Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

Earth Day – an alternative to the plastic bag that lines your rubbish bin

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Happy Earth Day everyone!  Over the past number of years (a decade perhaps?) we have been steadily reducing our plastic consumption / use.  Happily, Western Australia will FINALLY be implementing a ban on single use plastic bags from 1 July 2018.

One of the discussions that seems to come up a LOT is “I NEED my plastic bags to line my rubbish bin!”   OMG!!! WHAT WILL I DO WITHOUT PLASTIC BAGS!???   (Seriously people.   Chill!).   It’s all good.  What I have been doing for the past year or so has been lining my bin with newspapers.  I still have those “produce plastic bags” (from the archive), so this pic shows it being used as a liner – which I then put the newspaper liner in.  (NB:  not anymore!  But it was there when the photo was taken).  

It is an easy, origami type thing that takes me about ten minutes a week, which I do with some of the weekend paper (the only day of the week we buy the newspaper).  You can look on You Tube for “bin liner replacement” or similar, and find a whole lot of videos on how to do this.  It is definitely not difficult, but I found I had to watch the video for the first few weeks.   But now it is like any habit;  ingrained in the grey cells!

But what about WET things, I hear your ask?  Ah yes… “wet things”.  Well, newspapers aren’t the greatest for these things of the non-dry world.  I keep a small container that I use for non-compostable items.  Then each week I wrap that small amount in newspaper before popping it in the bin.   It has never been a problem.

As with any change, (and people seems to hate change!) it just takes getting used to.   It is a normal part of my weekly routine, and I love the smaller impact we are having on landfill.   Every little bit helps, right?   Would love to hear about your successes in this!


Getting into Ethical Altruism

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With the EOFY rapidly approaching (that’s “End of Financial Year”, for those not into silly acronyms!), it is also a time when many people (in Australia, at least), look at making donations to charities they want to support with much needed (and appreciated!) funds.  For the last few years, we have embraced a concept which is known as “Ethical Altruism”.  This is a term coined by ethicist, philanthropist, animal rights activist, and other “ists”, Peter Singer.

Essentially, it is about making sure that the hard-earned money you donate does as much “good” as possible.  For simplicity, let’s just say this is all about helping the MOST people, who are in the MOST need.  Not a tough concept, and one that we subscribe to.

why not cartoon for giving

To help you along, there is a very cool online calculator which can assist you in determining how MUCH you should give (well, it’s a guideline, anyhow).   Don’t freak out – it’s not like some religious tithing system of 10%.   It works out to about 1 or 2 % of your gross income generally, depending on how much you earn.   Obviously, the more you earn, the greater “good” you are capable of doing, so the percentage goes up accordingly.   Seems fair to us!   Have a play with the calculator here.

Like many others, we want to know that the money we are donating is doing the “most good”.  So one tool that we found super helpful was this research / analysis on a number of different charities.   Saved us having to do the research!  (spoiler alert:  the Give Well website ranks the Against Malaria Foundation as one of the best (and it is tax deductible in Australia).   But there are many other wonderful organisations here, as well.  One consideration for us was to find charities that were Australian based, and many of the ones researched are based in America.   However, there is a handy link to the Effective Altruism Australia site, where you can make your Aussie donation tax deductible, and ear mark it against the approved charity of your choice.   What could be easier?  (you’re welcome!)

How do you make your donations each year?  What sort of criteria do you use?  Let us know in the comments section – would love to hear from you!

Happy giving.

Written by Mar(k)

June 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Post Veganary: Where to from here?

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On Sunday we will have (successfully!) concluded our month of Vegan living.  So where to from here?

Well, that is a bit of a tricky question. Are we “ready” to embrace veganism as our default diet at the moment? Probably not. However, our lacto-ovo vegetarian diet will probably be amended somewhat based on our experiences during Veganary.

People choose veganism (or vegetarianism) for a variety of reasons. For us, harm to animals is a key driver. Which is why this article was of particular interest to us. If you are also driven by animal harm (and how to reduce it), you can also read this more detailed (but not overly long) article here.   In reading this article, I realise that the life I have been living for the past 22 or so years (and for Mark, about the last 8 years), actually has a name!   Go figure.  Environmentarianism.   Who knew?

