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

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

Celebrating Leadership in Social Accountability

leave a comment »

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!



Celebrating some inspiring Indigenous Australians

leave a comment »

Time to start celebrating the positive side of Indigenous CultureSo much of the time, it seems that mainstream media is filled with bad news stories.  And sometimes those news stories help to formulate our views and beliefs about certain groups, certain situations, etc.   If we don’t have any direct exposure to a certain group, for example, then what we hear and see in the media may be our only exposure to those groups of people.

In Australia, there seems to be a plethora of negative news stories that crop up when dealing with Indigenous Australians.  Most of us would be familiar with the common news clips about high rates of incarceration for Indigenous people, poorer health outcomes (see Close the Gap for more information about this one), lower educational achievements, and the list goes on.  But the dealings that we have had with Indigenous Australians have largely been positive.  And we wonder where these good news stories are.   So today we wanted to share with you some very inspiring snapshots of some great work that is being done by 20 inspiring Indigenous Australians. Check it out here.

And finally, on a slightly more humourous note, I did also want to share this with you.  Its not really “related” to the above, per se.   But if I had a penny for every time I have had this conversation, I would definitely be a wealthy woman!   Check it out, it is good for a laugh.  Be sure to watch the off-takes at the end as well.   Hope you guys all have a fabulous day!


WA Senate (Re) Election – and why I am glad we live in a democracy

with 2 comments

This coming Saturday, Western Australians will once again be heading to the polls to elect six senators to represent us in the Upper House of Parliament  (the Senate).  We have to go to the polls “again”, because in the previous election (held in September 2013), there were 1370 ballot papers that went “missing”.   This was a case of “every vote counts”, as the preferential voting system that Australia has resulted in two candidates who were declared winners being later found to have been defeated by two OTHER candidates, after a ballot re-count based on preferences.


So!  Here we are.  A few days to go, and it still could be anybody’s game.  This is the first election that I have been actively (that is to say, politically) involved in for over twenty years.  And the reason is this:  Australians have now elected a new Government (that is, Abbott’s Liberal government, who have a majority in the House of Representatives).  So if the Libs were to gain control of the Senate, it means that they could push through their legislation without serious challenge.   And I don’t like that.  In fact, I wouldn’t like that, regardless of WHAT party was in power.   I think the checks and balances that an Upper and Lower House provide is crucial to the functioning of a strong democracy.   So I am campaigning.  Actively.  For things I believe in, and that I normally don’t get too vocal about.   For policies and views that affect the disadvantaged.   Like asylum seekers.  Like the working poor.   Like Indigenous Australians.   Like animals, who don’t have a voice, but about whose welfare I care deeply.   And for the democratic process.

I am proud to be a citizen in a country where you CAN hold beliefs that are different than the government in power, and not go to jail for it.   And I think it is important to be an activist for things that you believe in.  So I think it is important that we elect, in this particular election, Scott Ludlam into the Senate.   He is a Greens candidate.    And I know that a lot of right wing people in WA don’t have a lot of time for the Greens.   But the reality is that it is good for democracy, and good for the political process, to have contrasting views in both the Upper and Lower Houses.  And Labor isn’t going to provide that.  They are simply too closely aligned with too many of the policies of the Abbott Government.

But hey, if you aren’t decided yet on how you are going to vote, why not check out this Get-Up Guide to the WA Senate By-Election, to see what policies are important to you, and where the various political parties stand on those issues.   Regardless of who you vote for, it is not going to change who is in government.  But a Senate that has a strong minor party voice WILL improve the outcomes on important issues.   And that can only be a good thing.   And if you want to do something to help make our fantastic country even better, consider becoming a Get Up Member.  This will give you a voice, outside of any one political party, to stand for the things you believe in.  You can have your say for the things that Get Up works on in 2014 by taking their survey here.

But now back to the election.  Regardless of how you vote, get out there and vote! (aside from the fact that you are required to by law!  LOL).  It is important for our democratic process, and I don’t know about you, but I always do get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I walk out of the ballot station, knowing I have done my bit for the democratic process.

