a short piece of her writing which tells the story of a particular performance, of her passion for music and of her love for her father. It is simply impossible to read it with a dry eye.

In 2003 Melanie travelled to Vanuatu with her mother Elizabeth where they spent time helping in the Vila Central Hospital. There, Melanie was touched by a people who live life in an extraordinarily rich and selfless way but a people who are also poor and need help. Moved by the desire to celebrate a wonderful culture and at the same time make things better, she was bitten by the Pacific bug.

So when her family considered what ought to be the purpose of the Melanie Jewson Foundation the answer was clear. The Melanie Jewson Foundation is dedicated to the work of the Vila Central Hospital. When asked what it needed most, the hospital’s answer was a chapel. Given Melanie and her family are people of faith, it made perfect sense.

With little money and little experience in chapel construction, the Jewsons and their friends built the Melanie Jewson Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the hospital. Two months ago I had the pleasure of visiting the chapel. It is a gorgeous building with a pretty butterfly mosaic in front of the altar, representing Melanie, and a butterfly window created by Wathaurong Glass above the entrance.

As well as being a place of worship and contemplation the chapel is being used in a myriad of ways from nursing classes to rehab sessions. As a measure of the Vila Central Hospital’s gratitude its CEO, Leipakoa Matariki, made the journey from Port Vila to Bannockburn to be at the launch last Saturday.

While the Foundation’s main achievement and focus to date has been the chapel and its maintenance, it has much more work to do in health and education. At the launch, the Foundation was able to give the hospital a pulse oximeter. Providing much needed medical equipment to the hospital will continue to be core business. As will assisting kids with their school fees so that they can attend school.

The Pacific isn’t always at the top of the list when Australians give expression to their charity and compassion. This is particularly tragic because, as a part of the world which struggles to attract global attention, Australian support is absolutely critical. It is very precious and rare indeed to discover a foundation which is wholly dedicated to assisting health and education in a Pacific country. The Melanie Jewson Foundation really matters.

It is hard to fathom why a person like Melanie Jewson should be taken from this earth so prematurely. No doubt this is a question her family have wrestled with every day since 2004.

But what is very clear to me is that in all that has happened since Melanie’s death there has been a determination on the part of the Jewson family to somehow fashion positivity out of this desperately sad event. And through this determination Melanie’s life continues to be a force for good.

For the Jewsons and their friends, faith has been a great comfort and, in this, their faith has been affirmed. Melanie would have undoubtedly seen this as a good thing. At a personal level, as I read Melanie’s website and weep, my children are given bigger hugs than usual and I am reminded that the most important role I will ever play will be as their father and my wife’s husband. This is also a great thing. And the Melanie Jewson Foundation is a wonderful thing too.

All of this was not inevitable. My job gives me the privilege of witnessing human courage in many forms. But I have never witnessed greater courage than that shown by the Jewson family in squarely confronting this tragedy. They have stared every parent’s worst nightmare in the face and amidst unimaginable pain and constant struggle, there is triumph.

In them I find deep inspiration. And through them the Melanie Jewson Foundation, like Melanie Jewson herself, has made and will continue to make an enormous difference to this world.

Richard Marles is Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Member for Corio, VIC.

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8 comments

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    • Nathan says:

      05:53am | 24/04/12

      A chapel on the top of their list? Hospitals in Australia complain of being under resourced so i would think the situation there would be a hell of allot worse. What they really need is not another church/chapel but medical supplies. So many better causes that struggle for media attention and funding

    • egg says:

      09:38am | 24/04/12

      That’s exactly what I thought. Surely the hospital would’ve been more interested in beds, resources, medicine & staff?

      What a waste…

    • SimonFromLakemba says:

      12:31pm | 24/04/12

      The pacific is a hugely popular base for Faith - Mormon, Adventists, Christians etc

      So doesn’t surprise me that they wanted it.

    • Tony of Poorakistan says:

      02:27pm | 24/04/12

      I’m more interested in why they would spend the money on a bunch of foreigners ...

    • ronny jonny says:

      06:17am | 24/04/12

      The Melanie Jewson Foundation sounds like it will do good practical work on the ground in Vanuatu, ultimately making real difference in peoples lives. It is a shame however that it’s first project was a pointless waste of time and resources. This is a recurring feature in some of the Pacific regions, money and energy that could be better spent building, say, a clinic or a school or a water pump or taking anti mosquito measures, vaccinations, basic health care instruction, so many projects that need doing but what is the first thing they do? Build a chapel. Blows my mind. I have seen this on many occaisions in PNG. New settlers moving into an area, working flat out getting a nice big building up, when I ask what they are building it is always a church. My next question is usually along the lines of do they use it for other purposes when not worshipping in it (school room, meeting hall). The answer is always a sort of shocked no, it is a holy place. Meanwhile these people are living in shacks that I wouldn’t keep my dog in. Good work missionaries. I guess it’s no use saving bodies when you could be saving souls.

    • Slothy says:

      11:53am | 24/04/12

      From the article: “the chapel is being used in a myriad of ways from nursing classes to rehab sessions.”

      There’s plenty to criticise about the provision of aid to the Pacific, but I think they get a pass on that particular point.

    • Fiddler says:

      10:53am | 24/04/12

      Not really sure how she’s a hero. When I were a teenager if my rich parents offered me a trip to Vanuatu for free on the condition I had to do a bit of work over there I’m sure I would have. Anything would beat having to spend your summer in Victoria FFS

 

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