It has been great engaging online through the Veganuary website with others, and their journey during this past month.  For us, it hasn’t been hugely life altering.  But I have used this month to learn more about vegan substitutes (my vegan friends who enjoy coming over for meals will thank me!), and getting more knowledge on the environmental damage that animal husbandry causes.

Did we die from lack of cheese?  um…. no.   Did we think we would miss it more than we did?  Definitely.   Although Mark is probably going to be happy to get back in the (bicycle) saddle with his cappuccino apres bike ride, we aren’t going to be rushing out to gorge ourselves on a cheese omelette just yet!   However, we WILL be changing up some staple items in our pantry, such that our already vegetarian lifestyle is more vegan friendly at home.  We have an added incentive to shop at our local all-vegan shop, as we love to support local small businesses.   So that will probably keep us using things like bio-cheese and other staples.   And all the online research has turned up some fabulous recipes, which have been real winners!   Always good to add those into the arsenal of yummy eating options.

Finally, we don’t feel like we need to be evangelical about anything – vegan diets included.  We aren’t really turned on by fanatical preaching in any form – religious, vegan or otherwise.  We are also clear that our choices are exactly that – our choices.  We don’t need to make a big deal out of it – and we do listen with wry amusement when others feel they need to comment on our dietary choices.   What they say, says much more about them, than it does about us!   We will leave you with this lovely sign that really embraces what we try to practise on a daily basis.   Happy Veganary everyone!



Written by Mar(k)

January 29, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Going vegan for January = Veganary!

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Greetings everyone and welcome to 2016!  As we welcome in the New Year, Mar(k) have decided to embrace Veganary for the next month.   If you haven’t heard about it, it’s basically a “thing” where you become Vegan for the month of January.

So!  Our plan is to document our month and see how we go.   We all know that we are more likely to “succeed” with a goal or objective if we are accountable, right?  So blogging about it will help us to highlight our challenges, successes and frustrations (if any!).

Our first rule is that we aren’t going to be the “militant vegans”.  Ha ha.  We are already pains in the a*se because we are already vegetarian.   So for us, the journey to veganism is a shorter road than for many others.   So it should be easier, as we often eat vegan anyhow, and have more than a few vegan friends.   Nonetheless, before we decided to embark on this journey, we did talk about it a fair bit.   For us, the two biggest “hardships” for modifying our diet for the month will be cheese and eggs.   We have already found it hard, in fact, as we had some residual cheese in our fridge (and also a non-vegan dip), so we consumed both of those today (Jan 1), and will officially start “now”… (as in, for dinner on 1 Jan).

We made our first vegan-only shop at the supermarket, and are now stocked up for the next week or so.   Pictured here is a few of the things that we bought that we wouldn’t normally buy.  (NB:  Well, the veggies are all in the “usually buy” list, but I added them for some colour!)   Focus on the front row, people….

Veganaisse (vegan mayonaisse!) - who knew???

Veganaisse (vegan mayonaisse!) – who knew???

  1.  Vegan friendly “spread”.   Good thing we are already label readers.   Because the first couple of what we thought were going to be OK spreads actually had milk solids in them!  But this one passed our vegan friendly scan.
  2. Vegan mayonnaise.   (who knew???)
  3. Soy yogurt.   We don’t eat a lot of dairy anyhow – other than cheese!  But we do occasionally have dairy yogurt in the fridge, so it was time to pop an alternative in there.

So we are off and running.   It will be interesting to see how we go, and if (when?) we fall off the wagon.   It isn’t about doing this perfectly, but more about the conscious awareness that it will generate for us in the next month.

If you are interested in knowing a bit more about it, you can read a great Guardian article here – about Veganary, or else learn more about Veganary and perhaps take the challenge yourself!   Feel free to start anytime!


Written by Mar(k)

January 1, 2016 at 6:52 pm

The season of giving – and some thoughts about the NFP sector “being more like business”

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It is that time of year when people often are looking for gifts for that “hard to buy for” person in their life.  We are big advocates of buying “experiences”, rather than “things”.  In a similar vein, making donations to charities is also a great way of giving back – and you can make donations in someone else’s name, as a gift to them!   With so many wonderful causes out there, it is hard to know where to donate.  But one way (assuming you are giving a donation as a “gift” for someone on your Christmas List), is to think about what they love to do, and match your donation to a charity that works in that area.