Black, White and Shades of Grey

leave a comment »

shades of greyDuring the festive season, there are countless posts about giving, generosity, the “Top 10 _____” (insert whatever is appropriate).   But we thought we’d take a slightly more somber look at development issues generally, but using a specific example closer to our (Australian) home – that of the plight of Indigenous Australians – in particular, the acute housing shortage that is found in remote parts of the country.

We are not going to delve into this particular issue ourselves, but would refer you here, where you will find an excellent, multi-media summary that highlights the acute housing crisis in the Tennant Creek area of the Northern Territory.  As this excellent article points out, the myriad of issues facing Indigenous Australians is unlikely to be solved by addressing the housing crisis.   It is the tip of the iceberg, but certainly SHELTER features pretty high on Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy.

What we did want to share was our experiences in dealing with development type issues.  Part of the training we did (with Australian Volunteers International) before we set off to Ghana, was to help us understand that things are rarely black and white.  Indeed, at first glance, many issues appear to have a simple solution.   As we found on the ground, this is rarely the case.   If things were as black and white as this, then the multitude of development issues (poverty, lack of education, lack of sanitary conditions, racism, lack of water, discrimination, disability, and the list goes on….) would have been solved long ago.   Greater minds than ours have looked at these issues, and have tried to find solutions for decades.  Instead, what our experience as volunteers has taught us, is that there are many shades of grey.  Things are rarely as they originally appear, and the day to day experience of people needs to be understood thoroughly before aid can make a qualitative (and quantitative) difference in people’s lives.

We are always mildly bemused when well intentioned (or perhaps ill informed?) people quickly jump to a conclusion that will look something like this:   “What the _____(insert disadvantaged group here) need to do is _____”.    or this:   “The problem with _____ is simply that they should be doing ______”.     You get the picture.

In our experience, the bigger the problem, the more complex it is to solve.  The dependency of a number of factors, coupled with things like generational trauma, systemic discrimination, and poverty more generally serve to put people behind the eight ball.   It is difficult to ever get in front if you are constantly scrambling to just keep afloat.

There are no easy answers, but we can all do our part.   May 2014 be filled with abundance and blessings to you.  Thank you for continuing to read our blog, and we look forward to bringing you more material into the new year.   We are going to be heading off to India, where we will be seeing some “development ideas in action”, that we look forward to being inspired by.   Stay tuned!

Sharing Ideas @ TEDxPerth

leave a comment »

During breaks, the conversations continued out in the courtyard where Q&A sessions were held

During breaks, the conversations continued out in the courtyard where Q&A sessions were held

Hopefully some of our readers already know all about the wonderful TED initiative.   These Ideas Worth Spreading have been going on since 1984, and over 1500 videos are available here free to charge to peruse.  They cover a wide range of topics, emanating from the original TED nucleus of Technology, Entertainment and Design.  This past weekend Mar(k) had the opportunity to attend the TEDxPerth talks, which were truly inspiring!

TEDx encouraged us to meet new people, and the people I met at the coffee breaks and over lunch, and even sitting next to me in sessions were interesting and amazingly diverse.   Here is a sample:

  • Brodie, who runs Spacecubed, an innovative place where people can collaborate on ideas.
  • Two women (Renae and her boss – the Marketing Manager) for the Art Gallery of WA
  • Martin, a lawyer who immigrated from Hong Kong as a child, and is also the Secretary of the Chung Wah Association in Perth.  His long association with this great organisation goes back to his childhood, when he remembered teaching some of the older Chinese folks English.
  • A student who has her masters in Anthropology but is now going back to get her masters in Law.
  • A lady who was passionate about sustainable living, growing broad beans and raising chooks in suburban Perth.

The speakers were all first rate, and inspiring.

From musical performances to talks about complementary therapy for cancer patients, sustainable communities, and dealing with refugees in a humane way – it was a great day out.

