Interview with Global Health Gateway – looking at all thing social justice, global health, volunteering and aid and development…
This is very self-indulgent but I feel I get asked these questions enough that it is worth putting in my answers. Their version in the article will be available soon…
So a wee look at how I came to be doing what I do, why, how and lessons learnt!
1. Tell us about yourself.
Where did you grow up? What is your background? Why did you choose your career? Can you tell us about a seminal experience in your career?
I’m Australian and grew up in a small country town. My first intrigue about different places and things, that I can remember, was when I was 4 years old visiting my aunt in another state. I was fascinated that milk came in a red carton when I was used to it coming from a blue carton in South Australia. Somehow I still love anything and everything that is different about a new place.
Since then it has always been a passion to go to new places, meet new people and learn from the experiences. The different and diverse the place from my original beginnings the more I tend to like it.
2. Tell us about your work with GPP in the field of global health? (a particular experience or in general)
How did you come to be working here? What were your main achievements – professional and personal?
What inspired you whilst you were working? What did/do you find most challenging?
I came to know about the Global Poverty Project while riding my bicycle around the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. I was giving my own little PowerPoint presentation on global awareness and volunteering and was told there is an organisation doing what you re doing – just not one person on a bike!
I then rode 1500km in Australia following the launch of the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation from Melbourne to Brisbane!
After we got to know each other better I helped establish a youth and schools program. As a classroom teacher I know you work hard to see the light-bulb moments in your students but since presenting for the Global Poverty Project in over 200 presentations to over 20,000 people the number of light-bulbs I have seen light-up in the eyes of young people around global awareness, social justice and empowerment to make a difference is a privilege.
I am continually inspired by 10-17 year olds and the level of social justice, global understanding, connectedness and desire to learn and take action is incredible. I also get to see this in presentation to people of all ages – including once a group of 70+-year-old women who were informed and inspired enough after a presentation that they got together to produce a micro-loan for a woman in Bangladesh.
As for global health I have always been interested and received a lot of learning from the people who live in extreme poverty. My mission is not about corrupting their way of life or changing it necessarily it is more about prolonging it and I know that health is probably the most important building block in development. In the past year I have spread my passions into polio eradication with The End of Polio campaign.
I think eradicating a disease is an incredible stepping stone to other topics and issues to see an end to extreme poverty. Also polio is at a critical moment in time – on the cusp of eradication but a crippling shortfall in political will, community engagement and funding may see it’s end slip through our hands and I want to make sure I at least do as much as I can to grab this opportunity and see a polio-free world for everyone, everywhere and forever!
3. Choose 2-3 of the following questions:
Where was the most interesting place you’ve travelled? What’s the most inspiring book you’ve ever read? How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?
What has been the most challenging cross-cultural experience you’ve had? Why?
What is the most essential piece of equipment for working abroad? What is the most frustrating thing about working abroad in this setting? Any ways you have found to avoid or cope with this frustration? From a work perspective, how is the reality different from the dream you had of working in global health? If you could start your career in global health again would you change anything? Give us a moment you’ve had working in global health that will make those of us still stuck at home envious of your lifestyle during this job? What are some tips for returning home?
Unfortunately I have to give a boring answer to my favourite place in the world… In the 11 years of travelling, volunteering and learning in over 55 countries I have to say I love them all. I can only have the most amazing positive and optimist outlook on life after all the hospitality, generosity, learning and sharing I have had with everyone from anywhere.
For a field guide in global health there is no better resource than ‘Where there are no doctors’ it was after reading this that I felt confident enough that when my Ethiopian counterpart came to me not being able to walk due to a boil that I said I would deal with it for him. In hindsight I wish I had worn a mask and gloves at least as the egg sized boil in a very intimate region was a memory (and smell) that has lasted with me quite a while (sorry to those eating).
When working in developing countries the big thing for me are three good rules that I stick to:
- Listen and learn – find out what the needs are of the people as they are the experts in their own communities
- Work in collaboration – even when we are meant to be the ‘expert’ we rarely have the life skills or cultural context to be effective ourselves
- Sustainability – always think about what you will leave behind, not that everything has to last just if you have been a help or a hindrance
It is not hard to keep motivated and I can’t ever see my passion for access to health for all diminish as I know that any actions, even small actions when multiplied by lots of people does create big change and I love being a part of that process and always learning and refining it to do more.
For me the hardest part in working in the aid and development sector and in particular my time in developing countries is returning home and not being judgemental, too opinionated and basically an arsehole to others! I have learnt that settling back into my own country and culture that I need to focus on what can I do and not about ‘converting’ others or giving them a moral bashing. Again this is where the Global Poverty Project has been a lifeline for me to utilise my experiences with fun, exciting and meaningful advocacy, like The End of Polio and Live Below the Line campaigns.
The biggest thing to remember here is that the advocacy you do in your own country is just as significant, important and effective as anything you can do in a developing country – actually more significant I think. Don’t let your experiences stay in the aeroplane when you get home, use them and follow those programs that already exist and support them in your specific way with your own experiences and perspectives.
I think sometimes my friends might envy what I do when I tell them that I have lived my dreams everyday for 11 years now. I hate sleeping as it cuts into my time to be interactive with life. I get to learn, share, travel, meet new people, experience new places and do something that I love and call it work – I actually think it is selfish.
I am most often volunteering or at subsistence but I feel extremely ‘rich’ with the learning, experiences and sharing I get to do.
4. What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
There is no single path to follow and whatever path you choose it can always lead to where you want it. If you are not following the path of others then it is not the wrong path it is just a different path. I think if people follow their passions and live their truth there is not much more we can need in life.
Working in global health requires patience, empathy, pragmatism, humility and sense of humour – often all contradicting each other! If global health is your launching pad into social justice, aid and development or global travel don’t think it has to stay there, there are many different angles and passions to follow and follow them. On the flip-side of that as a primary school teacher and having read Where There Are No Doctors I didn’t think that would qualify me to work in the advocacy of polio eradication and global health but I have come to know a powerful combination of information and inspiration to have people connect with the topics and issues in developed countries and listen, learn and share perspectives and needs with those in developing countries.
Enjoy the journey and move up along the social justice spectrum and there is no end to it.
Relevant website will be:
Global Poverty Project – http://www.globalpovertyproject.com
The End of Polio – http://www.theendofpolio.com
Live Below the Line – http://www.livebelowtheline.com
And if people are really curious they can have a look at my personal blog on my travels and perspective –https://lunny06.wordpress.com and all things happy and simplistic – http://happysimply.wordpress.com/