Dubbo man speaks out for those without a voice

THE BIG smiles of more than 1000 poor African children left an indelible impression on the life of one Dubbo man.

Dubbo City Community Service Award winner Garry Braithwaite shared his personal journey of volunteering with the Daily Liberal.

Mr Braithwaite said his first community work began in 1997 as a member of the dementia group of 40 people at Lourdes Hospital helping the co-ordinator visiting houses.

The then Macquarie Area Health Service decided to remove 30 aged care beds from the area.

Mr Braithwaite said this would have had "disastrous implications" on the local hospital. He decided to start a petition to prevent the move and over eight weeks he collected 16,000 signatures.

"Part of the last stage of dementia is people losing their voice and I stood up for them as they had no voice to fight with," he said.

The petition was successful as the then state health minister decided the area health service would not remove a single aged care bed.

Mr Braithwaite said what really touched him was his three-week trip to Tanzania in 2007.

With a small group from West Dubbo Rotary he went to serve the School of St Jude.

"It was life-changing to go to a third world country and experience people who are born in the world with nothing, with a smile on their face," he said.

"I never saw a child with a scowl on their face."

He said he came back and felt compelled to help the school children who had touched his life.

Mr Braithwaite collected, repaired and sold bicycles and sent the money to the school.

"It was almost $3000 over four years which is a lot of money to Tanzanian students to improve their daily life and education opportunities," he said.

A second trip to Tanzania was in the pipeline for late next year and he encouraged Dubbo residents to join him.

The 78-year-old said he grew up in a simple family home and it was instilled in him to help others in need. He said he also served the community by volunteering at the Vietnam Veterans and Community Men's Shed "repairing lives not just bikes".

"An 86-year-old man came one time and told me he lost his wife fours years ago and he suffers depression," he said.

"Now he loves to come to the men's shed as it provides time to go out for a few hours, it is a relaxing place and we all help each other."

Mr Braithwaite appealed for more members to join the shed.

"It fills the void of a few hours and it is something to look forward to each week," he said.

"Come along and have fun, enjoy a barbecue, drink and help others."

Mr Braithwaite said young people had everything at their fingertips.

There was a great need for the future leaders of the country to go out in the community and experience the joys of serving others.

"There are many frail aged people who could do with someone doing their grocery shopping or taking them to medical appointments," he said.

Mr Braithwaite said the best part of his long years of volunteering were the results of his hard work at the end of the day.

"It is rewarding and it doesn't cost anything," he said.

abanob.saad@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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