Celebrating Children First’s 20th year at Government House

Home > Articles by: Julie Webber

On Tuesday 5 March we were honoured to be guests of the Hon Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria and Mr Anthony Howard AM QC at a morning reception to launch and celebrate Children First’s 20th year.

Governor Dessau welcomed the guests, congratulating everyone involved in establishing and supporting the Foundation.  Chairman Mr Roger Langley thanked the Governor and Mr Howard for their patronage of Children First and their generosity on the day. He thanked our volunteers and all those whose vision, commitment and passion enabled a dream to become a reality.

He then invited Rachel and the children to come forward to present the gift of Rachel’s original framed pencil sketch of the Children First Retreat.  After posing for photos the three toddlers were soon ‘let loose’ in the grand Ballroom with a couple of balloons, courtesy of Mr Howard!

We were delighted to be joined by Patrons, Professor David de Kretser AC, former Governor of Victoria, and Mrs Jan de Krester, inaugural Foundation Board chair and former CEO Mrs Margaret Smith OAM, Mr Noel Baker, who with wife Janis donated the land where the Retreat was built, Mr Bernie Lamers AM and Mrs Gerry Lamers AM.  Apologies were received from Lady Marigold Southey AC, Mr Peter Mitchell AM and Mr Geoff Hone.

Other guests included founding supporters from Rotary 9790 and other Rotary Clubs, groups and individuals,  Children First volunteers, surgeons, anaesthetists and medical professionals, representatives from program partners St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Cabrini, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Monash Children’s Hospital, No Roads Foundation,  Interplast and AACHOL Trust, donors and supporters from various organisations, communities and schools.

Of course the stars of the day were the children – Foyok from PNG, Madlyn with Aunt Helen and Jack with mum Boufa from Vanuatu, Rachel from Zambia and Nima, Dawa and mum Bhumchu from Bhutan.  It was wonderful that Boufa and Bhumchu delayed their return home by a week so they could join us on this special occasion.

Giving small lives big hope for 20 years.

Photo credit Teagan Glenane



Bhumchu, Nima and Dawa have arrived safely in Bhutan after leaving here on 6 March.  On arrival in Bhutan the girls were greeted by their father and government officials before being presented with a ceremonial scarf.

Before leaving Australia Bhumchu spoke to her friend Jigme who translated this message of thanks from their native Bhutanese into English for all Australians.

To all the Australians near and far who sent me their love and support, you all gave me hope and put smile on my face while going through some terrible times.  I just want to say, you guys are awesome.

I would especially like to thank the Children First Foundation for consenting to sponsor the surgery without which whatever has happened wouldn’t be possible.

In particular, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Marina Te Maro for not giving up on me and my kids.

I want to thank Deb in particular for being a motherly figure to me while at the retreat. Your surprise birthday celebration is something I will remember forever.

I also want to thank Dr Joe Crameri and the team for giving new life to my little ones.

My deepest gratitude to (staff and volunteers) Judy, Grace, Karli, Tracey, Ester, Ellen, Suse, Jenny, Serra, Kate, Michelle, Liz, Jose and Simonetta  for taking me as one of you. My life in Australia was homely because of the lovely treatment you all provided to me.

Thank you Alex and Grant for escorting me and also Sister Tshewang for being the second mother. Dr Phil Bergman for taking me around and letting me see Melbourne through my own eyes.

Bhutanese fraternity in Melbourne for never letting me feel homesick. In particular, I would like to thank Ata Jigme and his wife for visiting me regularly and offering me help in whatever I needed. I would also like to thank ata Namgay and Chinky for visiting and helping me around.

To Dr Karma Sherub, you are my God on earth. Everything has happened because of you.

I want to thank Parsuram Sharma also for coming forward and promising to render your support for now and future of my kids.

To the Victorian Government, thank you so much for giving me and my kids a new life. To each and every Bhutanese in Australia who contributed for the future of my kids, I will ever remain grateful for such generosity.  Thank you one and all.

In 2019 Children First celebrates 20 years of giving small lives big hope!  Save these dates and join in the celebrations.

Sparkling Lunch
Friday 3 May 2019
Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, Glenferrie Road, Kooyong.
Hosted by Ambassadors “Grubby and Dee Dee”
Guest speak
er to be announced.


20th Anniversary Gala Ball
Saturday 26 October 2019: 

Park Hyatt Ballroom, off Parliament Place, Melbourne. 
Entertainment: back by popular demand –  Tim Campbell and his band

Expressions of interest or advance bookings:
Email:  cff@childrenfirstfoundation.org.au
Phone: 03 9329 4822.

It takes a whole team of people with commitment, skill, passion and generosity to change the lives of seventeen kids.  In 2018 it took two orthopaedic surgeons, four neurosurgeons, three craniofacial/maxillofacial surgeons, three plastic surgeons, three paediatric surgeons, a vascular surgeon and a radiation oncologist.

In addition there were another 23 anaesthetists and other specialists, teams of nurses in theatre and wards, numerous physiotherapists and allied health specialists, pharmacists and dentists.

It also required some of Victoria’s leading hospitals – Cabrini, Epworth, North Park, St Vincent’s Private and Royal Children’s Hospital all working alongside Children First’s donors and supporters, staff and volunteers!

With construction of our physio room and pool renovations underway outside, and bathroom renovations inside, we delayed bringing more children for surgery until April 2018.  This year we’ve cared for Daniel, Trophimus, Foyok, Serah, Alma and Annfredda from PNG, Imam and Kiko from Indonesia, Maria from Timor Leste, Silia from Tonga, Haneen from Syria, Clera, Kylie and Jack from Vanuatu, Rachel from Zambia and Nima and Dawa from Bhutan.



Daniel, Imam and Kiko returned home after fairly lengthy stays with us – Daniel underwent orthopaedic surgery in 2017 followed by an intensive physiotherapy program.  Kiko and Imam each had a pituitary gland disorder: Kiko had returned for maxillofacial surgery associated with the condition, having had successful surgery the year before, and Imam required radiation treatment. We thank Epworth Hospital, surgeon Professor Andrew Heggie and radiation specialist Mike Dally.


Silia had a huge tumor on her face, which had been slowly growing for five years.  She was referred to us by our friends at Interplast after it was determined it could not be removed in Tonga. She was able to return home four months after surgeon Will Blake successfully removed the tumor at Cabrini.

Haneen was experiencing severe and continuous pain due to a vascular malformation of her right leg.  Surgery and physiotherapy made a great difference to her pain and mobility – thanks to surgeon Professor  Tony Pennington and St Vincent’s Private.  A month after she and her mum returned home it was wonderful to receive a video showing Haneen’s walking had further improved.  “She’s still doing her stretches and is no longer using crutches,” wrote her mother Hanan. “All her family have said they have noticed the difference in appearance of her leg as well as the way she walks . She still got a little bit of pain at night but nothing like she had.”


Our PNG trio – Serah, Foyok and Alma arrived around April, and little Annfredda joined us in October.  Serah and Alma underwent orthopaedic surgery  with Assoc Prof Leo Donnan and will return home in time for Christmas, although Serah will return in the new year for continuing treatment.  Foyok will remain with us for physiotherapy for a little longer after undergoing plastic surgery with surgeon Scott Ferris to return some movement in her hand.  The nerves controlling her hand were damaged when a tree fell on her.  Last but not least,  surgeon David Chong repaired fifteen month old Annfredda’s cleft lip at Northpark Private and she’ll return home for Christmas.

Maria, Trophy and Kylie each returned for review during this year. Maria had a concern following recent surgery which fortunately required no further attention.  Trophy’s surgeon wanted to see how he was travelling a year after surgery to repair his hip and lengthen his leg – he’s great and will go home soon.  And Kylie returned home after being fitted with a new prosthetic leg, excited because the new design means she can now wear jeans!


In addition to little Annfredda, we have three other ‘toddlers’ at the Retreat.  Two year old Jack arrived with his mum in June.  He had a naso-frontal encephalocele, a neural tube defect that resulted when the bones in his skull failed to close during pregnancy.  His condition was found to be more complex than first thought requiring neurosurgery before the encephalocele could be removed on 27 November.  The good news is he’s doing well after both these high risk procedures and he looks fantastic.  Thanks to surgeons Alison Wray, Jonathon Burge and Professor Tony Holmes and their teams at Royal Children’s Hospital for their wonderful care.  We sincerely thank all those supporters who donated so generously to make these two surgeries possible.

Formerly conjoined twins from Bhutan, Nima and Dawa are our other two toddlers – well they’ll be toddling soon!  They were discharged from Royal Children’s Hospital just 16 days after being separated and are now being cared for and undergoing physiotherapy at our Retreat in Kilmore.  “They’re going ahead in leaps and bounds,” said Retreat Manager Debbie Pickering.  We thank surgeon Joe Crameri and the entire hospital team for their care and the Victorian Government who generously provided funding for the girls surgery.  The Australian community’s generosity was further reflected in the generous donations to Children First towards caring for Bhumchu and her daughters at the Retreat, and the many gifts sent to the girls from all over the country.


Rachel and and Clera are our most recent arrivals.  Rachael has been suffering extreme pain and difficulty walking for many years, and she’s currently undergoing assessment to determine its cause before treatment can be planned. Young mum Clera has lost her vision due to a tumor which is being investigated.

We’re delighted to work with our referral partners No Roads Foundation and Interplast Australia & New Zealand to help these children.  We also thank LifeHealthCare, Stryker, Surgical Specialties, Smith & Nephew, Depuy Synthes, KLS Martin, MIA and Dorevitch, Icon Cancer Centre, ProMotion Prosthetics for contributing equipment and services to the treatment of the children.

Fantastic outcomes thanks to a wonderful team!