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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 Thrill of Hearing Life Stories

6 Jun

I love this song. He sings with such an energy, power and excitement asking for stories about experience. I don’t know what Jonathan Boulet was thinking when he wrote it, but I think of all the people I have met, and want to meet. And the stories they have to tell.

While overseas, volunteering and living in India I met a man, Tashi, he was a Tibetan refugee, teaching English in Buddhist monastery and he wrote beautiful poetry. We met up to drink tea every now and then, he helped me plan classes. One day he said goodbye, and that I’d probably never see him again. He was beginning a walk across the Himalayas to Tibet that night. He trafficked information between the Tibetan Governments; in exile and in Tibet.

A close friend I met in India, Yanzom, was studying  12th grade at the hostel where I lived. She came from an isolated village in the mountains in North Eastern India, and had moved to attend school. She would often come into my room to sit and chat and read, we would often read the same books then talk about them. One day, talking about her family, she told me her mother had given birth to 12 children, 6 of whom had survived to this day due to malnutrition and lack of medical services. Now she aspires to be a doctor.

I was driving past a glacier with a friend, Delek, he pointed up the glacier and said, “My brother died there, he fell down a crevasse, he still lies at the bottom”. He’d never before mentioned having a brother.

On returning to Australia I became involved in the Tibetan community in Dee Why, Sydney. I met a man, Lobsang, who was once the Education Minister of Tibet, but was forced to leave by the Chinese Government. He now holds an (un) official role as a leader in the Tibetan community, and stacks the fridges in Coles, Dee Why.

I have also become involved with the EthnoSense blog and have the pleasure to not only read, but more so, meet up with my fellow bloggers to hear their amazing, inspirational stories, told by people who looked like any other stranger until we started talking.

There was a time when I did not think much about strangers. They were exactly that, strange to me. I had never thought about what stories a woman serving me in a supermarket or a boy next to me on the bus might have. I now relish in the opportunities to share stories, learning my greatest lessons from the experiences of “the little man”. It is greatly humbling to know that no one can be taken on face value.

Outdated Practices-the Ugly Side.

2 Jun

So the general feeling is that wherever we went, we felt that the people and place was the most amazing. We felt that the culture was incredible and wished ‘why couldn’t people back home be like this?’ The humility, hospitality, true compassion and care, love, generosity etc that was given to us and that was practiced commonly. I often marvelled at this and tried to find one fault. For the first three months I thought I was living in paradise and that this could be a utopian society!

However, as the months went by, I began to see the ugly side. I began to see the effects poverty has on peoples actions. I began to see the outdated, dangerous and inhumane side of widespread practiced traditions and culture. I saw the injustices caused by politics and those with power (in Africa, this means money). At one stage I was pulled over and fined for driving with an expired Australian driver’s license. They don’t even have expiry dates on licenses in Swaziland/South Africa, yet I was booked for not flying back to Australia and renewing my license and flying all the way back just to drive! Truth was the cops just wanted money from a ‘rich white guy’. I gave them an equivalent to $5.

The most shocking aspect that affected me the most was the outrageous cultural practices conducted on albinos. Some reports suggest there are about 150000 albinos living in Tanzania, North of Swaziland. Naturally, there are many living in Swaziland also. I was blessed to befriend an albino lady, Precious, who I got to spend some time with her and her family. As Africans are still very superstitious and cultural, they still hold the belief that body parts of albinos are useful for voodoo, or traditional African witchcraft. Sadly, this belief is still held by ‘educated’ people-ministers, police, teachers-essentially everyone from each end of the social and intellectual spectrum. If police cannot solve a crime, they commonly resort to witch doctors to provide mutti (mixture of herbs etc) used to ‘help’ the case!

witch doctor I visited who gave us mutti mixed in this bowl-ingredients included various herbs and a feather from a rare bird that he wanted us to catch in the wild! Instead we bought it from the local market.

