Archive | June, 2011

Community Building Initiatives

30 Jun

Junior Youth empowerment programs was one activity I was engaged with whilst in Swaziland. These programs are aimed at junior youth between the ages of 12-15 and are designed to assist them during these crucial years of their lives where they are in the midst of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. These programs also empower them to direct their energies towards the advancement of their communities and civilization in whole.

Though it was hard for me to sustain my own JY group whilst in Swaziland (due to continuous travelling to initiate and continue other activities) I had the bounty of training JY animators-those who initiate, facilitate and sustain JY groups-whose role is more of a mentor and leader by example rather than a teacher. I also travelled to South Africa and stayed in a farm house all alone where I was engaged in tutoring future animators for a two week block.

Junior Youth group in South Africa

A major component of JY groups is, as mentioned earlier, service to the community. These acts of service can include anything that the JY froup can think of and is assisted by the animator. One such activity we did in Swaziland was the renovation and beautifying of Baha’i property which also runs as a pre-school to residents in the wider community and where community events are held.

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A friend of mine also did similar community building activities with Junior Youth whilst serving last year at the Baha’i House of Worship in Dehli, India. He beautifully documented the campaign where conscious people from the wider community saw the need for Junior Youth development programs and were trained as animators. This video will not only be appreciated by those who volunteered in India, but by all who have a sense of the need for such community building initiatives and is highly encouraged to watch in order to get an appreciation and better understanding of all of our endeavours put in action, albeit through a different approach. This video can be watched at and the password is “junioryouth”.

It is hoped that by instilling such qualities as selfless service to humanity, coupled with moral guidance, these junior youth will grow up to be leaders for positive change in their future lives. These JY programs are systematically run world-wide by both Baha’is and non-Baha’is who are interested in creating change to advance their fellow-men and uplift society.

Story puzzle

29 Jun

I started wondering about how to tell a story, a story of experiences, in that I’ve been to places, and done things, but what story do I tell?

Of India – of the mix up with meeting up, the steam room that drowned the edges of my soul and stretched my pores to birth tears of toxins (!) That was not how I wrote that sentence the first, I lost it. But what stories to tell? – I want to tell you a story of when I was 19. Is that right? That was where I started. India: where everything is only just hanging together by magic and accident, near misses that hold the people in place amongst the chaos, the chaos that is in fact the order.

On the road again: The drivers of all and any vehicles that use their horns like a whore uses lube; excessively and indiscriminately. Like an academic uses large words; consistently and inappropriately. Like an —- I know I have stories, of hitchhiking in Argentina, sleeping on the floor in monasteries in Korea, swimming in the south china sea while a lightning storm rumbles my core.

Can I tell you a story?

I used to knit scarves, knit scarves on buses because I was a rebel and only old ladies knitted but I was busy not conforming, so busy not conforming that the things I did were dictated by the need to do and not the doing itself. I don’t know why I wanted to learn Spanish, I don’t know why I held to him for two years, I don’t know why I chose India (because I had first chosen Philipines and like a spoilt child I can pick it out like candy and go where my heart desires).

He told me its self-actualizing, that it is selfless and selfish. I didn’t know then but I know now.

Glimpses of Unadulterated Beauty

27 Jun

I watched as her cracked hands skilfully weaved the rainbow rug. She smiled a toothless smile as she absently delighted in this menial, repetitive task.

I heard their squeals as they chased the chickens back in the coop. “Amiga, amiga mira mira!”

I realised that every pound of his hammer on the foundation of the classroom was breathed with purpose.

I saw her carry her baby brother on her nine year old back as she gathered her family’s meal.

A patch of sky reflected in the puddle of the ground.

I stopped.

Like a torrent of water gushing over my head, it all made sense.

They delight in the little things.

With an enchanting simplicity, their joy captivated me and marked my life forever.

Cheers to fond memories!

26 Jun

7pm. Bar. Melbourne Airport.

I had flown into Melbourne with my team from work to attend a conference we had organised over the preceding few months.

There was half an hour before the flight back to Canberra.

We decided to celebrate the success of the conference with a drink.


