Teaspoons of Feedback

Always great to get some feedback from presentations and this is really powerful from the guys at Marist College Canberra and I feel is a snippet of the sentiment from most Teaspoons of Change presentations (can I say all?)…

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What my 5 most important ‘things’ are in life

I was asked this wonderful question of ‘What are the 5 most important things in life?’ by a senior Rotarian at a Rotary Club presentation I gave recently. I was honoured to be asked such a question by this beautiful and humbled man with far more life experiences and years of wisdom over me. I can also see how his question came about with the privileged life I’ve had in the past 15 years, 80 countries and 1000’s of interactions with different people.

My answer to this at the time was a bit scratchy having to think on my feet and quickly but the first few things that came to mind were attributes like resilience, resourcefulness, simplicity and following your heart not your head.

In the week since that Q&A session I’ve made time to think more about my top 5 most important things in life.

Firstly in my list I don’t have any ‘things’, I’ve never been worried about losing all my stuff. That definition of things for me is stuff and stuff I can live without, replace or get as I need.

The following ideas are the things that I feel are most important to me to be happy, fulfilled and makes me excited to wake up every morning and not hate Mondays.

#1 – Simplicity

#2 – Resilience

#3 – Learning

#4 – Community

#5 – Giving

Number 1 – Simplicity
HS SA (77)I love simplicity. I get so much from life and the world when I have just enough. My favourite quote that I created and share is that ‘we can all have everything we want in the world as long as we don’t want everything’. Simplicity not only adds richness to my life in being more with less but also enriches my connection with people and the planet since my favourite things are walking, meeting people, serving others and reflecting. I also think a lot of mindfulness, humility, contentment, gratitude and peace come with simplicity and gives me a huge sense of freedom where my stuff doesn’t own me and where I’m not a part of the work and spend cycle. Additionally (I could write a whole blog and book on this) it is much better for the environment. I have been fortunate to learn from so many people around the world who live with less (often not by choice) but has given me a very clear perspective in life of what I need not what I want.

Number 2 – Resilience

163_0687aI think resilience is a wonderful trait to have. It makes happiness, contentment and gratitude so much more attainable when I look through the lens of just enough is plenty and anything is a bonus. Again I have the fortune to have seen, learnt and lived with some of the most resilient people in the world (who shouldn’t have to be). Resilience also make me appreciate what I have and not what I ‘should’ have. Resilience also gives me pleasure in my physical pursuits when climbing mountains, riding my bike and facing mental physical barriers. I feel very lucky to be so strong mentally from having a high sense of resilience. I can’t complain about many of my personal situations when I know there are others who endure so much more and that they do it with a live-in-the-moment and tomorrow-is-another-day attitude.

Number 3 – Learning

education

This is my favourite kind of education. Being outside on an adventure discovering the world together!

I feel I am always happy, excited, intrigued and fulfilled while learning. I love learning. My passion for new places and new people is to interact and learn more all of the time. I value experiences that give me the opportunity to learn, gain new perspectives and grow as a human and particularly as an active and effective global citizen. Learning is like a source of lifeblood to keep me humble, interested and intrigued. As an educator I love not only continuing to learn from my audiences but to be a source of learning for others in the sharing I do. Learning makes me feel young, it fuels my passions and it forces me to continually change. I also love unconventional and alternative education. I always say my education started the day I left university and started travelling and interacting with the world. I admire not so much the people who know a lot but who want to know a lot, I can see it in their eagerness to listen and learn. I’ve been so fortunate to have learn from all kinds of people and places in the world and I am a direct product of my experiences.

Number 4 – Community
I believe we all need a sense of place and purpose. While I don’t know what my job is nor where I live I do feel a part of the global community and the overwhelming feeling that people are essentially good and we love to interact, learn and help others. I am almost always a visitor everywhere I go but I can connect with community in so many ways. Community adds a lot of fun to life for us to build shared experiences and memories to rehash with each other or others well into the future. I think of family as community, and I think of community as family. I aspire to be as connected and caring about anyone else in the world as would my own family as it is ultimately only birth that separates or joins us together. house warming happy group shotTwo big highlights of community in my past was building the two Happy, simply tiny homes. The reason I build two tiny homes was to create community and that powerful experience of learning, sharing and growing together. In many of the world’s ‘poorest’ places I have seen the ‘richest’ communities and some of the world’s ‘poorest’ communities in the world’s ‘richest’ places. Communities are often difficult, hard work and frustrating but I’d rather be an active participant than a complaining bystander.