Getting constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians

leave a comment »

One of the items on our radar over the last year or so has been the discussion that has started within Australia about acknowledging Indigenous Australians within the constitution.   Shockingly, Australia is the last democracy with a constitution permitting laws that discriminate on the basis of race.  We feel that this is something that obviously needs to change;  but in order for it to happen in Australia, a referendum must be passed.   This referendum needs to be one that has bi-partisan support, and that the majority of Australians support.   Sadly, there are quite a few hurdles that need to be leapt over before this can happen – and these hurdles are one reason why the referendum has been deferred.

Another key reason to defer the referendum is that more grassroots support throughout Australia needs to be obtained.  A recent Auspoll found that 61 per cent of people are not even aware that there is a proposal to recognise Aboriginal Australians in the constitution.  Information is key – if people don’t know, or don’t understand the crux of the issue, then they will do what they have always done…. vote “no” when it comes time to cast their ballot.  So there is a lot of work on the ground that needs to happen.

I recently attended an information session about this very matter, and it was a good discussion, but I was a bit disappointed that the attendance was sparse.  Not surprisingly, there was a fair bit of focus during the question period around the issue of sovereignty.  Sovereignty is really about the ability of a people (in this case, Indigenous Australians) to have the right of self-determination;  the legitimate power to govern themselves.  This is a very valid way to progress indigenous rights in Australia, and as a First Nations person from Canada, I can totally understand why some people are choosing to move down this path.   But constitutional recognition and the discussion of sovereignty is not an “either/or” discussion.  You can support constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, and still campaign hard for issues like sovereign nations and treaties to be developed.

Another huge hurdle to overcome is that Indigenous Australians are incredibly diverse;  in their languages, their lifestyles and their views on issues like constitutional reform, etc..    so depending on the type of wording that gets used in the actual referendum question, it may alienate some groups, etc….   This is a big challenge, because getting the wording over the line will mean a whole lot of people coming together for a common purpose, and focusing on one another’s similarities, rather than differences.   A big challenge perhaps, but one that I really hope we Australians are up for!

In the meantime, what  IS being proposed is that Parliament pass a short-term ”Act of Recognition” to acknowledge ”the unique and special place of our first peoples”.   No doubt a useful first step, but there is no guarantee that even this will happen.   The coalition has already stated it will not support such a move.  But irrespective of whether the Act of Recognition is adopted, we clearly need to take the next step, and ensure that the referendum  gets some legs and gets up and running!   So we are doing our part by posting this information, in the hopes that in particular, our Australian readers can start to be part of the necessary conversation about this important issue.

You can read more about this discussion here.    Or here..….

Written by Mar(k)

October 10, 2012 at 9:34 am

No Room for Racism

with 4 comments

Recently we attended a fabulous World Music Festival in Adelaide called WOMAD.  (or more specifically, WOMADELAIDE).  We had a great time, and enjoying the world grooves with like minded souls.  One fellow (whose name I later discovered was Michael), was sporting an umbrella with a fantastic flag on the outside (see photo below).   It had the words “NO ROOM FOR RACISM” on it, and I just loved it.

A bit of background for readers who may not be familiar with some things going on in Australia at the moment.  One thing is that there is a big political debate at the moment about “letting in” refugees.  Some particularly narrow minded, bigoted Australians have said ridiculous things like “go home, we’re full” (obviously meaning they do not support any further immigration and/or allowing people who have risked their lives to get to Australia to be granted refugee status).   Anyhow….  it was a dig, I am sure, at these people. 

Another great thing about this flag is the reference / link to the Australian Aboriginal flag (shown here).  This flag was designed by Indigenous Elder Harold Thomas in 1971, and is a symbol of Aboriginal identity. The yellow represents the sun (giver of life) and yellow ochre. Red represents the red earth (the relationship to the land) and the red ochre used in ceremonies. Black represents the Aboriginal people.

How appropriate, then, that the flag with the words “no room for racism” is done echoing the sentiments of not only many indigenous Australians, but many of we imports, as well!  good on ya, Michael.   We need more of you!!!

Written by Mar(k)

March 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm