Across from a line of tall palm trees and neatly manicured grass is Bubup Womindjeka Family and Children’s Centre. There is a feel that the beach is close by, despite the proximity to the CBD throwing shadows off the tall buildings in the distance. It is a cool winter’s day in Melbourne, overcast and blasé, but as soon as you step foot inside of Bubup, genuine warmth unfurls.

The translation of the Indigenous name Bubup Womindjeka rings true. ‘Welcome children’ is the meaning.

Gia Ban Huynh is the mother hen of the group, wrapping her outstretched wings around all of the little chicks. The children flock to her and it is clear that there is established trust.

Gia turns to say, “It is like a family here.”

Easily so, Gia kindly rushes to the door to welcome everyone. She is very hospitable and generous with her time.

Gia has been at Bubup for three years and has been working as the coordinator for nine months. It is apparent that she has had a hand in shaping the energetic playgroup flourishing today.

Leanne Dhami from Playgroup Victoria has interacted often with Gia in her role as a Playgroup Developer.

“She is just one of those people who cares,” Leanne said.

“I think she is incredible for what she does. She wants the best for the families.”

“The group and the coordinator are an asset to the local community. They are inclusive and offer a range of wonderful learning opportunities for parents.”

“It is refreshing.”

Refreshing is the word for Gia. There is something rather playful and childlike about her, but with a maturity. She relates well to the children, while still offering great guidance and care.

“I have a saying,” she says, beaming.

“‘Enter as strangers and leave as friends.”

Gia goes above and beyond, organising events for the playgroups. On this Thursday morning, a talented puppeteer has the children captivated. They rush forward to hug ‘Lily Monster’ puppet, but are a little unsure when a big lion appears. Their worries soon abate when the lion starts to sing, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight. A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh.”

 The children and adults alike are all having a wonderful time.

The playgroup is a hive of activity. Children are scattered, talking, playing and singing while Mother’s happily congregate, joining in with their kids.

“Soon a chef is coming in and in a few weeks a lady is coming in to talk about toilet training. I love inviting special guests in and seeing how everyone enjoys it,” Gia said as she whirls by, preparing snacks.

Fun and educational, it would seem.

“It is an amazing place,” Mother Saidi Dahdah said.

“We all help each other and it is so nice to interact with other adults. We spend time together afterwards and I am grateful to have found this place.”

 After moving from Northcote to Port Melbourne Saidi said that it helped her so much when transitioning to a new area.

"I am so glad it exists.”

“I think it would be really lonely if there weren’t playgroups,” Saidi said sincerely.

“We are a really close playgroup, really close knit.”

This playgroup is having dual effects. It is enabling local people to connect person-to-person while helping children learn and develop. The benefits are wide ranging.  Behind the façade, people are forging relationships, supporting one another, gaining knowledge and investing in their community.

There is great spirit at Bubup Womindjeka.

With the advent of technology, many families are becoming isolated. Despite the direct link that the online realm extends to us as users, it can also impede on real life, that is authentic, face-to-face human interaction. Technology can help us withdraw from society, because there is a different society on social media to join. That does not eliminate the crucial need for us to be together, in real time. This playgroup allows people to experience child rearing together. The parents are able to relate and share stories, and Gia, she is consistent. She is the mother hen, watching over her chicks. She is the organiser that makes it easy to turn up to playgroup. Lives are changed by small gestures and small efforts extended to others at Bubup.

We award Gia and Bubup Fresh Mum’s and Bubs as our Playgroup of the Month. There is more that goes on than people know. We would like to acknowledge this terrific community playgroup!

Article by Sinead Halliday