  • Does the person love music?   How about your local orchestra, opera company or young musicians group?  (Hint:  We love WAYJO – the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra)
  • Does the person love the great outdoors?   How about a local bushwalking group?  or a “friends of…. (pick a park, wilderness area, or nature reserve) (Hint:  We love the Bibbulmun Track Foundation
  • Is the person a passionate surfer or love the beach?  What about a donation to Surf Lifesavers, or Sea Shepherd?
  • You get the idea.   The sky is the limit!   (Hint:  We love the Royal Flying Doctor Service – ha ha ha)

Whatever you do, your donation is always greatly appreciated by not-for-profit groups (and if nothing jumps out at you – there is the always popular Oxfam Unwrapped option).

And for some food for thought, because we know some of our readers are also philanthropists in the corporate sector (who give much needed funding to NFPs), Why the NFP sector should (or should NOT be) “more like business”.   Always interested in reading what people think about this area, and it may provide good food for thought as you think about your corporate donations into the next calendar year.  Would love to know what you think.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!  We will catch you in 2016.

Written by Mar(k)

December 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm

How being “scared of the Boogey Man” influences government policy. NOT a good thing.

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Remember how when we were young, the lights were out at bedtime, and there was always that fear of “what lurks under the bed?” Is it the Boogey Man? As we all (now) know, there IS no Boogey Man. But that fear of the unknown was very palpable, and can feel very REAL. This type of thinking seems to be informing public policy in Australia, which is really tragic. The ongoing debate about “turning back the boats” seems to smack of being scared of what (or who) we don’t know. We fear “Others”. We fear “the Unknown”. boogey man

Until these people who are fleeing persecution have a FACE, a NAME, and a STORY, we cannot seem to identify with them as fellow human beings. People who are worthy, and deserving, of our support.

This situation is something that we face everyday, as volunteers with CARAD. Both of us are doing advocacy work with detainees at the Yongah Hill Detention Centre. Recently, Yongah Hill got into the press again, as there was another death in custody on 31 July 2015. You can read about the tragic story of Mohammad Nasim Najari here.

Our current government policy makes it legal for asylum seekers to face the prospect of indefinite detention. The mental anguish that this causes has been well documented, and is such a heartless outcome for people who deserve better.

It may be easy for the politicians and bureaucrats to legislate and decide people’s futures on paper. But having to deliver the news to detainees that there are no further avenues of appeal open to them rests with someone. This week I was faced with the depressing prospect of telling a detainee at Yongah Hill that indefinite detention is his only option. That was not an easy conversation to have. And it makes us mad that it needs to be had at all.

The only way for this to change is for the public to speak up about this matter. Tell the government that is NOT okay to try and vilify asylum seekers.  Asylum Seekers are NOT the Boogey Man, and they are NOT going to hurt us. They deserve our support. It is what being a decent human being is all about.  Read more here.

We leave you with these thoughts as we head off on a trip of our own. We will be away for a few months, so you won’t hear from us on the blog for the next little while. We look forward to re-engaging with you on our return in November!

Celebrating Leadership in Social Accountability

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When we were volunteers in Ghana, we had the great pleasure and privilege to work with some amazing people.  One of those people was Ibrahim Tanko Amidu, or “Tanko”, as everyone calls him.  At the time, he was the Country Manager for VSO in Ghana.  We had various conversations with Tanko during the time that we were in our placements, including towards the end of our time in Ghana, at a Volunteers Conference (which is where this photo was taken, August 2010).

Tanko (second from left) celebrating a "significant" birthday with VSO colleagues and volunteers (August 2010)

Tanko (second from left) celebrating a “significant” birthday with VSO colleagues and volunteers (August 2010)

Right from our first meeting, Tanko always impressed us with his open door policy, his inclusive leadership style, and his utter commitment to work in the development sector.   So it was with much happiness that we recently found out that Tanko has been awarded the prestigious Leadership award in Social Accountability from the Global Partnership for Social Accountability – for the Africa region.  You can hear Tanko talk about what leadership means to him in this short video.

We are happy to celebrate this kind of success!   The world is a better place when people like Tanko are working hard for others.   Well done, Tanko!