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8 March 2021
Fiona now helps collect donations for the Salvos at a local shopping centre.
In a tough neighbourhood, Fiona gives to others the acceptance and friendship she has found for herself
Fiona’s story, as told by Bryce Davies
Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) who has worked for many years with marginalised communities in Queensland and New South Wales. Over the next four weeks in Salvos Magazine, he will share some stories and struggles of people he has come across while serving in the often-troubled suburb of Villawood in Greater Western Sydney. Each story will focus on the unique challenges these brave people face, and how they are connecting with their community with the support of their friends at the Salvos. Story printed with permission.
Fiona was born into a supportive Catholic family and had a happy childhood with her brothers. She was not fantastic at school but got by. She was very shy and not overly confident, so when a boy at the movies took an interest in her one day, she was soon in a relationship that resulted in pregnancy.
Fiona’s strict Catholic parents were horrified and she felt judged and rejected. Not long after the child was born, the baby’s father became abusive and the relationship disintegrated. Fiona was left traumatised from the abuse, and a single mum without family support. Life has been tough ever since. She has lived in the government housing units in Villawood, Greater Western Sydney, for 23 years, and has had to learn to fend for herself and find ways to survive.
When the Salvos started a community program in Villawood two years ago, Fiona was defensive and often aggressive. She made it clear that she trusted nobody and was not about to be used and abused again.
Over time, we invited her to cook and help out, to give her a chance to get to know people and learn to trust the protection and boundaries the Salvos had in place to build community. This felt safe for her as she was in control.
Conflicts would often flare up though, and angry words would flow, but it has become easier and more normal to chat these things through now and trust that a fair result will eventuate. Fiona has been heavily involved with the Salvos in the Villawood hub for over a year, and she wears her Salvos shirt and cap with pride. She has helped with catering, as well as collecting for the Salvos’ Red Shield Appeal. Fiona has loved the opportunity to serve, and in some ways, mother, and look after others, as her own daughter is 27 now and less dependent. Fiona has been looking for ways to offer her gifts and love to others.
Every week a bread delivery comes to Villawood and, as COVID-19 limits the capacity of the usual Salvo workers, Fiona has taken on the role of managing this service. Residents in Villawood now get regular fresh bread and a chance to connect and engage through her.
Social isolation is a challenge for Fiona, and she can sometimes feel sad and anxious, but having people around that she trusts, and having a way to get involved in community life, has been good for her. She has missed the regular meals and interactions with the Salvos over the past few months and is looking forward to things slowly getting back to normal.
Fiona has been sharing more and more of her life with the Salvos at Villawood, especially since our female worker, Maryam, arrived. As she shares, she is finding that she is no longer judged but given grace and compassion. Recently, Fiona returned to a special place where her grandmother used to live and, with Maryam, she was able to resolve some issues in her heart and experience some significant healing.
Fiona’s Catholic faith has never left her; she has a solid belief in God and a deep sense that God is love. She sees the heart of people rather than just their behaviour.
Villawood is a tough neighbourhood and there is often violence and all sorts of drug and alcohol use and abuse. But Fiona is a force for good in this community and has provided a welcoming table of food and friendship to heaps of people who often feel terrible about themselves. She gives them a go and tries to be gracious.
It’s not always easy, but when you have experienced grace yourself, it is possible to find it in your heart for others.