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'It's Heart Work': The Woman Helping Families And Children Affected By Homicide To Survive

Last week, Martha Jabour took more than 100 calls from families thanking her for keeping them alive.

It was a bittersweet moment.

She had just received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her years of tireless service to the community through supporting mothers, fathers, aunts, cousins and children -- all who have been affected by homicide.

"People say it is an honour to receive such an award -- and it is; it's humbling. But the reason why is because so many people have had to endure such pain," she told 10 daily.

Had their loved ones not have been murdered, I would never have met them. Here they are, years down the track, and they're ringing me up to say thank you.
Martha Jabour is the Executive Director of the Homicide Victim's Support Group in Sydney. Image: Facebook via HVSG

Jabour is the Executive Director of the Homicide Victim's Support Group (HVSG), a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 by the parents of murdered Australian nurse Anita Cobby and those of nine-year-old Ebony Simpson.

Cobby, a young and free-spirited nurse, was abducted, raped and brutally murdered on February 2, 1986, while Ebony suffered a similar fate on her way home from school in Bargo in 1992.

Day in, day out, Jabour's team rings family members to ensure they've woken up each morning.

They're on the phone to check how they've been sleeping and whether they've had breakfast.

Jabour calls it "heart work".

Anita Cobby (L) and Ebony Simpson (R) who were both murdered in 1986 and 1992.

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"We nurture them in order to get them to a point where they can stand on their own two feet," she said.

"We can't take their pain away, we can't say things will be okay or they'll get better. We can just be with them.

"In order to do that, you have to give so much of yourself."

'We want children to feel precious'

As the HVSG community grows -- on average, every three days -- Jabour's efforts have turned to her "biggest love": Grace's Place.

The group is set to build a world-first residential trauma centre for children and young people affected by homicide in Doonside.

It will be named after Grace Lynch, Anita Cobby's mother, who Jabour described as a quiet "beacon of light" for many families.

"When I started running the group, I knew nothing about family members of homicide and what they needed. Grace taught me, and that's how I learned," Jabour said.

Plans for the proposed centre at Doonside. Image: Grace's Place / HVSG

After years of planning and fundraising, plans were approved by the Sydney Central City Planning Panel last month.

Jabour hopes the centre -- the first of its kind in the world -- will help to restore children whose worlds' have been affected by the most heinous of crimes.

We want them to realise that they are precious, and just as worthy as anyone else to access services and to be supported," she said.

"It will be there in the background, bringing these young people to life, giving them the tools to survive and to cope with the loss in their family, to speak to other children and to help with their school work."

The group is finalising funding from the federal and NSW governments "within weeks" before building starts, with plans to open in September 2020.

Martha Jabour (centre) surrounded by members of the Homicide Victim's Support Group at a fundraiser in 2018. Image: Emma Brancatisano

About $1.2 million has already been donated to the project since initial plans were revealed in 2015.

The centre will include temporary accommodation for up to 12 children and their carers along with offices, counselling rooms, a carpark, outdoor seating and a children's play area.

A magnolia tree has been donated by a local nursery to be planted at the centre's entrance; its fragile, white petals being Grace Lynch's favourite flower.

'This is where I felt I needed to be'

More than 30 years ago, Jabour went through a tragedy of her own, losing her second son Michael to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) -- commonly known as cot death -- at seven weeks old.

"For me, that was every parent's worst nightmare. I didn't know what to do, or where to go for help. All I wanted to do was to die myself," she said.

"I struggled a lot with Michael's death, and still do today."

Jabour began training as a grief and trauma counsellor -- a path that connected her to Ebony's parents and Grace and Garry Lynch.

An undated photo of Garry and Grace Lynch at their daughter Anita's gravesite. Image: AAP

Like Jabour, they had nowhere to turn.

The first time I met Garry Lynch, he looked at me and said, 'you're the young lady who is going to help us mend our broken hearts?'

"I remember looking at him and thinking, how can anybody do that?" she said.

Jabour was at the helm when the HVSG was created and has never looked back.

"This is where I felt I needed to be," she said.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au

Featured image: Homicide Victim's Support Group / Facebook