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

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Work as Volunteers’ Category

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!


Aboriginal Artists from the East Kimberley

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A lot of my friends and readers were so interested in the work that I was involved with up in the East Kimberley.   However, out of respect to the Traditional Owners that I was working with, I have not written about their stories.  I do, however, have some really fantastic memories from my time up there.  Because the country is so striking, it is no surprise that the art is also incredibly striking.  So many of the TO’s that I worked with are also celebrated artists.  Indeed, Warmun is one of the most well known communities where celebrated artists find inspiration in their stories, the dreamtime, and the landscape that surrounds the small township itself.

So I was thrilled when I saw a website that has some short video clips highlighting some of the artists I have known, and have had some good laughs with.  I welcome you to check out the art and video clips of Ben Ward, a Mirriwoong man, and Gija woman Shirley Purdie.  In fact, I feel very fortunate that Shirley painted me the picture below that tells the story of Kilkayi, which is about the Barramundi dreaming in the country where I was working for her, and the other Traditional Owners.

Shirley proudly displaying her gorgeous depiction of the Barramundi dreaming (Kilkayi) story

Shirley proudly displaying her gorgeous depiction of the Barramundi dreaming (Kilkayi) story

This talk that features Churchill Cann also shows some of the magnificent country in the area.  Please do check it out!

Waste not, want not! Why I decided to dumpster dive

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This past weekend, Mark and I were helping to clean up after another successful Perth Relay for Life event (a fundraising event for the Cancer Council of WA).   It is an organisation that we have both been involved with for years.  It was interesting to help out as virtual strangers:   we had both been on the organising committee for this event for five years each (with some overlap).   Mar had been the Volunteer Coordinator, and Deputy Chairperson;  Mark had learnt the ropes while being on the committee, and then chaired the event itself over a number of years.  But now, time has marched on, and no longer do we get an invite to the “VIP” event!   Ha ha – this is actually really fine by us!   We are just happy to help out behind the scenes, and let the new guard take over.

Anyhow, while we were helping to clean up yesterday, I had noticed that in the rubbish bin were a whole lot of cut up fruit!   I am talking seriously good, nothing wrong with it, why are we throwing it away –  kind of fruit!   I asked why, and was told that (blank blank – I will not name the organisation here) was getting a donation of all the left over food, but they would not accept food that had already been cut up.  Well, I decided to do a wee bit of dumpster diving, and in I went…. and out came the ten bags of perfectly good fruit!

Perfectly good fruit!  Glad it is not going to waste....

Perfectly good fruit! Glad it is not going to waste….

Let me tell you – these fruit pieces were BIG.  There were juicy oranges, crispy apples, and ripe pears – all of them, that had just been halved.   Nothing wrong with them at all!   I hate seeing food go to waste, so I grabbed the lot of them (well, I didn’t grab the watermelon, because it DID look a bit sad, and knew it wouldn’t make it through the night).   So this morning I gave Oz Harvest a call – a great organisation that I am involved with.  They were more than happy to pick up our ten bags of fruit (see photo).   So less than two hours later, the delivery van had arrived, picked up our donation, and was then off to deliver it to a deserving organisation later today!   (NB:  You can also check out their facebook page here – give them a like!)   At the time of writing this post, they have helped rescue over 10,000 TONNES of food – helping to provide over 32 MILLION meals.   THAT is impressive!

I have passed on the contact details of Oz Harvest to the person who is responsible for donating the left over food at the Relay for Life event.  Who knows?  Maybe next year Oz Harvest will get ALL of the leftovers!

Written by Mar(k)

May 11, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Goolarri Media Enterprises

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Every now and again, Mar(k) are very happy to give a plug to an outstanding (and worthy!) not-for-profit organisation that is doing some fantastic work. We would like to draw your attention to Goolarri Media Enterprises, who have been nominated in SGIO’s People’s Choice Awards for The Sound Environment Project.  Goolarri is an indigenous-owned media organisation that supports the development of indigenous and non-indigenous communications in the Kimberley.

As the link below explains, the Sound Environment radio show will produce stories for broadcast and podcast featuring inspiring Broome area environmental projects and the passionate people who run them. Goolarri Media Enterprises aims to promote local environmental initiatives, encourage listeners to get involved, build awareness of environment and sustainability issues, and celebrates the community’s achievements.

If their funding was doubled or tripled through the People’s Choice Award, the number of stories produced for broadcast and podcast would be increased and the project expanded into the greater West Kimberley area.

Every vote will help, people! So if you don’t mind, you can help out a very worthy group in the Kimberley by simply clicking here, and voting for them!  Voting is until the end of July.

Thanks very much in advance, for your support! I will provide an update in early August once we find out if they are the fortunate winners of this award.

As an aside, one of the reasons we often support certain not-for-profit enterprises is because of personal knowledge of the people working within the organisations themselves.   It is just a good business / investment model from our perspective;  if you know the people well, you know the money will be well spent, and that every dollar will be put to good use.   In this particular case, if you watch the video associated with the voting, you will “meet” Kat Taylor, who is the lovely “poster girl” for Goolarri.  We first met Kat earlier this year when we were on a development-based study tour in Southern India.  She is a very committed, hard working young woman who deserves your support.   Here is a pic of Kat and Mark enjoying learning and sharing with a children’s college in southern India.

Kat and Mark with some of the students at the Pipal Tree Children's School in southern India

Kat and Mark with some of the students at the Pipal Tree Children’s School in southern India

What is a Good Life?

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Mar(k) are recently back from a six week trip that saw us immersed in life in Myanmar (Burma) and southern India.  Undoubtedly one of the trip highlights was a two week “study tour” which focused on visiting a number of development initiatives in the Karnataka and Kerala states in southern India.  This trip was facilitated by Community Aid Alliance, which was a forerunner to the Oxfam Australia we know today.  We were really impressed with the quality of projects that we saw;  all being run by locals through small NGO’s.  Also inspiring were the people who have dedicated literally decades of their lives helping others.  It was truly inspiring, and did give us food for thought about what it means to have a “good life”.

These fabulous women were pilgrims to a Hindu temple we visited.  Enjoying the good life!

These fabulous women were pilgrims to a Hindu temple we visited. Enjoying the good life!

So over the next number of posts, we will be focusing on highlighting some of the experiences and stories that we would like to share as a result of our “What is a Good Life” tour.

As we do that, and as many of you would already know – the issues of development are complex.  If there were easy answers, far greater minds than yours or mine, would have already solved the global issues of poverty, sanitation, health, education, etc.   So for today, we would just like to leave you with some food for thought about where our clothing comes from:   more likely than not, from a developing country.  There are no easy answers, and this short video highlights the complexities of the garment industry (particularly in Bangladesh).  Watch the one with Jasmine at the front – it is definitely worthwhile, and we would welcome your comments!

The short video also highlights some more of what we will be discussing this year on our blog;  the concept of minimalism.  The concept of enjoying experiences, rather than mindless consumption.  The joy of a human BEING, rather than a human DOING.  More conscious living, so that we can leave the world just a little bit better than the way we found it.   Who knows?  Maybe this is the way we can find our own “good life”.   Stay tuned!

Written by Mar(k)

February 6, 2014 at 9:41 am

Black, White and Shades of Grey

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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!