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Book project looking for volunteer stories

26 Dec
I thought this might be of great interest to the readers and contributors of ethnosense – especially if you have a really good story to tell from your volunteer trip.
Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers
seeks story contributions for book project
Project Description
The book project Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers seeks story contributions based upon your experience as a volunteer tourist. We ask that you contribute stories that will allow readers to share in your volunteer experience and the insight(s) you gained. The book project is premised upon the belief that volunteer tourism is a transformative experience for the community and the individual. While the concept of “voluntourism” has been theorized in an academic context, it has garnered little public attention. Transformative Tourism attempts to fill this gap and creating a resource for multiple audience.
Project Guidelines
·      Visit for detailed story guidelines
·      500-1500 word insightful, thoughtful, engaging and/or life changing stories
·      Project abstracts (250 words) due by February 1, 2012
·      Final essays due by April 1, 2012
·      Submit stories to Sara Church and Mary Gould:
Transformative Tourism: Stories from Volunteers is a collection of short stories written by people who participated in volunteer tourism trips. This edited volume will contain the transformative, enlightening, uplifting, and challenging stories told by the men and women who serve as volunteers around the world.
Contact Information
About the Editors
Sara Church traveled to Romania in 2008 on a volunteer trip with Globe Aware and the experience made a profound impact on her. Sara has over a decade of experience with Fortune 500 companies in commercial strategy, marketing, management and sales.
Mary Gould, PhD., is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Culture at Saint Louis University. She researches and publishes in the areas of tourism and travel, cultural studies and globalization.

Reflections and frowns

21 Jul

I realise my volunteering experience has three stages to it.

1. I am doing a wonderful thing (self aggrandisement?), how important this is and my ability to ‘give back’. Good stuff. Taking advantage of my ability to partake in such a program. Bonus life points.

2. This is a joke! Anyone with a hand to hold a pen could be doing this job – I am useless, is it just about the program fee for the organisation? Surely not, I’m more valuable that that?! Withdrawal. Denial. Let down.

3. This experience is mine, my work partner is like a private travel guide/translator, it is not about the work, but the culture, the people, the experience. I suddenly feel bad for having such a good set up over there, but that’s the only way I can come to terms with it.
Break away from the tight framework that we started with, enjoy hours on buses often for 20 minutes of work, watch India roll by, know that I have discovered and redefined a precious part of the world and of myself.

Generation (Hard) Y(akka)

7 Jul

When I applied for the overseas volunteering opportunity, I was struggling to find employment as a recent double-degree graduate. I completed my studies at the end of 2008. Just after the GFC unleashed itself on the world.

It’s tough being a Gen Y graduate. There are more university graduates in the jobmarket than ever before. Competition is fierce. It was particularly so after the GFC. No one was hiring.

An article written by a member of Gen Y, or, as I would call it, Gen Hard Yakka, struck me. I’ve reproduced some of it below:

Young people have simply never known what proper job security is. We are so acutely aware of how difficult it is to find a job that when we eventually get one, we work incredibly hard to protect it and remain wary of how fleeting it may be.

We entered the workforce when a job was a rare privilege.

Some of us work with the fear of being fired and accept that as legitimate because, well, that’s just the way things are these days. If you’re not the best at your job then employers are entitled to get someone who is.

This attitude shocks baby boomers who entered the workforce before unionism went out of fashion along with bell-bottomed jeans. To baby boomers, the casualisation of the workforce is a one-fingered salute to workers’ rights. To generation Y, it is an entirely acceptable and pragmatic reality of our uncertain financial times.

Influenced by an endless conveyor belt of strikes and memories of glorious unionists during the 1960s and ’70s, boomers have always believed their job is their right and no one would dare sack them for having a few off days and a sickie or two. They never experienced the distress of being a qualified, ambitious, industrious graduate desperately looking for a job in a threadbare market.

Generation Y aren’t just harder-working and more enjoyable to work with because they’re young and fresh. We have an appreciation for a job that our parents [baby boomers] simply don’t.”

I agree in large part with the above views. I hope this post didn’t come across as a huge whinge, especially as I feel very privileged to have steady and interesting employment right now.

I’m merely pointing out, as this young lady has, that a young university-educated person in Australia has a precarious short-term future.

University graduates in Vietnam have better prospects of gaining employment (corresponding to their profession) than in Australia. The competition is far too high in Australia.

However, new occupations are emerging, such as social media analysts and consultants, which did not exist 30 or even 10 years ago.

Hopefully, positions in the developing labour market will be filled with bright young minds which will bring about transformations of existing structures, systems and the status quo.

Need and Greed

5 Jul

The line between need and greed is often very thin and difficult to distinguish.  It may be somewhat obvious for the average Australian when considering a sizeable purchase.  Do I need a new phone or new car?  Or can I survive with my current one?  Taking this many steps further, you could ask the “Do I need?” question on every single one of your daily decisions, big or small.  If you took this to the extreme, you may end up living in a cave eating berries.

Let me attack this from another angle.  I discussed in the previous article about the theft of the video camera, and whether this was driven by need or greed.  I have also wondered about this from other observations.  Metal security grills on houses in remote villages in the middle of the Pacific or in Africa seem a little unnecessary.  Surely crime doesn’t exist in such remote locations.  But I can guarantee these people wouldn’t have spent the money on security grills if it wasn’t necessary.

