Transformation, One Life at a Time

ICC Volunteer Tim Tunks

Long-term volunteer Tim Tunks on one of his first China trips.
A row of children in little car seats lined the room, Tim Tunks remembers. These children in the Hengyang welfare centre were considered not healthy enough to be adopted, he says. 

“I went over, said, ‘Ni hao’ and started waving the flies off their faces,” Tim recalls. “But I got nothing—they didn’t move or even acknowledge me.” 

For Tim—who was in Hengyang as part of a 2010 International China Concern team from Mueller College near Brisbane, Australia—it was startling. “It was the first time I’d ever seen that absence of hope and complete absence of life in a person,” says Tim. “Those kids had no chance.” 

But it was the juxtaposition between these children and another little girl, Ci Ci—who Tim had met in ICC’s Baby Room Three and whom he now sponsors—that affected Tim the most. Ci Ci has severe cerebral palsy and epilepsy, leaving her with no real physical control of her body. “She’s kind of locked in,” Tim explains. “But I could get that sense of life in her, seeing the life in her eyes and watching her laugh. Seeing the contrast—that still sticks with me.”

“It’s all about looking at the kids as individuals,” Tim says. “How 
can we improve the quality of life for this one?”

It was this kind of transformative power in ICC’s work that has brought Tim back to China on multiple occasions. He returned with teams from Mueller College in 2011 and again in 2013 as a student leader. Today, the 19-year-old is a language student learning Chinese as a long-term volunteer in Changsha. Tim credits the influence of his Mueller College teachers and of ICC field staff with shaping his decision to dedicate what he believes will be many years of his life to working with abandoned children with disabilities in China. 

Liz Scheu, principal of Mueller middle school, is a former ICC Australia board member who accompanies students on the school’s trips to China. Tim says she and others like Paul Valese (head of the Christian school) and Michael Gilliver were the greatest influences on him when he was a teen. “They really encouraged that mission mindset,” says Tim. 

After being in China, Tim remembers thinking, “Why can’t I do something as well? It’s not hard to make a difference: it’s not hard to send out flyers and tell people why you’re doing it.” The idea was born to move towards being in China long-term.
Tim working in the Vocational Training Centre.
During Tim’s first China trip, he spent a lot of time with then-Therapy Manager, Alison
 Kennedy. He was impressed by the power of physical therapy to improve quality
 of life—so much so that he decided to pursue physiotherapy as a course of study
 in university. However, when his grades prevented him from getting into the program and when an alternate course of study in clinical exercise physiology proved uninspiring, Tim left university. 

While working in an unfulfilling role as a salesperson following his short time in university, Tim said he had a moment of revelation. When he asked himself where he wanted to be in the next 20 to 30 years, the response that came was, “in China.” So, he began to take steps towards that goal, the first of which was making a commitment as a long-term volunteer to learn Chinese in Changsha. 

Tim says he is inspired by the way that ICC 
transforms lives by focusing on individualised—
rather than institutionalised—care. “It’s all about looking at the kids as individuals,” Tim says. “How 
can we improve the quality of life for this one?” he explains. The question is one he hopes that he and his occupational therapist fiancée, Brooke Hussey, will dedicate many years of their life to helping answer for the children in ICC’s care.