Nothing Special But Always Special – 37th Year Ahead

You guys know the drill by now…

20150529_080625I’m so happy… I’m living my dreams… People are wonderful… I’m so privileged and humbled… We can end extreme poverty… Things are not the best thing in life… Simplicity of less is more…I receive so much hospitality, generosity and kindness… on and on I usually go!

Today is my 37th birthday and I have continued to ride this epic wave of living my dreams each and every day for the past 15 years. I have no idea where I will write my morning journal from on my 38th birthday and I don’t care.

20150522_140917But this time last week I had just been beaten by a group of 4-5 soldiers for unknowingly walking into the wrong street that lead to the president’s palace. I was lucky. I got away with a few scratches, a sore head and some still slow healing bruises to my ribs but I am here to write this one week later on my birthday.

As for all the things I wrote in the first paragraph about being happy etc. well here’s the thing, it’s all fucking true and continue to be true.

Before being beaten I had just thought that I have always been lucky and nothing bad has happened and it is just freakish nature that I’ve come out of 68 countries still in one piece but what my little incident told me is that even if I am unlucky and get robbed or bashed or otherwise I still have an unequal balance of wonderful people and wonderful experiences that outweigh anything bad that may have or maybe will happen to me. I have too much love for the world to let it worry me and I send those soldiers that love so they can have the opportunity to love the world as well. Life doesn’t need to be this never ending exponential growth of happiness and good times it is always going to have ups and downs but for myself personally I have learnt how to maximise the ups to new heights each year and now acknowledge but dissolve the downs.

I’m sitting up on the rooftop of the UNICEF building in Juba, South Sudan looking over a country of chaos but also deeply human. I still have to pinch myself daily and say thank you to the world. I’ve come to realised my passion and daily life is to be the best servant I can to humanity and will always find the most effective ways of doing this.20150529_080659

I personally believe it is not more noble than anyone else as I think there is no lifestyle better than another and what I gain in daily / monthly / yearly freedom of doing exactly what I want to do all the time I loose in the deep connection with a partner or raising my own children. But I don’t care because there isn’t a right way or a wrong way in life (in general) and rarely better or worse and the missed experiences I’ve had so far without having my own family I’ve gained in other experiences of living and learning across the world and meeting thousands of new people in new places. I never pretend my life is more important or significant than anyone else’s nor do have sorrow in a different life I could have or could live in a more conventional way.

The fact that I am sitting on the rooftop of UNICEF in South Sudan (where I should go down now and go to work on polio eradication and better access to health services for all), puts a wonderful smile. I didn’t ever intend to be here on my 37th birthday but I’m also not here by accident.20150529_080654

On my 36th year on this planet and in this universe I had the beautiful experiences of building my second tiny home (https://www.facebook.com/groups/happysimplysa/); a month working with a wonderful organisation JUMP! Foundation in Bangkok, walked 1000km in Japan for Teaspoons of Change, cycled 1000km in Japan and South Korea, gave over 80 presentations in SE Asia, spent a brilliant Christmas with my family in Australia, fought dengue fever and have lived in the most challenging but rewarding environment in South Sudan on the Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) program.

It is with no surprise that I look forward to my 37th year like never before and for the first time in a long time I know where I will be most days till Jan 2016. If you want to see where I will be take a look and I hope to see you in this next exciting and fulfilling year in my life: http://link.globalpovertyproject.com/2015tochtourinfo and http://link.globalpovertyproject.com/2015ToChMap

Love to all in peace, humility and enthusiasm!

The best breakfast there is - the rolex: chapati with fried egg rolled up and enough oil to power me for the next fortnight!

The best breakfast there is – the rolex: chapati with fried egg rolled up and enough oil to power me for the next fortnight!

Posted in 2015 Life, Opinions / Thoughts / Reflections, South Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A very tricky role and game of development in South Sudan

Whenever I work in aid and development and particularly in Africa I am always conscious and cautious of my role in the development of another country where I wasn’t born, don’t speak the language and most likely won’t be living there for the rest of my life.

100_1870 (1024x720)I am always a guest outside my own country and often the best role I have found as an ‘expert’ in other countries is to listen, learn and find the best ways to empower others and the system so they can empower themselves.

Early in my assignment in South Sudan I was struggling with this a lot. Why am I here? What is my role? What benefit can I bring to the local people that couldn’t come from their own people (and should)? The aid effort in South Sudan is huge – bigger than I have seen anywhere in the world and I am not about to label all of it good or bad aid because with the aid here I don’t know what would happen but could only guess and expect a significant increase in armed conflict, child mortality, etc…

In most of my recent roles in development I have thoroughly enjoyed the role of supporting the local government and connecting them with civil service organisations (CSOs). This is where a clear pathway can be made between people who are on the ground in the communities (CSOs) and those who make the big decisions for them at the highest level (government).

In South Sudan I seem to be not so much supporting the government but being the government. I’ve been asked to make decisions that affect the people on the ground in the communities – hopefully for better but I should not be the influencer on government decisions the government should be listening to the people, not me and then from there maybe I can help out a bit.

There are no easy solutions and I don’t want people to make easy assumptions to blame anyone in this picture – aid agencies, the local government, the people as they are usually the easy targets and stereotypes that are slammed. What I do like is the challenge. My usual role is to look at how do I support the creation and recognition of local CSOs? How does do I clear a pathway for CSOs, local governments, community leaders to access and influence their own government (especially when it is a brittle as this one).

As much as I might complain about the situation here of lack of governance and infrastructure I must overcome it with energy, strategy, thinking and most of learning to face those complaints and turn them into solutions. I love the challenge, the people, the country, the work and if it was all easy (as it feels like sometimes it is on other projects in other countries) then the short-term small gains here will feel like some of the biggest past victories.

I know I don’t have the answers but I know I can try to learn more, share a bit and give access and opportunity to others in my time here in South Sudan. 100_1732

As I now only have 6 weeks left in South Sudan it really is a matter of trying to put anything and everything I have been involved with onto a sustainable pathway so any of my efforts don’t die with my departure but are a platform or opportunity for others to gain benefits from. I don’t pretend that my contributions are going to be significant but any efforts need to be translated into attainable ideas and prolonged action.

Posted in 2015 Life, Opinions / Thoughts / Reflections, South Sudan, The End of Polio | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An Unnatural Disaster

(Note. I wrote this two weeks ago and I don’t have any picture to accompany as too dangerous if I get spotted…)

It is with a heavy heart I go to sleep tonight thinking about the multitude of people who have no roof over their head and with a forecast of a downpour.

In the two months I have been in South Sudan and Juba I have walked through and around a shanty town near where I live and work in the heart of the city. The settlement is made up of very simple dwellings constructed from canvas, tarpaulins, sticks, mud, corrugated iron, plastic or anything that might be sourced around the place and put to use.

Something like this, but this photo is taken in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp on the outskirts of Juba

Something like this, but this photo is taken in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp on the outskirts of Juba

The settlement could be depressing for some as there is no electricity, running water, sanitation, etc but the people were full of resilience and resourcefulness which I admire but don’t wish upon them or anyone. I found it an inspiring contrast to the big government buildings, corporate businesses and other faceless institutes surrounding it.

It was also the place I did the majority of my shopping contributing directly to their pockets and not the pockets of investors and business managers of the expensive foreign supermarket nearby. I ate here for lunch, I got my take away beans and chapatti (known as commando dinner – simple, filling and cheap) and most of all it was where I had conversations with the people of South Sudan and those who had come from difficult circumstances in Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. I learn more about South Sudan from this settlement than anywhere else in the country and certainly more than in the halls of Ministry buildings and UN institutes – not saying the UN is not doing a great job here (I would hate to think what would happen if we weren’t here) but that it is a life very different to the average citizen of this country.

I would walk through the settlement waving to familiar faces, shaking hands with those I had spoken to before, get smiles and waves from excited but polite children. It was not the kind of place most kawaja (foreigner) would walk let alone get to know.

Today as walked around the edge of the settlement I noticed a house that seemed to have been destroyed by a storm or an earthquake or some strange event or act. Then the next house was flattened, and the next. I looked over the settlement and I could see the other side for the first time from this point because EVERY dwelling, shop, restaurant, anything previously standing was completely destroyed. It was like looking over a natural disaster but completely planned and carried out by man (or in this case government).

As I then took my usual path through the settlement just as a few drops of rain were falling with big dark clouds above promising a heavy downpour sooner than later. It was an armageddon-like scene and feeling of sorrow and darkness.

As I saw familiar faces and greeted them I had to hold back emotions knowing what they were facing that night and beyond. But they were unbelievable practical and pragmatic about what they had faced and now had to endure ahead. The lady from the tin shed (restaurant) who fed me many beans and greens for lunch put on a smile and said ‘this is South Sudan’. The young man who I buy my bread from said ‘we’ll see what happens tomorrow’.

For me I will need to find a new place to do my shopping, for them they will have to start life over again with nothing.

Yes, it is an illegal settlement and when I first saw it I thought it was the strangest thing I’d seen next door to the government heart of the city but I can’t believe someone can inflict such immediate purposeful destruction on people who has so little to begin with and now have nothing.

There are no actions we can take, there is nothing a petition, donations or goodwill can do. I feel I have to be as matter-of-fact about it as the people are but I just can’t wipe the incredible sadness in my heart as I sit and write this in a safe and comfortable room while so many have no home or previous their life tonight.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow…

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Posted in 2015 Life, South Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

South Sudan – the Nepal Earthquake, everyday

I don’t like to compare disasters but the tragedy of Nepal allows me to give you the best perspective on South Sudan that I can think of in three months here. It is almost impossible for me to explain the situation here so I am unfortunately using Nepal to help me sum up the situation of South Sudan.20150323_140656 (1024x512)

What I have seen in Nepal after the earthquake kind of mimics what it is like in South Sudan everyday in terms of infrastructure, services, access to the basics in life. Conflict, no governance, disease and all those stereotypical things we hear about Africa are true in South Sudan to a degree I have never seen anywhere else in the world and as they are about to fall off an economic cliff it is only going to get worse. 

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Today in South Sudan 1 in 9 children will die before the age of 5, less than 40% have access to clean water, 14% have access to sanitation and 1 out of 100 children will complete high school. I usually don’t paint the sob story but even I can’t pretend to be positive in this situation. 

As people who care about the world I don’t want you to feel bad about things. Feel good that you are and can be a part of moulding a better future for all global citizens.

If you have given to the Nepal earthquake in the past week then think about matching that donation or a piece of it towards the ongoing small and slow important successes that are occurring in places like South Sudan.

I am not a huge UN flag-waver but I have to say in South Sudan their purpose of protect and support, today and tomorrow is as good as I have ever seen anywhere. The UNICEF office here in South Sudan would not only greatly appreciate your donations but use them effectively for programs that are an active part of finding solutions in places like South Sudan!

Posted in 2015 Life, South Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Look up into the Night Sky and Think about Humanity

As I look up at the night sky from my compound and watch the same stars as 11 million other people within the same boundary I’m in called South Sudan, I can only think how foreign my life is to them, not only my upbringing in Australia but also from within the compound I currently stay.

I have known the joys of birthday cake, camping, being taken to the football by my dad every weekend during the winter, and then even just the basics – having food anytime I have needed it, an opportunity to go to school, and to be alive in this world having survived along with my mother after being a complicated birth. This continues for me today in South Sudan as am able to afford a place to stay where I feel safe to go to sleep tonight.

When I think of the 11 million people around me I know that the vast majority if not every single person native to this land has seen hardship, felt deep sorrow and known at least one time of absolute fear.100_1731

The conflict that has been in the lives of every South Sudanese person has brought them at least one, if not untold numbers of challenges. As I live and work here – safely, comfortably and happily I don’t know how I cannot be humble, thankful and in admiration of every South Sudanese person I see.

I am not going to make martyrs of all the people here because there are still people making very bad choices and decisions that negatively affect others. I also don’t wish to face any one of the challenges to try and burden my sense of guilt. All I can do is be extremely thankful to have the opportunity to be brought up with access and opportunity to thrive and to now do whatever I can so the children being born in South Sudan today and into the future can also live without unnecessary challenges that I didn’t face just because of where I was born.

I don’t work in aid and development or advocacy to feel good about myself or to get admiration I do it because if there is one other human in this world who has to face an unnecessary challenge just because of where they are born then I am missing a piece of my humanity and the humanity of the world.

I don’t have simple answers or quick fix solutions to these challenges or a timeline that they will all be fulfilled but I love the pursuit, learning, engagement and application of being the very best humanitarian I can be.100_1517

This passage is designed for others to peer into my heart which has been greatly influenced from the experiences I have received and to also see if there is room in their hearts to do what we can for humanity from any spot in the world.

Footnote: I do not expect anyone to do what I do or be who I am as I have the luxury of living as a nomad, living without responsibilities and this is my particular passion in life but this is why I love offering anyone / everyone to take small Teaspoons of Change that can have a positive impact on the planet – that may be happy simple living in a tiny house, joining an awards program like Polio Points, walking 1000km or just thinking there is one people, one love.

Plus it is really good fun and fulfilling to give and be a part of solutions.100_1552

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Global Polio Eradication Initiative Alive and Active in South Sudan

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was formed in 1988 with the collaboration of Rotary International, the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and in more recent times the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While this collaboration has been one of the most significant combined forces in the history of humanity it does not always mean this collaboration happens at the grassroots level in each and every country.

This was the case in South Sudan until very recently.

100_1720The new country of South Sudan has had to face more than the 40+°C daily temperatures. The Rotary Club of Juba was founded here 16 March 2010 just before independence and just like the rest of South Sudan it is growing in confidence and service to the community.

The path for Rotary in South Sudan has not been easy for the hardworking Rotary founders here. It has also taken time for the Ministry of Health and other Government departments to recognise the significant contribution Rotary is making in the community for the country.

Thanks to the facilitation and training from WHO and UNICEF South Sudan Rotary is active for the first time in South Sudan in the polio National Immunisation Days (NIDs) with a plan to support meningococcal vaccine launch and more health promotion initiatives.100_1740

WHO organised for Rotary Club members to team up with the State Ministry of Health to join the polio NID campaign.

Four willing Rotary volunteers, each busy in their private lives, came together with specialists from WHO and UNICEF to be trained in administering vaccines, finger marking and tallying to join the nationwide three-day polio NID campaign to immunise the 3.35 million children under 5 years old in South Sudan.

The volunteers first met with the head of the EPI program for Juba County and State coordinator for the NID. From here the Rotarians were trained by WHO field specialist and UNICEF communications specialist and soon hit the road in their own transport to one of the outer regions of Juba city which has grown rapidly in the recent past and where missed children were recorded from the last polio NID round in February.100_1717

In the end the Rotary volunteers along with WHO representatives vaccinated 198 children in under two hours. We did suggest the Rotarians vaccinate each other to make it over 200 vaccinated but they were sure that they had followed routine immunisation as a child and were fully immunised.

Though it was just one morning it was a significant step towards Rotary’s participation and recognition in polio eradication in South Sudan. From here WHO in South Sudan hopes to train over 150 Rotarians, Rotaract and Interact members in immunisation surveillance and communication and get involved in not only the remaining two NIDs for 2015 but also more health initiatives.100_1726

To follow the landmark collaboration of the GPEI at international level in 1988 it is wonderful to see this still occurring today for each community so the world’s most vulnerable people gain from a mix of technical support from WHO and the commitment of the worldwide service organisation in Rotary.100_1755

I know from experience this is certainly the case in many countries throughout the world and I am proud to report it is now the case in South Sudan.100_1729

Photos from the event can be seen and downloaded here if you wish: http://bit.ly/1ycxXMw

Posted in 2015 Life, South Sudan, The End of Polio | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment