A mission and a promise


A mission and a promise

words Heidi HELBIG
>> Helen Wilhelm

Helen Wilhelm not only believes in miracles – she is one.

Despite facing a lifetime of physical disability and a near-death experience, she has devoted her life in service of others, and faces every challenge with a heart of gratitude and faith.

“For me, this is my second life; I am still alive, I keep smiling,” Helen says.

Born on the island of Negros in the Philippines, Helen was raised in a family of 10. At the age of three she was struck by polio, a devastating disease that left millions of children paralysed during the epidemics of the 1950s.

Helen recalls the childhood cruelty of being labelled a ‘cripple’ because of the effects of polio on her right leg.

“People are teasing me; sometimes children going to school, they pick up stones and throw them at me,” Helen says.

“I keep silent only, because in my thoughts, I want to finish my education. If I’m not educated, people look me down.

“Education is the most important thing in the Philippines to elevate your life.”

Unlike so many in the developing country, Helen completed her schooling and went on to work in a range of professional roles including accountancy, as a medical secretary and bookkeeping for the Federation of Free Workers.

At the age of 32 a new chapter began when Helen was introduced to Ron Wilhelm, of Tanunda.

The pair corresponded for six months and Helen says it was a love match from the start.

“When I am writing, I am being honest that I have my disability, but he says it doesn’t worry him, because I am still the same person,” says Helen.

“He came to visit me and we loved each other, and we decided to get married. He says ‘I will marry you, because you can’t run, and easy to catch’,” she says laughing.

It was not only the start of 32 years of wedded bliss, but a new life in Australia. Helen worked many jobs including grape picking, cleaning at Nuriootpa High School with Maurie and Hazel Humberdross, packing at Carême Pastry for William and Claire Wood, altering wedding dresses in a bridal shop and cake decorating.

However further education was never far from her mind.

“My husband, he said study further, never stop studying. So I went to study a Diploma in Fashion and I was amazed when I’m the most outstanding student in the College,” says Helen.

“After my Diploma I studied to be a qualified lecturer at TAFE…I do believe with determination, perseverance and ambition you can reach your goals.”

It was not long before Helen opened a dressmaking business specialising in bridal wear, HW Fashion. Her patternmaking skills and eye for detail attracted a loyal clientele, including longstanding customer Maggie Beer.

“Every day is a miracle for me – life is a miracle.”

- HELEN Wilhelm

She also studied to become a qualified lecturer in training and assessment, with a swag of certificates to her name.

“I do not have experience in sewing, dressmaking, right? It’s like God has given me a wisdom in my mind to create things, and that is a gift,” Helen says.

Always one to count her blessings, even a horror car accident that broke her neck has given Helen reason to be grateful.

“I rolled the car four times (towards) a large tree, my husband is with me, and half my body is outside and half my body is inside,” recalls Helen.

“I never cried, I never shouted; I held onto the steering wheel and prayed that I give my life to God.

“Before the car stopped I looked up at the tree. I saw a very bright man, I think, wearing white. When I saw that, the car stopped 50 centimetres from the tree.”

Helen was airlifted to Adelaide and underwent months of rehabilitation in the spinal unit, unable to move and feeding herself lying down with the help of a mirror. A fall in hospital broke her knee, leading to further complications.

But today, wearing a right knee brace to help her walk, drive and work, the steel plate and pins between her hip and knee remind Helen how lucky she is.

“I am still alive, I am living only by the Lord,” she says. “Every day is a miracle for me – life is a miracle.”

Now 35 years in Australia, Helen shares her blessings by religiously sending money to family members in the Philippines to support their education.

“My husband and I, we do not have children, so I have my ambition that I like to help my nieces and nephews for their schooling,” says Helen.

“That is my promise to myself. Nineteen I am helping – I have police, accounting, hotel management, electronics, IT, veterinary and Bachelor of Science in aeronautic engineering to become a pilot.

“I’m so proud of myself and so happy for what the Lord has given me.

“I was close to death, and I still survive; I do believe He had a mission that I needed to accomplish.”

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