Kitchen aid

Xavier College alumnus James Hains has a special place in his heart for the
Alma Nuns, who care for handicapped and abandoned children in Dili.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED 

James Hains with the Alma Nuns in Dili. He found an immediate connection between their work and his own sense of purpose. In 2022, he set up a foundation called Myriad Australia to help raise funds for the nuns’ work.

By Paulie Stewart, OAM
Australian rocker and original member of the Painters and Dockers, as well as a long-standing representative of Jesuit Social Services.
 

I’ve worn a few memorable outfits in my time, both as a rocker and in my post-music years, but I never expected to find myself wearing an apron and working in a busy kitchen. And no, I wasn’t a contestant on ‘Celebrity MasterChef’.

That’s what happens when you accompany Xavier College alumnus James Hains, who personifies the Jesuit credo of being a man for others. Obviously the motto, first coined by the late Jesuit Superior General Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ, had a profound effect on James, a leading corporate lawyer who also happens to be an exceptional cook.

At Maddocks law firm, Hains is a corporate mergers and acquisitions lawyer who has extensive experience providing commercial and strategic advice to clients operating in public and private sectors across a range of industries. In addition to that, for the past decade he has regularly attended the Artful Dodgers art and music studio in Collingwood, run by Jesuit Social Services, where he cooks for the disadvantaged youngsters who use the facility. He readily confesses that it is the thing that gives him the most joy.

I first met James at the Artful Dodgers a decade ago and, recognising his deep commitment to worthy causes, I subsequently introduced him to my friends, the Alma Nuns of Timor-Leste, who care for the many handicapped and abandoned children in the former Portuguese territory that is just an hour’s flight time from Darwin.

I had first met the Sisters in 2008 after a Timorese friend, Abel Guterres, pleaded with me to visit them when I was on a visit to Dili. He said, “Paulie, they have no money at all and tend to the lowest of the low, children with severe disabilities or those who have been abandoned. Just drop in and say hi.”

Not surprisingly, when I introduced James to the nuns, he found an immediate connection between their work and his own sense of purpose. In 2022, he set up a foundation under the auspice of Myriad Australia, with tax deductible status, to help raise funds for the nuns’ work. He also committed significant personal finances to assist them in their inspirational work but still wanted to do more.

Now you understand how and why I found myself recently in an apron – working in the kitchen at the nuns’ facility in Dili, where James took over for four days to give the Sisters a well-deserved rest. Truth be told, I may have spent most of my time joking with the nuns and the kids while watching James in action as he constantly whipped up a storm.

Quite frankly, the nuns couldn’t believe a Western man – or any man for that matter – would offer his services to do this. Grateful really doesn’t really describe the feelings they had for James and for his loving, unselfish gesture.

“The nuns and the children alike loved having Jimmy cook for us,” said Sister Anastasia of the Alma Nuns. “To be honest, many of the Sisters were just astonished that a white man would come to cook for us as nothing like this has ever happened before. There were lots of laughing and smiling faces as we watched him in action. Jimmy’s food was just delicious and the children loved that he also provided the very rare treat of chocolate ice cream. They didn’t want him to leave.”

Watching the Australian cook was an amazing little Timorese boy named Aldo, who was born without arms. This eight-year-old, who never complains, has adapted to his circumstances, using his feet to pick up his cup, his pen or his fork and even to play with toys.

When James took on the responsibility of grocery shopping, Sister Anastasia led the expeditions to buy the ingredients, explaining with a smile, “It was best that I actually bought the food because the locals give us nuns much cheaper prices.” It was clear immediately that her inside knowledge proved invaluable.

The first thing James had to deal with was the nuns’ very basic kitchen facilities, where he took on the responsibility of creating meals for more than 60 people each night. He laughed when recounting the experience: “I did lose a bit of weight, I think because it was so hot in their kitchen. The nuns thought it was hilarious and mopped my face, but they were dressed in full habits and didn’t break a sweat!

“Most of all, I enjoyed the whole cooking experience. It was so great to give the nuns a bit of a rest and to give the children very healthy meals with lots of chicken, beef and vegetables. The Sisters, who are always happy and loving, do an incredible job looking after all those children, literally on a budget of nothing. They even make tempeh (a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans) by hand to supplement their own food supply and also to sell at the market.”

One Saturday night, James cooked enough food for a truly joyous occasion when the children and the nuns put on an impromptu musical and dance performance, with many visitors coming along to share the feast and get up to sing and dance as well. 

Sister Anastasia said “Jimmy” had given the nuns “fuel” during his visit. “Having an Australian supporting us like this showed the Sisters that what we do is valued. It was a real boost for us and the children felt important and loved.”

As part of his visit, Sister Anastasia took James to a Mass held by Jesuit priest Fr Marito Monteiro SJ and to see the mural in Dili recently completed by Australian First Nations artist Aretha Brown. With the help of his brother David and mother Margot, James also took the nuns and children on an excursion to the beautiful island of Atauro, off the coast of Dili. As he said later, “None of the nuns or children had ever been able to do this because of travel costs, even though it’s only a two-hour ferry ride from Dili.”

James has committed himself to working with the nuns whenever possible. “I will continue to support their work and really encourage others to do so as well. The nuns are the most beautiful, joyous people I have ever met and they restore your faith in what are troubled times. Go to Dili and visit them.”

Banner image shows James Hains and two of the Alma Nuns. “The nuns and the children alike loved having ‘Jimmy’ cook for us,” said Sister Anastasia.

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