Tag Archives: challenge

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.

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a sanitised depiction

7 Jul

Merely watching the first 2 minutes of Luke Nguyen’s show persuades the viewer of the beauty of Vietnam.

I wish I could be as laid back and relaxed as Luke Nguyen is in Vietnam.

His exuberance, enthusiasm and the way he fully embraces and expresses his love for Vietnam seems genuine and is very believable. It’s probably because he is genuine. However, despite him jumping right into local food culture, the show depicts quite a sanitised version of Vietnam. Even the introductory montage (around 2 minutes into the above youtube video) has a pearly white glow.

Whereas, when one is aware and confronted by the social and political climate in Vietnam, it’s difficult to let go, relax and be enchanted by ‘charming’ Vietnam. It is difficult to be creative in your work and be proactive and positive in your outlook every day.

A friend recommended a recently published book to me. Vietnam, Rising Dragon, explores the complex and fascinating period in which Vietnam is developing in, and goes beyond the deceptive tourism campaign. I read the excerpt and was sold.

It is exactly the book I need to read upon returning to Australia after being living and volunteering in Vietnam for a year. It will undoubtedly help me make sense of what I experienced.

In Vietnam, whenever I found the answer to one question, ten more would pop up in my head. This book will help me find the answers that have been floating in my head ever since.

Maybe then, I could return to Vietnam and be as laid back as Luke Nguyen.

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.

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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11 things I learnt as an overseas volunteer:

20 Jun
  1. Stopping a meeting midway to go eat ice cream is perfectly normal.
  2. So is stopping to go and sing karaoke.
  3. The definition of being ‘professional’ is highly subjective.
  4. Work plan? What work plan?
  5. Many of my workmates were more technologically-literate than I was.
  6. It’s all about relationships and how you connect with others. Using a distant, formal, business-like manner won’t get you anywhere. Whereas, being warm and familiar will.
  7. Rubber-band or elastic-band time is the time that everyone abides by. Thus, a 9am start can mean 11am.
  8. Also, a 7.30am start is normal. Get used to it.
  9. You feel like a hypocrite compared to the local volunteers, who give up so much more than you do.
  10. You don’t make as big a difference as you thought you would initially. The complexities and dynamics of the world of aid and the development industry can quickly overcome any individual efforts.
  11. Letting loose at karaoke with a good bunch of friends is a great way to get over the fact that you’re not making that much of a difference.

Fuffin’ About

11 Jun

The dark side of volunteering… with people.

Fuffin’ about.

A term coined by my esteemed Peruvian colleague, John. He describes it as aimlessly wandering around or sitting around in a group wanting to do something but no one is deciding anything and everyone is waiting for everyone. This process of fuffin’ about was the genesis of many (fleeting) arguments and (temporary) divisions. The group was generally amicable, we were a family but towards the end, I think everyone just wanted to do their own thing when they wanted. It was almost an impossible task to organise dinner for the group when we went into town because some were vegetarians, some only ate meat, some wanted to get wild and some just liked milkshakes. It was a messy ordeal waiting for the group so often times we dispersed according to our taste buds and preferences. It was easier that way, navigating 18 other people was a task unworthy of the best of us.

I don’t know why we stressed so much about where we were going because we all ended at the McDonald’s in the town square. Funny, everything always end with Maccas. Virtually every country has the golden arches, from the hidden mountains of Peru to the bustling nightlife of Sydney, everything always ends up with fried chicken.


I love, no need a good dose of personal space and time. Being around 18 other humans was overwhelming sometimes, loved it and would not change a thing but sometimes, often times, I needed to be alone. I would cope with this by journalling, the one place I could be entirely honest and uninhibited with my feelings. I could not imagine doing that trip without each and every single person that I did it with. Having them enhanced it for me and watered down the post travel depression when I came home because I knew that I would see them again and a lot. And in all honesty, I did not get sick of anyone while I was volunteering. I acknowledged our differences but I was never weary of anyone.

Did you ever tire of the people that you were with?
How did you cope?
Or did you travel alone? What was that like?

Lucia

7 Jun

We never really know how lucky we have got it until we open our eyes and see other people’s stories. One of the moments that will never leave me is the afternoon I spent with Peru’s Challenge on a social house visit.

Her name is Lucia and she has four children. From the rural village of Puma Marca, she has overcome adversity and is a testimony of the successful work that Peru’s Challenge is doing in Cusco.