Jake said he’d get the first round. Tracy ordered a G&T. When I heard “G&T”, my eyes lit up and I told him that I wanted one too. The weather had been particularly cool for autumn, and a gin and tonic was far from what one should drink in colder weather. However, when Tracy said those words, I was hit with nostalgia.


Back in Hanoi, after a hard day’s work at the NGO, I would come home. And my housemate and fellow volunteer would fix me an ice cold G&T, with a slice of lime. He concocted them so well. We would then sprawl on the couch talking about our respective days, the challenges, the quirks, the triumphs, the small wins, the things we loved. It was great downtime, chatting to someone who knows what I’m going through, despite both of us working in quite different working environments. Also, he was a white male and I’m Viet kieu, so they treated us differently.

Nevertheless, those chats in the cool, tiled house in Hanoi, away from the humidity, heat and dust, with a G&T in our hands, are moments I cherish.

So hearing someone in Australia say “G&T” brought fond memories to my mind.

And when I had it in my hand, sipping on it in Melbourne Airport, I mentioned to my workmates that G&Ts now remind me of Hanoi.

Tracy said it reminded her of her travels through South America.

Bec shared about how the beer she was drinking reminded her of backpacking in London.


All three of us held our drinks – the links to places and unique experiences.


Cheers to fond memories!


* Names have been changed to protect identities.


26 Jun

This photo was taken at an event this week in celebration of National Refugee Week. The first thing I thought of was all of us and the work we are engaged in.

Keeping in mind our personal journeys and collective ideals, let’s put together our own acrostic poem of the word “ETHNOPEEPS” that can be used as a backdrop and representation of our efforts!

Ill begin with:

Enlightened educators


The Oneness of Mankind

26 Jun

Last Tuesday I attended a community building event that revolved around Indigenous peoples and their struggles. The attendance was minimal, but the learning unlimited. Though I took a different approach and stance to one of the guest speaker’s views (an Indigenous activst), I still felt positive afterwards.

His retrospective attitudes and beliefs were backwards, harmful, prejudiced to all races but his own, and in essence tried to fight fire with fire. Today, this won’t achieve any real change. Rather than leaving disheartened, I left feeling further enlightened to the need of humanity’s best interests-the upliftment of the ‘human race’ rather than the exaltation of any one race or culture.

Taking a prospective approach to such injustices is a far more effective method. This is summed up perfectly in the following counsel of Baha’u’llah:

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

Stay in school, kids!

26 Jun

LANGUAGE WARNING. Proceed with caution.

One in the air for the people that ain’t here,
Two in the air for the father that’s there,
Three in the air for the kids in the ghetto,
Four for the kids who don’t wanna be there,
None for the n-ggas trying to hold them back,
Five in the air for the teacher not scared,

To tell those kids that living in the ghetto (that the n-ggas holdin back) that the world is theirs’!”

In Vietnam, a large proportion of parents cannot send their children to secondary and tertiary schools – particularly in the rural areas. Males are generally prioritised over females. Thus, not many girls go past Year 9.

My relatives are of that demographic.

They struggle as farmers in land that is sometimes infertile, hardly managing to put their children through school, and girls marry early to gain some level of security.

In Vietnam, many of the university students see the USA as the promised land- for the perfect lifestyle, for the perfect education.

Yet kids in the USA have to fight their own battles to stay in school.

They need positive role models like rapper Lupe Fiasco to encourage them to value their education.

So no matter what you been through,
No matter what you into,
No matter what you see when you look outside your window,
Brown grass or green grass,
Picket fence or barbed wire,

Never ever put them down,
You just lift your arms higher,
Raise em till’ your arms tired,
Let em’ know you’re there,
That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere.”

Above all, children need a sense of hope – whatever the circumstances they are in.

Complacency and apathy are our defence mechanisms

26 Jun

Above: The BBC news piece that caused a stir across the globe in 1985.

Beware: Diatribe below. Proceed with caution.

We, in the first world, choose not to care.

That way, when we hear about bad things happening in the world, we can still live our lives in comfort and enjoyment. By choosing not to care, we insure ourselves against disappointment, frustration, anger, and other uncomfortable feelings when things go wrong. So if we don’t care about immigration issues, if the sex slave trade sky rockets in Australia, we can successfully disengage and categorise it as someone else’s problem.

