GIFTS for Manus is a group run from Bega that sends basic necessities to asylum seekers detained on Manus Island to help make their lives more bearable.
There are now hundreds of men on the group’s list hoping to be sent a parcel – but that number is constantly growing and donations are never enough to meet the demand.
"One of the big issues on the island is extreme boredom, boredom you couldn't understand," Gifts for Manus founder Ali Murdoch of Bega said.
"It leaves their heads on a loop of worry and fear – they are always thinking about their family back home.
"So having something to do to keep their heads occupied is really quite important."
Money donated to the group goes towards simple things such as clothing, shoes, toiletries, dictionaries, English language books, magazines and writing materials, as well as sources of entertainment such as MP4s, e-readers and portable DVD players.
Ms Murdoch said the clothes issued to asylum seekers on Manus are all the same, so her group tries to get different colours and types so they can feel like they are their own person.
Now, the most common thing the group is trying to get is televisions.
Gifts for Manus also tries to find various personal items that the asylum seekers cannot live without.
One of the big issues on the island is extreme boredom, boredom you couldn't understand.
“I was able to get one man's glasses prescription from his family in his country and order a pair of prescription glasses for him,” Ms Murdoch said.
“He had been without being able to see, read or watch TV for months, and was getting bad headaches, but had no way of accessing new glasses.
“We just try to get whatever is going to be most important and helpful for that man's well-being.”
Ms Murdoch said a lot of the asylum seekers also have severe sleep problems, headaches, stomach conditions or untreated injuries.
“So having something to listen to music on or to watch things on really helps to distract them from pain and other problems,” she said.
While Ms Murdoch is very ill and has to spend most of her time in bed, Gifts for Manus is something she can do as she can do most of the organising from her computer.
Over time, she started to be contacted by people with friends at Manus Island who wanted to know how to send things there.
“So I help them with what they are allowed to send, where to get things, what postage service to use,” she said.
“Sometimes they pay for everything their friend needs, but get me to do the ordering and posting.”
A service of support
THE idea for Gifts for Manus came after Ali Murdoch was introduced to some men at Manus Island online so she could talk to them and help them cope with their situation.
As their friendships developed, she became more aware of how they lived and that there were some things that could really help them to get by.
So in early 2014, she started to send things they needed.
“I realised that there are a lot of people who care about what is happening to the guys at Manus but don't really know how to help,” Ms Murdoch said.
“[I thought] that they might like to get involved in sending letters and parcels to them and perhaps also develop friendships.
“Initially, I thought there might be people who would want to purchase the items they needed and send them themselves, but it is quite expensive to get a parcel sent, so it has mostly worked out that people put money towards a parcel and then when there is enough money I buy the things and post the parcel.
“We sometimes also get requests from people in Nauru detention centre, but it is harder to communicate with people there or to send them things,” Ms Murdoch said.