Talk about backwards! Anyway, back to mistreatment of albinos-about a month before I left Swaziland, I read in the paper that two infant siblings had been decapitated and killed. Shocking? Not as much as the next caption I read a week later: that these kids’ graves were dug up so that the rest of their body parts can be taken and used for mutti of various kinds. I even read reports that many political leaders in Africa (yes elected leaders) still practice this and hold to the belief that albino body parts can bring prosperity and success.

Precious, Nogubekezele, myself and Gugu

learning guitar by my friend Xolani (the 'X' is pronounced with a 'click' !!!

Shame. Outdated cultural and traditional practices. Disregard for humanity.

My thoughts now are: did anyone else experience the ugly side of where you served?

Despite this all, the practices of the minority did not in any way tarnish the reputation and love and respect I still hold for the majority. What I believe is that tradition and culture are positives, but are only useful and relevant today if they contribute to the society we live in now. Outdated practices should be left behind so that humanity can ascend higher and achieve more purposeful realities.

Christmas Hack …

25 May

Triple J Hack – Christmas Island Volunteers

Did anyone hear Hack on Triple J yesterday evening? I got into my car after coming out of the gym and heard the words “Christmas Island”, “ALIV” and “detention”, and had intense flashback moments to working in the detention centre on Christmas Island in January this year.

Have a listen – it’s really interesting. Start at about 5:25 if you’re short of time!

To Pray or Not to Pray

18 May

I was handed an interesting dilemma when I volunteered in the Philippines. It was one that was seemingly minor and I did not discuss it with my fellow volunteers nor anyone else during the trip. But certainly it played on my mind. The part of the Philippines I was stationed in held deeply Christian believes. I, on the other hand, am deeply non-religious. The only times I have set foot in a church I was there for weddings or funerals and, even then, a lot of the religious rhetoric went completely over my head.

This lack of knowledge in regards to Christianity was not so much of a problem at the Bahay Tuluyan (BT) boys’ centre where I spent the majority of my time, as we ate our meals separately from the boys and, thus, I was not obliged to take part in before-meal praying. When I visited the girls’ centre, however, I was faced with a new situation. We ate together and before each meal, everyone stood and chanted out a prayer, followed by the Sign of the Cross (I think that’s what it’s called?). At first I decided it would be tactful for me to pretend to pray and to stumble my way through the Sign – at times I think I touched my nose instead of my forehead and belly instead of my chest. (By now you should really have the idea of how truly clueless I am when it comes to Christian ritual.)

After a couple of days, it started to rankle on me that I was putting forward this deception. Was it more offensive for me to pretend to pray than it was for me to simply do nothing? By hiding my own non-religious identity was I completely contradicting the human rights (which included the right to freedom of religious beliefs) that my group were helping to teach?

In the end I decided that I would no longer pretend to pray nor continue to decimate the Sign of the Cross. Instead, I simply stood when the girls stood and did nothing when the girls prayed. No-one called me out on this so I think it was the right decision. But what does everyone else think? Should I have continued to pretend for the sake of tact? Also, I want to know, has anyone else been in a similar position where your beliefs did not match those of your host country? What did you do?

Amusement in Poverty?

14 May

So it seems that all us volunteers went to places where poverty was rife whether in India, South America, Asia or Africa. We all seem to have the same reactions and shared similar living conditions-whether bathing out of a basin, using drop toilets, walking as the main mode of transport etc. I’m sure our family and friends have seen our photos of these living conditions, then looked at us and were like “wow” with a suprised look on their face that said “I can’t believe you did that, it must have been awesome!”
But we know it definitely was an experience, but the reality was it was not awesome knowing the struggles these people go through to survive.

This got me thinking, why are Westerners so ‘amused’ by poverty?

I remember watching a movie in South Africa where a white tourist went to the slums of Jozi (Johannesburg). When she came in contact with one of the ‘well-off’ thugs he angrily asked “what brings you here?” She replied,  “It amuses us (Westerners) to see poverty, its somewhat romantic.”

In all honesty, I’m sure all of us captured photos of poverty, right? I sure did.
Why did you?

What for?

stick and stone housing

Do we share some of these traits of being amused by poverty? Or did we capture these photos to remind ourselves of how lucky we are?

Despite this, I’ve learnt that the less you have, the MORE you really have. More time for the important things in life: love (for family, friends, God), respect, true compassion, happiness and understanding, and a more clear and unclouded and undefiled mind.

heart-warming smiles

"O Friend! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love..."

The saddest part of all this is that it shamefully exists. Such difference in quality of life should be made extinct. The rich and the poor, the first-world and the third-world, us and them should be eradicated for mankind to progress and lift to the heights of equality and oneness.

But how can such a utopian society come into being?
A food for thought as I’m sure through our experiences we see such a need in the world.

Opportunism versus altruism

10 May

Sometimes I think my decisions to volunteer are opportunistic and almost without any altruistic motives.  I go because the opportunity comes up, because I have time, because I want to travel.

I went to Yuendumu because for years I had been saying “I would love to work in an Indigenous community!”  And then I got back from overseas and had 5 months till uni started again, and I saw the Youth Challenge Australia link on a website.

I went to Christmas Island because I was returning to uni after working for a few years and had excess time over January and February and a lack of money.  A few people in my immediate circle had applied with ALIV to volunteer on Christmas and in other detention centres, and it was one of the few completely supported volunteer positions available.

Only later, after the decision has been made, and people start responding do the altruistic motives seem to come in.  They say, “wow, what made you do that?  What a great thing to do!”  And even though I try and make my opportunistic and selfish motives plain they only seem to hear and recognise altruistic motives.

This is a wallwisher.

By clicking on it you can go to a collaborative sticky-note wall and answer the  question

Why did you decide to go?

Double click on the wall to add your own sticky note.

Question time

7 May

Did anyone find that sometimes the work you were doing felt ‘useless’?

No.. Wait I don’t want to say useless really, but — maybe ineffecient? (coming from a culture that values efficiency and productivity…) or maybe, a tiny bit of a waste?

I felt at times I had to let go of an idea of being valuable, of ignoring the people back home who didn’t know what it was all about (and would say that its such a “good thing” that I’m doing…and that they wouldn’t be able to do it..) and it was more that things were getting done and I happened to be the one doing them. Does that make sense?

And another thing- did you ever do certain things differently because you were of a volunteer status?
– like knowing you had computer access for work related tasks, but sending off some emails because you’re “doing a good thing for them”..?
Hmm. I have to admit (kind of spurred by the post on stories I don’t tell) that there have been things on my mind about the volunteer program/my overall experience, and maybe this is one tiny element that I wondered if anyone else had similar experiences of.

Stories I (don’t) tell …

4 May

There are some stories I tell all the time about my experiences as a volunteer in unusual places.  They become rote stories that have the same intonation and wording from repeated tellings.  They belong to the collective consciousness of my friends and family, who have heard them so many times they know when they are coming.

This is one story I tell that has become part of a body of stories I no longer own but have been told so many times they exist in the collective mind of my family and friends.

This house was opposite mine, and every morning and evening when I left and came home the ladies who lived here said hello.  One day in the middle of winter I stayed inside all day.  The next day, on my way to school one old lady called, “Nakamarra, you lazy one!  You didn’t go anywhere yesterday!”

I tell this story because it reflects the extreme belonging I felt during my time in Yuendumu and the everyone-knowing-everything-about-everyone feeling that existed in the community.

But there are some stories I don’t tell.  I don’t tell them because I still can’t make sense of them in my mind, or because I worry about people’s reactions and my ability to enter into the resultant conversation, or simply because they are precious memories.

This is a Voicethread of photos and stories I don’t tell.

Are there stories you don’t tell?

Electrical Fires and Thieving monkeys

3 May

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At one of the school placements when I was going through the compulsory checklist, I noticed the toilets had no buckets or mugs but some small broken chains. The student volunteer told me that they must now keep the mugs (for toilet washing/flushing) in the teachers office because the monkeys kept stealing them!

So they tried chaining them up, but the monkeys broke the chains.

“so… should I write that on the checklist under ‘comments’?”

= renewed appreciation that I don’t deal with mug stealing monkeys on a daily basis.

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