La Trobe arms deal

La Trobe University has become an ‘arms’ dealer in the Philippines – those used for hugging, not mass destruction

Arms together For five years now, Image La Trobe, the University’s official La Trobe merchandise store, has been running its ‘Arms are for Hugging’ campaign.

The campaign reaches out to the people of Mindanao whose lives have been shattered by armed conflict, especially families and displaced children. Estimates are that decades of conflict across the country have displaced up to two million people, about half of those on Mindanao.

The shop, on the main Melbourne campus at Bundoora, collects funds by selling teddy bears donated by suppliers, to students, staff and other supporters. It then sends the money – and the bears bearing messages – to families in evacuation centres of the troubled province. It also raises funds from its gift-wrapping service.

Kathie Mathews, Manager of Image La Trobe, says that this year, with the added plight of floods and typhoons, the campaign has been extended. So far more than $2,000 has already been sent. Ten dollars US buys a hygiene pack for one family, an initiative aimed particularly at recent flood victims, and $1,000 dollars builds a basic house for people who have lost everything.

Ms Mathews says Image La Trobe supports Community and Family Services International, (CFSI) which has consultative status within the United Nations.

CFSI Executive Director Steven Muncy has written to her, saying the bears help children cope in their difficult circumstances. They also demonstrate to parents and other adults in the evacuation centres that people in Australia care about those less fortunate than themselves.

Former head of La Trobe University’s School of Social Work and Social Policy (now University Ombudsman) Cliff Picton is a board member of the Philippine-based aid organisation.

He was instrumental in setting up the scheme, and he and his wife Jane, intercultural support co-ordinator in Social Work, deliver the bears direct to the Philippines on their regular trips to the region. They left the campus this week with the latest swag of some 100 bears.

Mr Picton says that for the past 12 years, the University’s Department of Social Work and Social Policy has run an international clinical placement program in the Philippines for its final year students. Some 40 students have worked there during that time.

This year, two clinical placement students gained more experience than they expected. They were caught in the floods that followed typhoon Ketsana in September. Working with CFSI, they were then part of the assessment and recovery phase of the humanitarian work in the region.

Contact:  Kathie Mathews, Image La Trobe, Tel: 03 9479 1154 or Ernest Raetz 041 226 1919.

Photos available