Number 5 – Giving

While I was giving some kind of education to these kids in the highlands of Guatemala they were educating me in a lot of life lessons and perspectives

While I was giving some kind of education to these kids in the highlands of Guatemala they were educating me in lots of life lessons and perspectives

I know firsthand the satisfaction of not only giving to others but receiving giving from others and their satisfaction. I find giving a gift and when we give we ultimately receive. Giving gives us a wonderful sense of purpose and fulfilment, I feel an abundance of joy and purpose when I’ve played a role in the fulfilment of another. For me giving is the essential component for being an educator and to see others benefit from your time, energy, expertise and effort. I don’t give so I can feel good about myself, I give so I feel good about someone else. I’ve learn the most from those who give even when they have no ‘things’ to give. As a significant receiver of giving I have a wonderful source of experiences from people from every kind of culture, country, race, religion, economic status and I feel giving, hospitality, kindness and generosity is universal. We love to give we just sometimes forget how good it is if we don’t make it a habit.

When I am living simplicity, being resilient, learning, feeling a sense of community and giving to others it’s a pinch-the-skin kind of day. I can honestly say this has been my daily life for the past 15 years and I don’t plan to change that any day soon.

So in a much longer winded answer to the question of my Rotary friend these are the 5 most important ‘things’ in my life and why.

A few other things I like and are important to me are: adventure, discovery, vulnerability, nature, sport, advocacy, sharing, humour, humility, generosity, celebrations, stories, travel and culture…

If you are curious to some of the sources of my 5 things that aren’t just my experiences and conversations with people then check out a few of these links:

Throw yourself into life situations that provide quality experiences and learning 🙂

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Interview for Teaspoons of Change Australian Presentation Tour

This gallery contains 29 photos.

I’m currently back in Australia for three months for a Teaspoons of Change global citizen presentation tour. Check out here what this tour is all about!

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The Global Goals for Me, You & The World

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Hopefully you might have heard (or will hear) about the The Global Goals, Project Everyone and/or The World’s Largest Lesson (a global framework to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality and combat climate change). Here is a blog on what they … Continue reading

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Central Asia Still Central To My Heart

Whist I should be talking about the incredible and diverse place that is Central Asia I’ve chosen instead to talk about me (as I do) and the impact this region had on me in the past and again today. If you aren’t into my self indulgence check the photos here at least…

I often get asked the best place or my favourite country that I have been to in now 80 countries around the world that I’ve been fortunate to experience. I usually give the same and slightly boring answer of nowhere or everywhere since I have received universal friendly hospitality, generosity and kindness of every kind of person, culture and place.

However there is one place that sits very close to my heart and central to who I am today and that is Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. I went to Kyrgyzstan basically by accident in 2001 as a young 23 year old keen to hike up some mountains and maybe share some ideas on teaching by volunteering at a university. What I came away with 14 years ago from that experience was an education in life, an acute sense of social justice and a passion for volunteering, equality and living happily, simply.

I have always wanted to get back to the place that threw a sharp left turn in my life path and this time as a humanitarian who sometimes hikes up mountains not the mountain hiker who sometimes did some humanitarian work.

A lot has changed in Kyrgyzstan in the 14 years since I was last there. The teachers are now earning over $40/month, there are western supermarkets on most corners and there is more confidence in who the Kyrgyz are and what they want which was still an unknown in the very new country as it was in 2001 just 10 years after achieving independence.

My recent trip was hugely gratifying to be in Kyrgyzstan and thank and appreciate it for the dramatic effect it had on me as a new, mostly useless but willing, volunteer at the university many years ago. It is not only Kyrgyzstan that has changed in those 14 years but myself as well. I felt like I was meeting with an old mentor who taught me so much about life and for me to tell it how important it was in my daily experience still today.

For those more interested in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan than me, which you should be, both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are incredibly welcoming with beautiful mountains and people that puts hospitality and human connection above all.

For this trip I travelled overland from Bishkek to Dushanbe via buses, cars, truck and walking as much as possible. I saw 5000m+ peaks all around, gorgeous gorges, serene valleys and dramatic stoic mountains. To match the scenery were wonderful homestays, kindness at every turn, intrigue and laughter from inquisitive and engaging people.

Tajikistan (10)Just one simple highlight in a continuous month of experiences of Central Asia life was hiking in the mountains with a fellow western traveller and coming across a small low stone hut on the only relative flat spot below 4000m+ peaks in every direction. Here we were beckoned into the home, sat at the warmest part of the hut and given hot tea with the most delicious dairy products of drinking yogurt (kefir) and what seemed to be a cream textured and tasting pancake. In the hut we smiled, laughed and communicated as best we could with our common language being that we were all humans. All of this was in an atmosphere of think dung-fire smoke and hospitality that I’m sure hasn’t changed in that culture in the past 10,000 years.

It was lovely to be back in a place that unknowingly meant so much to me as a 23 year old and consolidated so much in me as a humanitarian again today.

Central Asia isn’t central to most people’s lives outside of the region but anyone who takes the time and effort to visit will come away with a lot of perspective, learning and celebration of people, nature and culture – certainly my favourite ‘things’ in the world.

Kyrgyzstan (8)

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The Irony of Ramadan in Dubai…

I’m not much of an Islamic scholar (understatement) but my thinking was that a component of Ramadan (the Islamic discipline of fasting during daylight hours for a lunar month) was to give you thoughts, perspectives and raise empathy towards the poor. If that is one of its aims then how do people feel when they are hungry surrounded in complete opulence and greed that is Dubai?

I had feared my transition from South Sudan to Dubai would be a little bumpy and it is proving that. One square kilometre anywhere in this city represents the end of polio or the budget to provide critical humanitarian aid to South Sudan for the coming starvation season and it shows the choice that someone would rather prosper for a few than help many. I don’t put all the blame on the UAE as it is servicing a demand that should not exist.20150617_095307 pana

I’m joining the first day of Ramadan and fasting and I know that when I fast or do Live Below the Line or whatever associated with not filling my stomach on a wants basis it takes off a few layers of lenses and opens me to more life, humanity and equality.

That is why I’ve always admired Ramadan and the sacrifice Muslims make for a full lunar calendar that nothing shall pass their lips during daylight hours. There is a lovely charity aspect and social justice integrated into Islam that I have connected with Muslims though in many places but not knowing the religion well enough I don’t see how the extreme wealth in Dubai is permitted on the basis of what Ramadan and ultimately Islam is trying to achieve (as is the case with Christianity and other similar ‘businesses’).

I know all religions have parts (or the whole) of hypocrisy, and personally I do too since I am writing this post from the air-conditioned environment of a luxury hotel to use their free wifi! But I know an hour before the sunsets in around 3 hours from now the deep hunger in my stomach and the sense of privilege that resonates and translates into aspiring for equality will be blunted when I look around me and see development based on greed, not based on need. How do the locals and foreigner live here in wealth when the poor still remain and anything/everything they do is directly related to the environmental degradation of the planet – with no exceptions?20150618_140117

My transition from the developing world into the developed world is always much rougher than the opposite. I find understanding, resilience, humanity and life when I interact with extreme poverty and only feel anger, disbelief and absolute shame in extreme wealth. Luckily my reason for being in Dubai is speak on behalf of the world’s poor and not necessarily ask for help but to work towards preventing wants beyond needs. I do this not with finger pointing, moral bashing or guilt trips but offering a positive alternative that we can be ‘richer’ when giving, sharing and interacting as an effective global citizen to create Teaspoons of Change.

To put it politely I totally despise Dubai and everything it represents and that is a reflection in more of the west than the local culture who is supplying the demand. I feel that if the people I met in Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp in South Sudan who offered me their only cup of tea and biscuits for the day recently, knew this existed they would simply ask – why? why so much when others have nothing? To me it makes me feel completely and deeply ashamed, desperate and embarrassed knowing both of these worlds and what humans are capable of without any compassion for others.20150618_065835

So whether it be Ramadan, Sunday church service or your next online purchase of an unnecessary want (as I also do from time to time), I beg you to consider others and how you might feel you had been born in rural South Sudan and knew at the same time there was a fucking indoor ski hill in a shopping mall in the desert with daily temperatures of  40°C.

I think ends my session on the psychiatrist’s couch via this blog for today – thank you.

On top of my begging I do invite people to want to make positive change and the wonderful connection and fulfilment it brings. I won’t label you a cold-hearted bastard for going snowboarding in Dubai (since I already did that 7 years ago here!) instead what I will do if offer small Teaspoons of Change in your personal choices, decisions and actions that will have a positive impact on people and the planet!

Kareem Ramadan! (happy Ramadama-ding-dong!)20150617_151840 (1024x768)

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The Far Edge of Humanity

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Today I stood on the far edge of humanity and it was beyond what 90% of us in the world would think is possible let alone acceptable (inside or outside of war).

The reason I knew I was still within the realms of humanity was because of the beautiful people. The line for acceptable conditions for humans I had stepped over long before getting here to the Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp in Bentiu, Unity State and feel like I stepped over that line the day I arrived in South Sudan.

As Gabriel, my UNICEF national colleague, and I walked around the PoC camps today we encountered scene after scene of people living in conditions with serious threat to health, security and certainly happiness. Some people exhausted, others hungry, others eating, bathing, drinking and existing in the most unhygienic disease-riddled conditions possible. If it was just one family as I have seen in similar conditions in impoverished rural areas of the globe the weight if the experience is life-lasting but to see 70,000 people living in such conditions could be life-lasting for anyone just reading this.20150602_155621

But I am not here to give people a sob story or guilt trip because that does no favours to the fellow humans I am representing from today, instead just think of it as the reality for these people. I will get onto what we might be able to do about it later.

From PoC to PoC camp I walked with Gabriel wading through knee high muck that would be too flattering to call mud. I had been in the PoC each day this week but this was the first time since a big rain yesterday which had delayed my flight back to Juba by two days. The place that was beyond my previous experiences of extreme poverty in the previous days was now amplified to a place I’d never imagined.20150604_115928

The hardest moment came when Gabriel and I stood near the registration tent where people were waiting to get registered so they could then receive food rations, temporary shelter, immunisation and water. I saw people sitting in the middle of the mud barely knowing they were in mud because they were exhausted and starving. The babies and small children were too upset and deprived of energy to keep the flies off their faces. Their mothers clutched onto tiny strips of paper that had a scribbled number so they would enter into the system which was only just a tiny step beyond what they had now which looked like less than nothing. The volume of people made it obvious that not everyone would be registered today and many probably not tomorrow.20150604_115121

I’ve never felt more white and more hopeless in my life. The only thing separating me from any one of these people was my birthplace and there was little I could do immediately to all of my human sisters and brothers sitting in the mud.

These are people who did not choose to be in this situation like everyone else I’ve ever met living in extreme poverty. They are caught in an ongoing civil war on top of extreme poverty that existed before any conflict. They walked extremely long distances in the slim chance to get a little peace and survival. These are the people we should do anything for regardless of what country we are from, how poor we think we are or how critical we are of those we don’t know and maybe don’t want to understand.20150602_165614

So to move on to the rays of hope that I always try to find in any situation and that I am clinging onto now to make this experience not one of sadness and helplessness but one of resolve, learning and inspiration…

Here are the people, ideas, situations and cooperation that I have seen in the past few days that is making a difference and will hopefully win out overall in this situation:

  • Every person entering the camps is offered a free cholera vaccine (including me) to keep cholera away during the rainy season as they did last year (but only half the number of people in the camp this time last year)20150603_090425
  • We visited the new site for the entire camp which is drained, has latrines, shelters with basic wooden structure and sites set up for schools and clinics20150604_122010
  • A local NGO I met and unfortunately one of very few local NGOs in South Sudan was hosting trainings and talks on child health, gender based violence, sanitation, etc20150604_113125
  • Ingenuity, resourcefulness and resilience hit me in every corner – someone using parts of radios to connect to batteries, others selling what I think was bread when I didn’t see a single sack of flour anywhere and people ignoring the conditions around them as much as possible to be with friends, chat, share and laugh20150604_115918
  • Enthusiastic, willing and dedicated trainers who were being trained to then train community volunteers20150602_154511
  • Community volunteers committed to serve their community on a tiny volunteer salary of just over $2 a day (depending on the depreciation of the currency on that day)20150603_084824
  • The entire group of trainers who offered me their tea and biscuits which is the major highlight of going to these trainings. This show of hospitality is well beyond anything we might do in the west (basically it would be like me giving all of my money to someone without even thinking even though I have no idea when the next time I will have money in my pocket or in their case food in their stomachs)20150604_163731
  • Receiving raptures of applause and thanks after small speeches telling them that I would do what I can to represent them in my culture (western society) while travelling around the world as I know they are not in the position to do – I used to find this uncomfortable and patronising kind of playing the white saviour but I have now been in enough countries and with enough people that I and they know it is genuine, the reality and I am the expert in my community as I know I am not the expert in their community (hence this blog!)IMG_20140106_212400
  • The smiles of people, unbelievable respect and restraint where I can’t believe they are not rolling the dice for their last chance to survive and not robbing me or others but also not even asking me for money when they know I have access to anything and everything in the worldIMG_20140106_200423
  • A major relief to my emotions was knowing I have $500 USD to give in the name of Bromsgrove International School Thailand for the Polio Points they have earned and have been matched by the school’s board of directors
    • I talked with Gabriel my local colleague from UNICEF and he suggested it go into a drama group (they are common in South Sudan) which would then be used to create and perform dramas on polio eradication, sanitation, gender equality and more! this will motivate the youth in the camps and educate the community – wow eh…

IMG_20140106_212422

So on this emotional roller-coaster ride of a day which I am thankful to have laid on the couch and got off my chest with this blog. I still believe there is more good than bad out there and humans are resilient, tough, collaborative and inspiring in essence. We just have to make sure we actively think, feel and act on the side of good for it to prevail.

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If you do want to think, feel and act on the side of good here are a couple of tips:

  • Get your school, office or any group of people together to start up Polio Points in your community – http://makingthepoint.org/
  • To address these kind of humanitarian crisis funds can be given to the UN agencies (UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNDP, FAO, IOM, WFP – find your favourite acronym and give), INGOs (MSF [Doctors Without Borders], Care, Save the Children, Mercy Relief, etc)
  • Check out my concept of Teaspoons of Change – personal choices, decisions and actions that have a positive impact on people and the planet creating teaspoons of change and don’t just give to others but also have a positive impact in as much as you can with your daily choices, decisions and actions http://teaspoonsofchange.wordpress.com/ and facebook.com/teaspoonsofchange
  • Get your fingers punching on the keyboard or phone and write or call your local MP to not cut foreign aid and check out RESULTS to help you do that: results.org/
  • To make sure you are giving enough of your personal wealth and that it will be effective then check out an organisation who can do that legwork for you – Giving What We Can givingwhatwecan.org/
  • Take on the ideals and benefits of simplicity and happy simple living and have a look at another one of my projects – Happy, simply – a sustainable lifestyle model and education project http://happysimply.wordpress.com
  • And if advocacy and using your voice to help end extreme poverty floats your boat then always refer to the Global Poverty Project and Global Citizen http://www.globalcitizen.org
  • If none of them do it for you then get in touch with a specific question or request and I know so many wonderful people with wonderful ideas doing wonderful things I can put you in touch with…
Posted in 2015 Life, Opinions / Thoughts / Reflections, South Sudan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments