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

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Development Issues’ Category

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

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

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!


Journeying across America – on bicycle

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Many of our readers know that Mark is a keen cyclist.  In the cold, dark, rain and snow.   Hang on – there’s never any snow in Perth!   OK – cold, dark and rain.   He and his scaly mates are out there, pedalling their butts off 3 or more mornings a week.   They are dedicated.  And a particular bunch of them are crazy.   Seriously crazy.   They decided that it would be FUN to cycle across America!   that’s right – all 6500 kms of it.   Craziness.   Cyclist tired

I know Mark wanted to go, too, but unfortunately our possible house swap in Canada that would have made that possible, fell through.  So he has been living vicariously through reading their blog (which you can also read here).   It is an inspiring story.   Particularly because we are getting our fill of cycling at the moment, as we dedicatedly watch the Tour du France highlights every night.   Both of us are Tour Tragics!   (true story – what can we say?)

The idea of the TransAmerica Cycle Challenge was borne out of Mal’s long service leave.  So after much research and planning, they were off for the ride itself – and celebrated Rodney’s 60th birthday while on the road.   What a great way to spend your 60th birthday!   Cycling 6500+ kilometres!   Wow.

The reason we are giving these crazy folks a bit of a plug here, is because they are not only doing this for their own (health) good, but they are also raising money in the process for a great cause – Wheelchairs for Kids.   It is a great cause, and they are now in their final stages of the ride.   Only about five more days of cycling to go.  If you are interested in learning more, and maybe even donating to this great cause, you can click here.

Well done to all!  We have been watching your progress with amazement, wonder, and RESPECT.

A Simpler Life – and what that means for this blog!

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As we are rapidly approaching the end of another year, I thought I would send us off into the New Year with some thoughts around living (more) simply.  After just having celebrated some holidays with loved ones, I noticed that many people seem exhausted from the effort, rather than rejuvenated.  Whilst I won’t go into the whole “expectation, tradition, pleasing others” experience, suffice it to say that everyone seems to breathe a collective sigh of relief in the days after Christmas, when the relatives have (largely) left, the leftovers are (largely) consumed, and day to day living can get back to normal.


Then a mere week later, things gear up again for people to don the “resolution” hat, and doggedly dig out the trainers, dust off the bicycle, or find that gym membership card.  Lose weight, stop smoking, drink less, blah blah blah.  Most resolutions have fallen by the wayside before the end of January!   Speaking from personal experience, I generally try to avoid the gym during January, because it is just far too busy with the “New Year’s Resolved”.   Things settle down nicely, back into the groove by early February.  Which is when I return to the fold.

But what has all this got to do with a Simpler Life?  Simply this.  Doing less, wanting less, and consuming less are all good things.   And if we live more simply, we simply have more time to do, enjoy, and experience the things that really matter.   For us, this means that 2015 will bring a renewed focus on volunteering locally, and spending more time on minimalist pursuits (gardening, reading, and even keeping more regular posts coming on this blog!).

If you have some time, I’d recommend this article, which talks about the Simple Life in terms of community, and what we can be doing in our own neighbourhoods.  It is a bit Walden / Utopia idealist, but I like the concept.  I hope you enjoy!  And may 2015 bring you more time, more joy, and more LESS!   ; )

Written by Mar(k)

December 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Be an activist by being active!

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Challenge Yourself - Challenge Poverty

Challenge Yourself – Challenge Poverty

I just recently completed a 100 km walk in 36 hours, 44 minutes (ignore the clock behind us – it was a staggered start, and we had stuffed around a bit after we finished before we got our team photo done!).   What a crazy thing to do!   And it is not something that I would normally do.  I mean, I like to walk, and I would happily walk 100 km or more, but generally I would not punish my body such that I would complete the equivalent of 2 and a half marathons in less than two days!  So why do it?   Well, in this case, it is because it is an “event” (in this case, called the Trailwalker) which is organised by a worthy not-for-profit organisation (in this case, Oxfam).