Another example shocked me when I was travelling through Kenya.  Travel in Kenya on buses means lots of stops, and whenever you stop, there is no shortage of people trying to sell you something through the window.  This is great, as it ensures you are never hungry on a bus, as it is mostly food being sold.  However, I was in a minibus one time and the driver slowed down enough to buy some oranges.  By slow down, I mean he didn’t stop, he kept driving at a slow pace so the women selling the oranges had to run along beside the car to make the sale through the window.  Just as the money was changing hands another woman barges in trying to out-sell the other lady, nearly resulting in both ladies tripping themselves up and tumbling along the edge of the road.  With a bit of jostling the first women kept her feet and completed the sale.  This was some intense competition between the two women (who probably live in the same village) and I wonder whether it was need or greed.  The need maybe between dinner and no dinner for her family or it may have been some meat for dinner versus another night of beans and rice.  The difference between need and greed is far too hard for me to tell and not for me to judge, regardless.

My current conclusion is the difference between need and greed is a personal decision and can be only judged by the individual.  This type of moral decision is ingrained in you from your upbringing. You alone are responsible for deciding what you need and what is greed.

Puma fact:

5) Pumas are just like all other cats, they like nothing better than having a snooze in a sunny spot.  It may last 15 minutes or it may take an hour.  Either way you need to be ready to go when he is.

The place for “us” and “them”

1 Jul

I begun reading Sarah Wilson’s article in the Sunday Life with my usual assumptions, the leggy size 8 with a Colgate grin has her own photo taking up more space on the page than her writing itself. This week’s article is titled, “This week I … confront my own racism”, I begun reading what I thought to be the “anti racist” realization of a superficial Sydneyite. The text is framed around the categorisation of us and them. Our culture and that of the other. The article concludes with a statement that we should view “those people” with a sense of inclusion, to allow them to be one of us. A statement relying on binary thinking, lacking an acknowledgement of the limitations of forcing segregation.

This idea of us and them worries me, thinking about the group I fall into, the same as Sarah Wilson?! And Pauline Hanson!!

I liked to think while I was teaching in India I was being included, actually I was being included.

However after reading the Reed Dance-Culture at its Finest ,  I remembered the photo below.

I keep it for comedy value. I look ridiculous. But the local women did not. The traditional costume was fitting in every way and they could wear it with a sense of pride for the culture it represents, that they are upholding. But I was foreign, not one of them. I learned through this picture that I have a respect for what I am not, but I do not have a respect for exclusion based on generalisations. I’d never have felt the warmth and inclusion from local people if I had lived my time trying to be one of them. See photo above for how “foregin” I’d have felt for 6 months.

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.

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.

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.

Humans in an ant heap

20 Jun

One of the main projects I was working on during my year volunteering was to build up the network of environmental clubs and movements around Vietnam together. This seemed like not too much of an ask considering that the Internet connection is faster there than in Australia.

Young Vietnamese are commonly on Facebook, Yahoo Messenger and on their mobile phones texting. I’m talking about young Vietnamese who are educated and have access to computers, not those who live in the rural regions.

So I thought that connecting the enviro clubs in the major cities was fairly easy if I set up some blogs, online forums, a central portal website and a Facebook page.


Face-to-face interaction is key to building up strong, active networks. Thus, the organisation arranged many workshops and a large forum with international NGO funding to gather forty key enviro youth from around Vietnam to network and share ideas.

Online communication can only supplement relationships which are grounded in face-to-face contact.

And so it is here in Australia as well. Meetings are important, and emails can assist to distribute meeting minutes. Email exchanges can’t replace physically meeting in the same room to thrash out ideas, discussions and make decisions together.

Tertiary education by distance is simply not the way to go. Getting the on-campus university experience is still the common and preferred manner of going about one’s tertiary education. By merely sitting amongst one’s contemporaries and mixing with other bright young minds is critical. It also involves debating, challenging each other, getting your ideas put to the test and testing others’.

Lectures, tutorials, group work.

All face-to-face interaction which is conducive to rigorous learning. We all know that there’s increasing use of online learning tools.

”But a few decades of high technology can’t trump millions of years of evolution,” Glaeser says. ”Our species learns primarily from the aural, visual and olfactory clues given off by our fellow humans. The internet is a wonderful tool, but it works best when combined with knowledge gained face to face, as the concentrations of internet entrepreneurs in Bangalore and Silicon Valley would attest.”

That was taken from an article written recently by an eminent Australian economist, Ross Gittins, who explores the allure of cities and how they make sense economically for many people. He reviews the urban economist, Edward Glaeser’s new book.

“”Cities enable collaboration, especially the joint production of knowledge that is mankind’s most important creation. Ideas flow readily from person to person in the dense corridors of Bangalore or London, and people are willing to put up with high urban prices just to be around talented people, some of whose knowledge will rub off.”

Cities magnify humanity’s strengths. Because humans learn so much from other humans, we learn more when there are more people around us. Urban density creates a constant flow of new information that comes from observing others’ successes and failures. Cities make it easier to watch, listen and learn.”

In Vietnam, the urban-rural divide is very clear and the wealth is ultra-concentrated in cities. Apart from the greater focus by governmental funds, foreign aid and commercial hubs, people live live like sardines side by side and top of each other. The dynamics and rapidity of the flows of information, business and trade is incredible.

The rural communities are literally left in the dust.

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