As part of Plan International’s 80th birthday we’re celebrating the community of people who have made our work possible: our supporters.
In 1972, John Lennon’s Imagine was rocketing up the music charts. Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister of Australia and withdrew the troops from Vietnam. It was also the year Sue and Doug Hair sponsored their first child with Plan International Australia. The couple are now retired and live on the Central Coast of New South Wales where their two daughters were born and raised.
In the early 70s, Sue worked as an Au Pair in London for a South African couple with three small boys. It was then she decided to start sponsoring a child.
“The family I worked for were sending and receiving letters and photos to a child through Plan. It was their example which made me decide to do the same when I returned home and found work. When Doug and I married he agreed to continue despite the fact that we were saving hard for a home of our own.”
Doug and Sue kindly shared with us their old letters and information booklets from ‘Foster Parents Plan’, as Plan International used to be known. It’s an absolute treasure-trove that delves into our work with children, the role of women, and is almost blunt in its honesty on the challenges faced at the time.
For example, one line in a booklet introduces our work in Ethiopia (our first program in Africa) as “PLAN/Ethiopia has hardly got off to a flying start.” It’s a fascinating collection. You can delve into these examples and more of Plan’s history here. It’s well worth a read.
Doug and Sue say sentimentality (and partly the documents getting lost in a box of old files) led them to hang onto them all these years.
“The children we supported in those early days were with us for a lot of years. Families move more often these days and we have some teenagers for shorter time frames,” Sue says.
Their very first sponsored child was from San Paulo, Brazil when she was around two-years-old. The withdrawal of the sponsorship when she turned 16 was “a big wrench” for Sue and Doug, but under positive circumstances. St Paulo was declared “stable” and Plan International was pulling out of the area. “It was satisfying to know that we were able to play a very small part in that.”
For global organisations like Plan it can be challenging to show that things are changing for the better when the world is still experiencing conflict, climate change and political instability.. It is heartening to hear about the positive changes we’ve achieved from supporters who have been with us for decades.
“We firmly believe ‘it takes a community to raise a child’ even if that community is far flung like Plan. We have read many of the success stories of children who have managed to lift themselves out of poverty with Plan’s help,” the couple told us.
The couple have plenty more examples of how Plan has changed to draw from.
“As the organisation has grown and society has become more aware of the consequences of ‘singling out’ one child or family in a community where most are in need, it has had to place more necessary curbing of sponsors’ enthusiasm to post ‘extras’ to their sponsored child.
Plan has taken on more ‘big picture’ projects and provided us with the opportunity to choose to support, or not, these extra projects. Plan now provides ways in which sponsors can support war torn or disaster ridden communities in very concrete ways.
Its reputation in the world community has grown over the 80 years which is a credit to all those whose efforts and insight are guiding the organisation.”
The couple have sponsored 10 children with us and are currently sponsoring Diana from Paraguay, who is in the 8th grade. “She knows about Australia and how far away we are. She is happy with school and her friends. She likes receiving photos from us.
“We hope that the two-way communication that Plan encourages allows families and children to know that someone is interested and shares with them in the task of raising a family and encouraging education.”
This approach clearly resonates with Sue and Doug, who have always been interested in the welfare of children. The whole family has supported local work with children from families under stress through the organisation Aunties and Uncles Co-operative Family Project as well as sponsoring children through Plan International Australia.
It’s an understandably large commitment to support sponsored children for decades. When asked why they continue to do so, the couple show a firm understanding of the importance of a deep and varied approach to tackling the root causes of poverty and discrimination.
“We applaud the grass roots work that Plan does in villages building basic infrastructure for the whole community. Plan’s work with women and girls has raised our hopes that communities will learn to recognise the value of its female members. Plan provides us with the structure, collective knowledge and funds to achieve our wish to “help build a better life for children.”
It’s humbling for us to have the firm backing of supporters like Sue and Doug. Those of us who weren’t around during the Vietnam War and might feel overwhelmed and disheartened within the short period of time that we have born witness to, particularly of late. To know that the people who have stood behind our organisation for longer than many of us who now work here have been on the planet have seen the change Plan International has been able to bring to so many children shows that we’re making change for the better.
Sue and Doug put it best: “In this world climate of constant change and lack of accountability from politicians and large corporations, consistency, dependability, accountability to sponsors, communities in need, and 80 years of experience in handling tragic events must signify to governments and sponsors that Plan is an organisation worthy of trust and support.”