You know the thing.   An event which brings people together (in this case, a team of four, who need to walk together the whole distance – it’s not a relay!), and at the same time, raises much needed funds for whatever “The Cause” is (in this case, promoting education, ensuring access to clean water, teaching skills to grow food and fighting for human rights).

When you walk 100 km, you get a fair bit of time to think about THINGS.   In fact, a few things that I wanted to share with you here.  One is this:  participating in events like this is so much more than just DOING whatever it is you are supposed to do.   It is a great opportunity to stretch yourself with a fitness goal, a fabulous way to spend time training with like minded souls, and a good test to see what you are made of!    I loved observing the team dynamics of our group, and was so impressed with one of our team members in particular, who really had to push himself to his limit to be able to finish the event.   But it is all part of it!  Throughout the couple of days, he stayed optimistic, kept his sense of humour, and achieved something that I am not sure many people in his position would have pushed themselves to do.  It is good to have challenges like this in our life.  It shows what we are made of.   Fewer than half of the teams that start this event, end up finishing with a full team of four.   But we did!

And then of course, there is the fundraising.   As one of our team members said, “Even though this is a tough event, and we are suffering, think of the people who live in poverty every day, and who suffer every day”.  It was a sobering reminder of a very real situation.   The fact that the lifestyle we often take for granted, is not within reach of so many people in the world.  Even a small improvement in people’s condition can make a huge difference to them.   So we were very proud of our efforts to fundraise over $5,500 for this cause.   It was our contribution to the over $1.1 million dollars that was raised this year at the Perth Oxfam Trailwalker.  There are lots of ways to be an “activist”, and one way that I particularly love is to get out there and be ACTIVE!

Written by Mar(k)

October 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Toilet Talk – why we think WASH issues are the key

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Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

Having access to clean toilets is something we might just be taking for granted.

In the development work that we have done, we have come across a lot of different issues that have an impact on people’s livelihoods.  Education, health, sanitation, poverty, work.   It is all important.   But often times the task of helping others can seem quite daunting – where do you start?

We acknowledge the inherent difficulties with trying to figure out a complex “chicken and egg” situation.   But one thing that seems clear from the places we have visited, the projects we have seen, and the issues that are out there, is that having good outcomes in the WASH area (in the development world, this is usually regarded as WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is really the starting place for other key areas (like education) to be able to take place.

This video here shows briefly why WASH issues matter.

And for our Australian readers, we don’t usually plug any particular “thing to buy”, but we are big fans of Who Gives A Crap – who are saving lives from the bottom up!   Who knew buying toilet paper could be so cheap, easy AND socially responsible?!    Here is what their website has to say about their business model:


Flush Poverty Down the Loo
At present, 40% of the world’s population don’t have access to a toilet. This is a leading contributor to endemic poverty and is a major drag on economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Diarrhoea related illnesses fill over half sub-Saharan African hospital beds and globally kill over 2,000 children under 5 every day. We think that’s pretty crap. That’s why we give 50% of our profits to WaterAid to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
Make Every Wipe Count
We believe that the need to wipe shouldn’t mean we wipe out the planet. That’s why we only use 100% recycled post consumer waste fibres in our toilet paper. It saves on trees, water and landfill which means you’re doing your bit to help keep our planet great.
Be Good for Your Bum
We don’t use any chlorine, inks, dyes or weird perfumes in our toilet paper. We just pulp the clean fibres at super high temperatures to make WGAC biodegradable, safe in septic tanks and as strong as it is silky soft. And since it’s only tested on the finest human bottoms, our toilet paper is as good for your bum as it is for the planet.

Okay, everyone!   This is a product that we ALL use, and trust us!   It’s great quality, and a great idea.   Free shipping to most Australian cities, and they deliver every where else for a song and a dance.   Don’t flush this opportunity away!

Written by Mar(k)

September 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm