5 Jul

A memorable  part of being an overseas volunteer is enjoying the nature and gifts of the country where serving. In my case, this meant the renowned African wildlife.  Witnessing the magic of animals being in their own natural environment, rather than being confined in a torturous zoo for the public’s amusement gave a feeling of freedom and an acknowledgement that I was entering ‘their territory’ and playing by ‘their rules’. I was shown this by being charged by a fully grown African elephant! Probably one of the most scariest moments of my life!

Moments before being charged...I was driving!!

Still leaves me speechless

Something that also got my heart pumping was my personal encounter with lion cubs. The feeling of being up close and personal with my favourite animal was breathtaking! Feelings of nerves and excitement were expressed by shivering from head to toe. I could have spent all day here being at one with one of the most feared animals.

Just as personal was the crocodile that migrated to the dam in the back yard of my uncle’s farm. My cousin and I named him Steve. He was shy and would need encouraging to come out and play.

These experiences and encounters till this day remain a highlight in my overseas experiences. A must for all. The majestic views that a painter will envy, and a photographer sigh for in vain, the freedom of the wildlife and abundance of flora, untouched natural beauty stretching up to 350 km North to South (at Kruger National Park, South Africa), are but a few reasons what makes Africa unique.

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10 words

4 Jul

The volunteer organisation in Australia wanted us to do 10 weekly words, 10 words about anything – the work, health, emotions, whatever. I thought this was a great idea because I knew I’d be writing anyway, just no with any structure.

By the end of the first week, I was: “hardened, weakened, sorting, welcomed, consumed, disgusted, delighted, appreciative, adapting, energised”.

It developed into: “active, new friends, busy, spontaneous, self righteous, purge, frustrated, fulfilled, air, consumer”

And concluded with: “solid, future, grateful, unrealistic, excited, sound, wings, ongoing, reality, peace”.

It was a quick snapshot of the week, an insight into what might have been going on inside as well. But funnily enough as it went on  I started to resent having to do it! In hindsight I’m glad I had to do it, it kind of pinpoints how I was digesting things (in all senses of the word), and allows me to unblur the 12 or so weeks we were there and better understand the things that happened and how I responded.



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” http://www.sarahwilson.com.au/2011/06/ready-to-confront-your-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 http://vimeo.com/25659149 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.

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