IT is fair to say retirement after 24 years of primary school teaching did not go quite as planned for Yokine’s Sister Margaret Culhane.
After being asked by the Jesuit Refugee Service to dedicate a few years to developing education in Africa, she flew to the Philippines at the age of 50 - her first trip ever out of Australia - to see if she would be able to cope.
“That was my testing time, I thought I've really got to put myself into the poorest of the poor situations to see if I can do it, and I took to it like a duck to water and said 'yes, I'm going',” she said.
The four-and-a-half years she spent working in Africa provided many eye-opening experiences for Sr Culhane.
“I've been held hostage for three days. I've been ambushed in a vehicle and had about 16 bullets in the car and one of the passengers got shot in the arm. I was the driver; all the bullets were meant for me,” she said.
“I lay in bed one night and woke to this sound of bullets over my head for about an hour-and-a-half and in the end I thought I must have been the only one alive, that everybody else, the 180 people in that compound, must have been dead.
“I've touched their lives a little and know what fear for your life is and what trying to survive is like and so I try to help people that I meet understand what life is like for these people.
“If I would feel frightened and fear for my life, then how would these people be?”
Last month she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the international community, particularly refugees from Asia and Africa, to women and as an educator.
Sr Culhane said the award was not just hers but involved everyone who had helped her along the way, from the support of the Josephite Sisters through to her chemist who supplied her with the medication to be able to stay healthy while overseas.
“I feel very much for women who have been through the traumas of war and displacement and resettlement and a lot of them do it alone too, they don't have the support of a partner,” she said.
Her support of refugee people continues, with Sr Culhane working hard to bridge the gap between people and the resources they need.
“Its good being this side of the river, that's where you meet a lot of people who are coming into the community and resettling,” she said.
There are no plans for Sr Culhane's commitment to community to wane any time soon.
“I know I'm nearer 70 than I am to 60, but I think I've still got a few good years left in me,” she laughed.
“One of the Josephite Sisters' mottos is “never see a need without trying to do something about it”.
"So I guess that's something very basic. You can't solve it always, but you can do something about it, you can tell somebody. At least go and talk to the person and show them that they are worthwhile and that you do care.”