How do we so successfully achieve this state of uncaringness (I just invented that word)?

This is achieved by becoming complacent with the state of mayhem of the world, resulting in apathy, which paralyses us from taking steps to do anything about it. I’m not surprised by this. There are two key reasons I would like to point out as to why we, in particular the young people of the first world, are complacent and apathetic.

1. Aid doesn’t work. Giving money and volunteering in foreign countries doesn’t solve the world’s complex problems. Well, more accurately, aid hasn’t accomplished the transformations that many people hoped it would. Look at Africa, for example. I read an article while in university, that decades of aid has not lifted Africa out of poverty. It supports the structures that continue to entrench Africa in a cycle of poverty. I don’t know where that article is, but I’ve found a useful article written in 2009  I’ve also found a blog site that illuminates on the subject.

Above: A short glimpse at the “Dead Aid” in Africa issue in 2009.

The old marketing strategy of guilt-tripping people into giving aid money by broadcasting ads containing starving, sad-looking Africans on TV, especially during mealtimes – no longer works. Live Aid of the 1980s and Live 8 more recently, revived by Bono, as part of the “Make Poverty History” campaign has likewise not brought about transformative changes.

The makers of the Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionnaire, donated £500,000 to charities in India, prompting others to do likewise. The recent TV documentary mini-series, Go back to where you came from, has found a new type of story-telling which speaks to people and has ignited renewed dialogue on this global issue. The twittersphere and other online spheres continue to buzz about this issue. Despite these glimmers of hope that those in the first world are engaging in these issues, there is still the general population who have disengaged with these global issues.

The second key reason why we’ve become complacent and apathetic toward global issues is:

2. We have not been brought up to care about global issues.

I read a fantastic book by John Raulston Saul, called The Unconscious Civilization. It discusses how the institutions in society are geared toward encouraging passivity, mindless and continually increasing consumption and unconscious living.

One of the solutions that he poses to unconscious living is to take back our governments. This means that those of us who live in democracies need to become active democratic citizens in order for our government to truly represent us, instead of whingeing about and putting up with the government of the day.

Those of us in Australia who have gone through the formal educational institutions were never taught how to be democratic citizens, to express civic duties and responsibilities, and in turn, receive civic benefits. High school education is focused on ticking the boxes set out by the curriculum. University readies us to be worker bees.

In amongst all of that education, you don’t learn how to be a good citizen. To engage in community work, to protect and preserve the surrounding natural environment, to support the disadvantaged in the local area. We haven’t grown up being encouraged to do community work, like regenerating native bushland where it has come under attack by foreign species; or helping out at the local disability centre; or volunteering for the community fundraiser concert.

Thus, we don’t know how to be actively democratic.

If we grew up with a greater appreciation of civic duties we would be able to care and take greater ownership of our lives and our democratic nation. In turn, we would also care about and engage in global issues which concern each and every Australian. By actively engaging, we would have no need for defence mechanisms to protect us from feeling upset about Africans dying from treatable diseases. We would be OK with such feelings. We would also most likely take steps to engage with such issues.

Out of sight, out of mind?

25 Jun

My confusion has not been untangled and neatly filed away.

I can’t move on yet.

These people live and breathe in my land.

On the road to nowhere

For most the volunteer experience is both temporary and short. The volunteer pays for X weeks of cultural immersion and participation in a meaningful project. At the end of it they may travel further, continue on to other projects, but eventually they all return home. The friendships they make are real and important, but are also somewhat contractual – lives diverge and the memories live on. It’s easier that way.

One year ago today I arrived at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in WA. For two weeks I was literally thrown in the deep end. A team of 6 Uni students, we were plonked in the desert to establish ‘entertaining and educational’ programs at the newly re-opened detention facility. Our ‘clients’ were 300 Afghan male asylum seekers ranging from 18 to 80. Most of us had never met anyone from Afghanistan. During that fortnight I delighted in teaching yoga and Aussie slang to the somewhat bemused men and in return learning how to cook, speak and dance like a Hazara. Three days after returning to Sydney I contacted my manager begging to go back in the September Uni break. The thought of never seeing them again was actually distressing. By the time I returned, the camp had swollen to 750 men.

