Originally from Wagga, Philippa Tyndale’s career – or careers – have taken her around the world.
This weekend, she’ll be returning to the Riverina to share the extraordinary story behind her second book, The School of Restoration, co-authored with the inspiring Alice Achan.
Philippa will be the guest speaker at a literary high tea, raising funds for well-known Wagga charity Carevan.
A former journalist, Philippa and her husband, Andrew, became involved in humanitarian work in the 1990s with microfinance organisation Opportunity International.
“Microfinance was really very new at that point and so my husband and I rode through as Opportunity grew from about 30,000 clients globally to now around five million,” she explains.
In Bali and the Philippines, the pair witnessed the way small loans were able to transform lives and grow grassroots businesses that empowered communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
“We got quite involved in work in the Philippines doing a whole range of things, from working with street dwellers, to create a way for them to get off the streets and into jobs, and anti-sex-trafficking work as well,” Philippa says.
In 2004, Philippa published a biography on Opportunity International founder David Bussau.
“He was always a very inspirational and empowering leader in the organisation; it was always that we’re working with these people and we’re not part of a hierarchy where we just feed down,” she says.
“We want to be with them and understand what their needs are.”
It was during a trip to the north of Uganda in 2008 that Philippa met Alice Achan.
“They had had a 20-year war there and everyone was in camps, there was no economy and no one was growing anything. It was all so hopeless,” Philippa recalls.
“We’d been into camps where little kids were running around in rags, with distended stomachs. It was all very disturbing.
“But then we were introduced to Alice and we went to her school for girls and babies and we were just taken with what she was doing in the middle of this terrible situation.”
Philippa says that most of the girls at the boarding facility had either been abducted as sex slaves by the various military groups such as the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, or had fled poverty in remote villages.
Alice herself had survived decades of conflict, including being briefly abducted by a rebel group, but managed to finish her education and train as a counsellor.
As the war ground to its fruitless conclusion, Alice had lost several close family members to AIDS and had begun to despair when young women with babies started coming to her for help.
“They’d want to discard the babies because they were so traumatised, so she used her counselling training to help them integrate and find their families,” Philippa says.
Alice began to house and care for these survivors of sexual violence, many with HIV, and established the School of Restoration.
She gave them love and hope and reconnected many with the families they had lost.
“They found thousands of families and villages even though some of them were like 10 or 11 when they were abducted and didn’t know where they came from,” Philippa says.
“There were some incredibly emotional reunions.”
As well as partnering with the school and working closely with Alice, Philippa worked with her to create a first-person narrative account of her life.
“It was all-consuming at different stages because to write a book and to do it in first person, as Alice, I had to completely immerse myself in her life,” she says.
“I spent a lot of time in tears because this is someone I love and I’ve had to hear about these awful things that she was going through.”
But she says it was also a healing experience for Alice.
“She’s very trusting and when she read it, she didn’t make many changes,” she says.
“But she said, ‘I’ve just relived my whole life, I relived all the trauma’ but she said she came out of it stronger and that it was actually good to look back at what we’ve done.”
To hear more about Philippa and Alice’s journey and how they came together to write a story of hope and restoration for girls in Uganda, you can attend the Literary High Tea at Rules Club Wagga this Saturday, 3 September, from 4 – 6 pm.
All money raised will go to support the work of Carevan.
For more information or to book tickets, contact Shirley on (02) 6926 4344.