A group of friends that began forming in Year Five has rescued one of its members from a life of misery.
The boys are now in Year 12 and, despite their diverse backgrounds and sporting interests, they are drawn together as friends by the strong set of values they have in common.
17 year old Tai Pahn was born after his Vietnamese family moved to Australia. His parents bought a shop in Traralgon and Tai began attending Liddiard Road Primary School.
Tharu Malagodagamage, a Sri Lankan who came to Australia from Oman, met Tai seven years ago when he was quiet and shy. Tai kept very much to himself. Kids in Year Five can sometimes be mean and Tai was bullied because of his race. This caused him to withdraw and be pretty miserable.
Describing this dark time in his young life, Tai said it made him feel “sad” and not trusting of any of his fellow students.
“Trust was really screwed up,” he painfully recalled.
At first, Tharu found it hard to make a connection with Tai. But in time he started to draw Tai out of his shell and introduce him to friends, including Dieg Marty Vicente who had come to Traralgon from the Philippines.
When in Year Six, the boys attended a sports camp at Rawson where they met Willis Doorty, a student at Traralgon’s Grey Street Primary School. It was two years later, as students at Traralgon Secondary College, that this group really became close.
While on a Year Eight camp in Tasmania, Willis noticed Marty was on his own. This was simply no good for what was supposed to be a fun time, so Willis befriended him.
“It wasn’t good to see someone on their own, especially at a camp, so I thought I’d get to know him a bit more,” said Willis.
“It’s good to meet new people.”
The four have mixed sporting interests. Tai, soccer. Tharu, boxing and basketball. Marty, basketball as well. And Willis, tennis and table tennis.
However, while their sporting interests may vary, what they have in common are a love of video games and, more importantly, similar values. Values that see them want to bring out the best in each other.
I asked each of them individually about the sort of person they want to be, both now and in the future. Their responses were amazingly similar, demonstrating that it’s their shared values that are the glue that binds them together.
They like to have fun and even be funny. In social settings they’re naturally happy and want to make others feel happy. However at parties, the fun and happiness only extends so far. There is a line that none of them will cross – the line where excessive alcohol turns fun into stupidity.
Willis, Marty, Tharu and Tai all agreed that they want to be a positive influence on others through traits such as happiness, kindness and caring when required.
“It’s better to hang out with a happy person than a sad one,” said Willis.
They also have a serious side that demands self-control, support for each other and applying themselves to attaining worthy personal and academic goals.
“If one of us fails a test at school we try and help them get better results,” said Tharu.
Marty agreed. “We care about each other, we help each other,” he said.
The boys, and their wider group of friends that includes guys like Michael and Billy, don’t want to go to the regular Schoolies on the Gold Coast. They say it’s tainted due to the misdeeds and overconsumption of some participants.
They’re making their own end-of-school plans that would see them travel to some place they’ve never been to before. A trip that doesn’t have getting drunk or drugged as its central activity.
As for the shy, withdrawn Tai of Year Five, Tharu said he started to feel happier during the following few years. Tai’s group of new friends included him in games which caused him to “come out of his shell and open up,” said Tharu.
“He is now very much like me – very loud and active!
“Being with our group helped him gain confidence and find new interests. Not just in sports like soccer and table tennis, but with games and computers.
“He also made some friends who are really artistic and he’s really good at sketching now,” said Tharu.
A lot more is being done these days to curb bullying and racist taunts in the schoolyard, although it still exists. And as we see on news bulletins, Australian adults can be ruthlessly guilty of it too.
While working at his weekend job in a supermarket recently, Tharu politely handled a customer’s enquiry about a product that was not in stock. Tharu even went to the trouble of checking out the back.
However, upon learning that his desired item wasn’t available, the customer walked away calling Tharu a “black f**k.”
It rattled Tharu but tougher people like him learn to quickly move on. If they don’t, they would always be as hurt and withdrawn as Tai was in his younger years.