For the past year I have been in almost daily contact with people from Curtin. I have seen a handful of men receive their visas – their golden tickets to freedom – and start their new lives in Australia. I have also seen a great deal more languish in that hidden place. As one friend said to me “Our camp is growing but our hearts are shrinking”. The camp now houses over 1400 men from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran. The prominence of asylum seeker slander in mainstream media makes it awfully hard to feel any kind of hope for them. Having volunteered in India and Vietnam it is so easy to cast blame for basic human rights violations on corrupt governments and the cycle of poverty. But I cannot, and will never, understand the blatant and intentional punishment of such vulnerable and innocent people in Australia. The hypocrisy of it saddens me beyond belief.

The only comfort I can find is in the strength and resilience of those men. Upon reading this they would most likely tell me to stop being so weak! I just hope that they have enough energy to last them through until the end, until they get their freedom, until the real challenge begins…

If you haven’t already watched it, I can highly recommend the SBS show “Go Back to Where You Came From”. Truly riveting stuff.

Sebastian, Inequality and Good People

23 Jun

On Thursday February 3, I went on my first and only house visit to Pumamarca in the Cusco region. That afternoon I met a fourteen year old boy, Sebastian, who possessed the kindest and purest heart that I have ever met. He has suffered a lot in his life and is heavily malnourished due to poverty. His mother is a severe alcoholic, who in her states of delirium sells the family’s only source of revenue such as a cow for S./5 (approx. $1.80). Sebastian is then forced to go into town to buy another one for 50x the price with money that they do not have. His father is currently in hospital as a result of being hit in the head by a bull. He has younger brothers that he has to look after as well as the livestock. Despite all this and then some, he is hopeful that things can better for him and his family and he still clings onto his dreams. He has a bright personality and humble heart. As we were speaking to his mum, we heard him up the mountain while herding the bulls, singing joyfully. Meeting Sebastian and this house visit remains to this day the best day of my life.

The lives of people in poverty are so far removed from the minds of us in the western world. Sure, we can empathise because it is not fair that people should suffer and an indignant anger is a natural response but what of it if nothing were practically implemented? We should be compelled to care more and be moved to DO something greater then our feelings and emotions dictate otherwise we are wafting to and fro in a haze of emptiness. That’s why I love Peru’s Challenge, because they are practical and are respected in the Cusco region. The work that they undertake has a goal of sustainability which is crucial in development yet the concept of sustainability is often made redundant in favour of instantaneous change which is ephemeral. Change can be immediately tangible but it’s success is in its longevity and sustainability. Empowering local communities, families and individuals is the best way to implement change and aid.

Another hurdle that the natives of Quilla Huata and Pumamarca must face is the discrimination between rural and city folk. There is still a great disparity between those from the city and the indigenous people and this inequality makes it difficult to complete an education as most of the secondary schools are situated in the cities, which makes it almost impossible for the children from Quilla Huata and Pumamarca to attend as the costs of transport is so high. Often times, families favour their children to make handicrafts to sell to tourists instead of completing their education. Or the children would be working on the things they should sell in class therefore their attention and efforts are divided. I heard of one story where a bright young boy in Pumamarca was aspiring to be a politician in Peru and had the intelligence and charisma to go far, however his family demanded that he stay home and care for the livestock. I have no doubt that these unfortunate occurrences are common.

Despite these negative realities, I have seen for myself that the future of Quilla Huata and Pumamarca is bright because people are starting to understand how important education and community is. Furthermore, the children and families are eager to learn and give back to the community. I can name a plethora of stories that I heard about the community members going out of their way in their strengths and efforts to give back to each other and Peru’s Challenge. One story that has stuck with me is when a family’s house was completely ruined and unlivable due to flooding. Peru’s Challenge intervened and built a new house for the family who was already undergoing extreme domestic hardship. As a result of Peru’s Challenge’s benevolence, Christian, a fourteen year old boy contributes his strength to building classrooms, walls and other people’s houses. He shows up on the work site ardent and committed to help those who are less fortunate. For someone so young to understand pure generosity completely blows my mind and challenges me to live better and kinder.

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