Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Something About Babies

There is something soothing about holding little brown babies, clothing optional, in a country far from home. However, when it comes to alleviating poverty and various ‘un-freedoms’ children experience around the globe, it is about as helpful as picking up a stranger’s cute child at the shops. Don’t get me wrong, I think loving others is a fundamental truth we have overlooked long ago and perhaps if we remembered how to do that, unconditionally and truthfully we wouldn’t have the extreme poverty we have today.

There is a myth that those living in poverty are poor because they are helpless, stupid, squandering souls. And a myth is exactly what that it is. I have spent time in several developing countries, most recently Papua New Guinea, and seeing the resilience, entrepreneurship of the people, particularly the women of this nation was incredible and reassuring. Reassuring in the way that there is change happening in countries rife with poverty regardless of what statistics tell you.

My ten-day trip to PNG was a short and sharp stint – and while usually I like to be in a country for anything other than a holiday for minimum 3 months this trip was so worth it.  I have to re-iterate that this trip was designed to work with long-term workers within the community, hence my short-term trip was (hopefully!) not a waste of time, as there are clear plans for long-term commitment to the project.

I was more than nervous to head to Mt Hagen, located in the Western Highlands of PNG. And I nearly didn’t even get there, please note – always good to check you have your OWN passport before you leave home and not in the line at the airport. Cue tears, stress and a 120k drive by your parents to the airport! 

Fast forward a few sweaty hours and I was safely jammed in the back of a truck with a team from Samoa and our local contacts in PNG headed through the Highlands to a small unique community in Madan. We arrived on the edge of the coffee plantation where we were staying, to hundreds and HUNDREDS of villages with flowers and palm fronds yelling, laughing and clapping our welcome! I was moved to tears that hundreds of people would actually be that excited about us just arriving. After a long welcome ceremony in Pidgeon we walked in the dark up to the coffee plantation house, with little hands clutching ours attempting to pull us away from potholes but instead into them!

This is usually were I talk about sleeping on the floor of huts, mozzie nets, sharing a house with over 80 people. But this trip was a little different. Our contacts in Papua New Guinea are an American couple with an incredibly long and complex story about how they ended owning a coffee plantation. Originally built by a wealthy Australian man this house was amazing – timber floors, carpet, running hot water showers with views of the plantation – absolutely stunning.

Larry and Aarlie run a sustainable coffee plantation and have established employment for the Mt. Hagen community --- it is incredible to see their generosity complied with their desire to see the community become empowered and self-sustainable. The saying ‘justice gives a hand up not a hand out’ fits exactly with how this couple do their work in PNG.

The long-term project is to provide 32 schools in this region with clean drinking water and sanitation. This is funded primarily through the International Rotary Club of which Larry is an influential member and has worked tiresomely to get these projects going. Justice Water is essentially a NGO, which evolved out faith-based volunteer organised Youth With A Mission (YWAM) who I have worked with overseas previously.

I have been in communication with Larry since 2011 as he shared his dreams and passions for clean drinking water and sanitation for this forgotten area of PNG. Papua New Guinea has the highest morbidity and mortality rates of all the Pacific Islands. I have to note here that as this information is derived from the World Health Organisation (WHO) does Australia really think its an appropriate 'solution' to send our asylum seekers to Manus Island of PNG?

Back to the project …. Essentially between Larry and myself we were able to co-ordinate teachers from Justice Water NGO and an outreach team from Samoa to begin the pilot project. The pilot project was on two primary schools. On the first school the installation of rain catchment tank, two tippy tap hand washing stations and an above ground toilet. For those interested in the technical stuff, this area of the highlands receives a lot of rain so it’s essentially a swamp. Pit latrines allow the waste to go back into the river, which the villagers drink from. The second school will have their rain tanks repaired, and tippy tap handwashing stations and above ground toilets installed.

Accompanying all this tank business is a curriculum developed by a wonderful friend of mine and co-director of the Justice Water Hispanic team and 'Little Ripples' director, Stephanie Robinson. ‘Little Ripples’ is an easy to read teachers guide to things such as ‘Why we Wash our Hands’ and ‘What are germs?’ – inclusive of active and creative games, perfect for teaching communities in developing nations. My role during this trip was to ensure the rest of the team was familiar with this curriculum, alongside presenting it to the founder of the Western Highlands Province Teachers Organisation and the Community Health Committee. This guide can be used to develop culturally sensitive and appropriate guides for individual communities. The Community Health Committee is a group of Papua New Guinean men and women who are passionate about improving the health of their communities. They have prioritized the water and sanitation school projects and needed to be familiar with every step. I absolutely loved this committee, some highly educated and others not – they were all local people passionate about helping their local community. And who better than to really champion Papuan New Guineans, but local Papuan New Guineans? I love this stuff.

By the time I left the team had begun work on a tank for the first pilot school. This project was being headed up by Johnny, Larry’s right hand man on the plantation, a quick-witted and extremely handy Papua New Guinean fellow, overseen by Larry with Stephen and Alexa from Justice Water and implemented hand in hand by the YWAM team from Samoa, the Community Health Committee and local community members. One of the best parts of the projects is that each school must commit 10% of the project costs. This is to create a culture of empowerment rather than dependency. During my time there we were waiting to see if the first school would be able to find the 10% - equivalent of $100. 

Amazingly they pooled their PNG kinas and essentially began to change the lives of each student of the school and members of surrounding community. The committed to ‘in-kind’ contributions of rocks and gravel to build the tank etc. One of the most beautiful things Ive ever seen was all the school kids coming by choice on their school holidays to help carry the rocks over the bridge to the school one rock by one rock. Such a symbol of this community changing their own lives.

I am so passionate about community development and nothing makes me more happy than seeing local people taking charge, visibly empowered. Its not about making other cultures ‘look like ours’ --- I personally think the idea of communities gathering water from one place, rather than having it piped into our personal and private homes is a beautiful social act that is embedded within many cultures. I am however, passionate about ensuring that the water the people in these communities are gathering is clean and will help keep their beautiful babies healthy and safe. So in the future people will be picking up cute and healthy babies and being astounded by the progress made by the local people of Papua New Guinea. This was my first trip to PNG but I know it will not be my last.

P.S. I am hopeless at culling photos - prepare to be bombarded

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fare ye well
Je T’Adore
I remember and remember and remember

Hilariously covered emotion
beyond words
deeper than tears
If expressed, in eyes, and minds


Parting of ways
Trepidation, exhilaration -
Thank God for Memories  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ned Zed

When I flew to Bali, Indonesia late last year we landed in Darwin and were supposed to change planes and keep going. But due to some hiccups we had to stay in Darwin for 24 hours. There is not much to see or do in Darwin and we were SO excited to go to Bali that we weren't exactly ecstatic. But Jetstar actually put us up in a really nice hotel, we got to see what Darwin has to offer, AND they gave us vouchers for free flights within the year to certain locations.

My kiwi friend Naomi lives in Christchurch so I decided to use my voucher to go and visit her before I started back at university. Naomi is very messy, crazy, creative, loves to drink and make lots of coffee, she is funny and kind.

It was nice to spend a little bit of time with her, eating sushi, drinking lots of coffee, hanging out with her sweet friends and being cold --- New Zealand thinks summer time means 13 degrees.
Christchurch is still recovering from a massive earth quake only a year ago.
One initiative I loved is something the University has started which included putting piano's all around the city for people to use and play.

Monday, February 20, 2012

100 Things

Today was my first lecture at the University of the Sunshine Coast. As my best friend and brother inform me, I will now find 100 wild and wonderful ways to procrastinate including [but not limited too] doing useless quizzes, tidying my drawers, dusting my shelves, going on long walks to 'get inspired', suddenly developing a desire to cook often, happily playing extra games of netball ... you get the idea.

In honour of the start of uni and therefore years of procrastination - here is a nice 100 Things quiz to kick off the year.

Cross it if you've done it
BOLD if you really want to

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower 
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a preying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning [EXTREME - thankyou charcoal chicken coolum]
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train [in india please]
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language [I dont think a very small amount of spanish, french and haitian creole counts]
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Been to Parliment House in Canberra.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing  [what a horrible, horrible experience]
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling [these should be seperate because I'd really like to scuba dive]
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie [hope home-made counts]
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class 
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching [again on the horrible experience, who knew I got so sea sick]
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma [they don't my Haitian/African tainted blood apparently] 
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy [I presume this means, kept it?]
70. Visited the Sydney Opera House
71. Eaten caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76 Seen the Changing of the Guards in London.
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding scooter
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person [im going to count flying over it]
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible - I am on my way - Thanks to Goodlife365
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life  [through my involvement with Justice Water, World Vision ]
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
100. Ridden an elephant

Sunday, January 29, 2012

the birthdays continue...!

Turns out lots of people I love were born in January. On the 7th we headed to the river to celebrate Reece's 24th birthday. Reece is one of those people that everybody loves.

He has changed my tires, moved all my boxes of life from house to house. He has bought me lemonade to stop me crying, listened to my complain, played lots of pranks on me, written me illegible but very encouraging notes. He married a girl named Jess who is equally as great and I love them very very much.

happy birthday ella!

January 29th is my little friend Ella's birthday. Despite the horrid weather we have been having of late, we all gathered in her house on the hill for some laughs, poker games, posh punch and lots of smiles.

I met Ella through her handsome beau Callum and she has become very dear to me. When I went to Haiti she helped a lot with our Dresses for Haiti project, inspired by Kim. We have shared countless barking giraffee's and I enjoy learning about her life. She is generous and creative, loving and kind.