She ate infected pork meat which led to her developing a brain cyst. Despite her obvious deteriorating condition, she was unable to see a proper doctor due to monetary constraints which is an unfortunate commonality in Puma Marca. However, when she began to lose her motor abilities she went to see a local doctor but he missed the cyst because he did not have the adequate tools to see what was really wrong. Peru’s Challenge intervened and paid for a proper visit to a hospital because at that point, she could hardly walk or remember her children. That is when they found that she had a cyst. Peru’s Challenge scheduled her in for an operation at their cost. It cost them a few thousand but it was successful because after a week, she was able to move better and start constructing some coherence in her sentences. After two weeks, she was able to remember one of her children.

All the while, Peru’s Challenge faced opposition from the village because Lucia’s husband was depressed because they kept Lucia in the hospital for so long. He thought that they were taking her away. The women in the village gossiped about Peru’s Challenge, saying that they were doing Lucia wrong. However, Iris (the social worker) mediated and set the bar straight and told them of Lucia’s situation. She said that Peru’s Challenge was helping her and her family. It was necessary that they step in because Lucia was not receiving adequate care on her own. Unfortunately, she was discriminated against because she is a rural lady and the disparity between rural and city folk is still great. Without the support of Peru’s Challenge, she would not have received the care that she got.

After seeing the work that Peru’s Challenge did in Lucia, the village grew to respect the NGO greatly. Lucia is significantly improving. She can remember two more of her kids and her husband’s depression is getting better. Peru’s Challenge have also started teaching the family about hygiene and cleanliness in the house. They have built them rooms and a pig pen.

Remembering this story brings tears to my eyes because I saw her. I met Lucia and I saw the state of her house and her family. I felt her old hands grip mine as she looked into my eyes and smiled. She was real. I cannot take for granted the work that local NGO’s do because they are effective. I have so much love and respect for Jane and Selvy who are in the midst of people’s struggle and poverty, helping them in whatever way they can.

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“Hi, my name is Huong. I’m a privileged princess and I’m here to do volunteer work. It’s lovely to meet you all.”

30 Apr

Xin chao, minh ten la Huong. Minh la Uc goc Viet. Minh la tinh nguyen vien va minh rat vui de gap moi nguoi hom nay.”

The first quote is what people heard.

The second quote is what I actually said.

Hi, my name is Huong. I am Australian with Vietnamese heritage. I’m a volunteer and it’s lovely to meet you all.

So began my 12 months’ volunteer assignment in Hanoi, Vietnam. I would proceed to introduce myself thus and receive the same reactions in people’s faces: Ahhh…she’s a privileged princess. She’s got so much money that she can come here to do work for free. So she lives in Australia. And her parents are Vietnamese. She is Viet kieu. Her parents are traitors of the motherland. They must have abandoned us during the American War. She is the daughter of traitors.

Viet kieu‘. A pronoun to describe people of Vietnamese heritage who live in another country. Vietnamese expatriates. It originated as a derogatory term and has now entered into common parlance and is socially acceptable. In my knowledge, Vietnamese is one of the few languages that has developed such a term to distinguish and discriminate against their own expatriates. My manager at work sometimes introduced me as Viet kieu in a matter-of-fact way. It offends me, however, due to its derogatory origins. But I lived with it.

Perhaps you may think that I’m being harsh. However, I found increasingly that when people approached me, their lines of questioning headed towards the direction of my parents’ betrayal of Vietnam. I entered a highly charged political space which I could not avoid. I read a quote recently that went along the lines of: The best way around it is through. So I went through.

Let me begin from the beginning (of sorts).

I was volunteering in my hometown of Sydney after completing a double Arts/Law degree. I found out about a volunteer program for young professionals to contribute to capacity-building programs overseas. This one attracted me because it was for young people with particular sets of skills transferring those skills in partnership with others. I applied and after a lengthy process, found myself at the week-long pre-departure training course. Three weeks later, I arrived in Hanoi with seven others.

It was mid-summer. July 2009.

I don’t think I was starry-eyed; nor did I have unrealistic expectations of the wonders of foreign aid and the transformative change I would instigate. I’d learnt about the pitfalls of aid during uni, had done community-based volunteer work for a number of years in Australia, received training on managing my expectations of ‘making a difference’ and had a good group of fellow volunteers in Hanoi who were level-headed and pragmatic. In addition, my mum reminded me that the Vietnamese will resent me for being Viet Kieu.

Despite all this, of course, there were challenges expected and unexpected, simple and complex, resolvable and unresolvable. And I was up for the challenge of meeting those challenges. I went through that challenge (with varying levels of success).

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