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Friday 11 June 2021

Guest Post: Amanda Mandie - Part One

Awarded an OAM 2021, for service to the community through charitable organisations, Amanda Mandie is the Executive Director at Koala Kids Foundation, whose mantra is we believe happy helps. 

Their Vision, that Koala Kids will touch every child and young person undergoing cancer treatment in Victoria.

Their Mission is: Our volunteers provide small things that make a difference to children and young people during cancer treatment, their families and their healthcare team, and their Purpose, is to bring happy moments to children and young people during cancer treatment, their families and their healthcare team.

Koala Kids was founded by our then thirteen-year-old son Nick in 2005 when he was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. He studied very hard to perform in the synagogue in front of many family and friends and was given a lot of gifts for his efforts, some in cash, which he decided to donate to a cause in support of adolescents who were less fortunate than himself.

Whilst looking around for a suitable avenue to participate in, we realised our daughter was in class with a little boy undergoing final stages of leukaemia treatment. His father – Tony, had launched the Million Dollar Lunch on behalf of the Koala Foundation, a group of parents of children undergoing cancer treatment.

There was some sort of opportunity within Tony’s organisation, which is integrally involved with the children’s cancer centres at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Monash Children’s Hospital.

How could young teenagers get involved in making days or school holidays brighter for siblings and children with cancer? We were told it was a great idea, but we couldn’t do it outside of hospital.

Insurance and psychosocial issues when explained to me, were obstacles. How could healthy kids from relatively normal lives, take other kids to the football or movies or hang out with them; kids whose lives have been turned inside-out by their siblings’ cancer diagnosis.

I recognised that there were already a lot of organisations filling the space, like Camp Quality, Red Kite, Challenge, Make a Wish, and Starlight, etc.

We decided to start a holiday program in the hospital. We couldn’t involve Nick and his friends because again, they had to be fifteen to be volunteers, but a group of girlfriends and I, a couple who were very arty, started doing art sessions in the Children’s Cancer Centre.

We started with school holiday sessions; creative art and story-telling, etc, for children, who with their siblings, were hanging around because they were all waiting for appointments. This went really well.

The art therapist mentioned that glue sticks, coloured pencils, sharpeners, markers, colouring books, and coloured paper were needed. Five boxes were donated from the various Officeworks stores. I took one in each week.

I had an orange basket. I would go in with it full of supplies for the art therapist and samples that I’d gathered. I became princess of the Two Dollar Shop. As a mother of young children, I knew what things would be good for children in hospital. That took off.

I continued to collaborate with the various therapists involved in the sessions for art, music, and play with the cancer kids, and assist them by procuring craft activities and other incentives that could be used to motivate or occupy the children having treatment.

That’s how we grew this gorgeous little project called Koala Kids. On my own at the start, with Nick in the background, we quickly amassed what we called a core group of girlfriends and we would meet once a month.

We’d say, ‘Mother’s Day is coming up. What can we buy inexpensively?’ We were using Nicholas’s money and by this stage, my parents had their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and asked all their friends to make a donation to Nick’s program.

For a long time, we ran it on the smell of an oily rag and got a lot of things donated. There were little things for children to do or make while they were in hospital, to give mother or a special friend for Mother’s Day.

Not long after that, the kids wanted to make cards to go with the gifts, so we put everything into an orange bag. This orange thing took off. The kids would then turn these orange bags into their cards.

There are some gorgeous stories about mothers who found the scrunched up orange bag shoved at the back of the cupboard hidden from them, only to be forgotten and found three weeks after Mother’s Day.

At that stage, we were dealing only with the Royal Children’s Hospital, where 220 children were diagnosed with cancer each year. On average, these kids remained in treatment for around three years. There were 750 children in treatment at any one time either in the ward, or as outpatients.

We then spread our wings and went to Monash Children’s Cancer Centre. A couple of years later, we established a relationship with Peter McCallum Cancer Centre where children go for their radiotherapy.

Eventually, our super hero program evolved. We decided that the children having radiation were super heroes. We registered Koala Kids Super Heroes. We believe happy helps became our mantra. From then on, children could nominate their favourite super hero. We’d source the costume and its accessories, wrap it all in white paper, tie it with an orange ribbon and give it to the children. At the end of their treatment, they would receive a custom designed Koala Kids Super hero certificate.

* Please join us on Monday 14 June at 5pm for the second half of our inspiring interview with Amanda Mandie on the Koala Kids Foundation and her special wish that includes our authors and illustrators.