The RCA Biennial Conference was held in Sydney over the weekend of 12 – 13 April, 2014. This gave the opportunity for representatives from the RCA foundations and support groups from around Australia to get together and share their experiences and ideas about organisational issues, fundraising, volunteering, utilising electronic media (especially social media) and generally looking to the future of the organisation.
There were about 50 people at the conference, and it was a great pleasure to have in attendance both Sr Joaquim Soares, the Director of Klibur Domin in Timor-Leste, and Mrs Priyo Lall, the Head of Special Education at Raphael in India. It was also wonderful to welcome Carolyn Tapley from the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation in Canterbury New Zealand, and Maxine Dale and Kathy Martin from the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation in Manawatu New Zealand.
The opening address was given by Kevin Bailey who is the former Honorary Consul in Melbourne, for Timor-Leste. Kevin certainly gave us a lot to think about in terms of our personal values and our commitment to the Ryder-Cheshire aim of working toward the relief of suffering.
It was very informative to hear firsthand reports about each of the Ryder-Cheshire Homes including Klibur Domin, Raphael, Manawatu, Ivanhoe, Singleton and Mt Gambier. There were common threads running through all the reports such as the constant effort to provide a welcoming home environment, as well as special challenges such as the continuing battle against TB being waged at both Klibur Domin and Raphael.
Another very interesting part of the Saturday program was about the uses of social media. This included a preview of the design for the new RCA website, which will be compatible with iPhones and iPads. There was also discussion about the uses of Facebook and the archiving of digital files, and we witnessed the first RCA experiment in crowd funding with the launch of the Timor-Leste Cerebral Palsy Awareness project.
The guest speaker at the conference dinner was Fr Paul Coleman, the brother of the late Barbra (Coleman) Lewis who was Leonard Cheshire’s personal representative in India and a founding figure of Raphael. Fr Coleman’s address was erudite, entertaining and relevant to both the history and the future of RCA.
On Sunday, another highlight of the conference was the opportunity to see two films from the Ryder-Cheshire archives. The first was a Polish produced documentary about the inspirational life and work of Sue Ryder, and the second was about a young Australian nurse who spent several years at Raphael setting up the TB program. It was fascinating to see this young woman working under extremely difficult conditions and then to realise that more than forty years later she was sitting there with us. Anne Boyd, the MC of the conference, was that dedicated young nurse and remains a dedicated member of RCA.
The conference was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, put names to new faces and to enjoy the ambience of the harbour city. Congratulations go to everyone involved in planning and running this event, and in particular to Christine Hannan and the NSW Foundation who hosted us, to Anne Boyd in the role of MC and to Terry Warr who provided all the IT support. We look forward to meeting again for the next RCA Biennial Conference at Ballarat in 2016.