I blog for Change…

As I attempt to orient the windy and often treacherous roads that encapsulate life, here are some of my thoughts on the successes, failures and ultimately the hope and positivity in which I strive for a better world. I also hope that I can use this blog as a platform to elevate the social justice issues that are somewhat forgotten in the modern discourse of staying silent on issues that challenge.


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I do it for humanity.

I thought I’d take the opportunity today to write about the concept of social justice, what it means to me and how this impacts the reasoning behind why I do what I do.

At often times upon first meeting me people tend to ask the question about what I do for a career. My answer is always the same when I tell them that I work for an international development agency which specialises in disability inclusive development in what’s deemed as the Global South. On most occasions people are unaware of what a ‘development’ agency is or what it does so I then revert to the ‘I work for an NGO’ or a step to break it down further ‘a charity’. Although, I’ve come to realise how uncomfortable I am with that specific term and the reaction I always get once I give it; which is ‘well that must be so rewarding’…

It might seem like a ridiculous thing to identify as I have no doubt that when the specific person in that situation utters the sentiment it comes from a good place where they feel like they’re giving me a compliment. The truth is though, broken down it’s not really that at all and further to that, my motivation for being within the development field has nothing to do with me feeling any sense of self-gratitude.

I am all too aware of the charity and/or welfare model of international development in the past and of the resulting ‘white saviour complex’ that tended to ensue. Now let me be clear, this issue is twofold for me and I’ll deal with both of these separately.

With regards to my motivation for being in my particular field it comes down to one thing and one thing alone for me; I do what I do because I feel compelled to and because I believe it the right thing to do. We live in a highly unequal world in which poverty is linked to discrimination and marginalisation and is reinforced by trade, labour and economic policies which crowd out those at the bottom of the wrung. Those of us who are considered to be ‘well off’ seem to be this way at the cost of those who supply us the goods and products that we enjoy so richly. We all need to take responsibility for the imbalances in this world and I do so by committing my career path to attempting to right these wrongs.

The second part of the sentiment I’m trying to raise today is that gone are the days when dumping goods and money on ‘poor people’ was done so in order to raise them out of their ‘miserable’ existence. Presenting people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty as victims who are not responsible for their own lives and alternatively, building their dependency on foreign elements does only one thing and that is to rob these people of their inherent dignity and demote them as not being agents of their own change.

As a development worker I don’t actually do anything FOR people, I instead assist them with skilling themselves up to do things to lift themselves out of poverty. I work with them to educate themselves, explore vocational training options, to raise their own and their community’s awareness on the inherent rights of every individual in spite of caste, creed or any other element that marginalises. This is what sustainable change is made up of. Remember, give an individual a fish and they eat for a day, teach an individual how to fish and they eat for life.

So I end this piece with the clarification that I don’t do what I do for the appreciation or the gratitude. Instead I embark on this as my life long journey. I do this in an attempt to balance out this world and try to ensure that we all benefit equally from its riches & rewards. That we all have the ability to apply our inherent human right of freedom; freedom from persecution/retribution/violence, freedom of religion/sexual orientation and freedom to choose our paths in life without the fear of discrimination. I do this for humanity.

Sx


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Life of a Development Worker – Attitudinal Change in Gorakhpur

 In the dusty back alleys of a rural town in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, CBM and our local partners were led to a brick house opposite the open wheat fields synonymous with this part of the country. The occupants of the household were all present except for the main participant of the project, a young woman named Meera. As we were greeted and welcomed by her extended family members we were immediately presented with a small paper file which consisted of certificates and paper clippings associated with Meera’s story and the success she had achieved as a result of her identification at the beginning of the project. I was also intrigued to learn that Meera’s absence was due to her employment in Lucknow which was acquired after vocational training and support she received due to her participation in the Parivartan Project.

It was explained to me that Meera had acquired a physical disability in her youth due to a motor vehicle accident. It had left her incapacitated and unable to obtain further education or learning opportunities. However, when the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) workers associated with the project conducted door knocking identification studies within her community, village members pointed Meera out as a potential participant in activities. When Meera was first identified in 2012 she was unable to walk without assistance. However, in the time that immediately followed, she was financially supported to receive corrective surgery and regular physiotherapy which allowed her to walk freely without the use of assistive devices.

The community based rehabilitation workers also assisted Meera in becoming a member of the local Disabled People’s Organisation, obtaining a disability certificate and in turn joining an Inclusive Self Help Group. It was at this stage that Meera expressed a desire to engage in further study and vocational training which was funded through the revolving loan aspect of her Self Help Group. After the training she managed to acquire a job at a business in a big regional city and started in a role earning Rs: 7000/-per month. This equates to approximately AU$143 – which is considered quite a lot in this context as an average agricultural farmer would be earning less than AU$2 a day.  At present having worked for more than a year and excelling in her role she is now earning Rs: 9500/- per month as her salary, approx AU$194.

As I looked into the eyes of her father, I was met with a true sense of pride. It would have seemed completely unfathomable a few years ago that a father within this village would allow his daughter living with a disability to have a vocation, let alone pursue that career path in a big city more than 4 hours away. I reflected on the attitudinal change that had occurred in this family when they had seen Meera’s capability to not just function on her own, but also generate an income outside of her household. My curiosity had led to me to ask her father directly what his intentions for Meera would be into the future especially as she was in her mid 20s and still unmarried, something quite unheard of within this village context. His answer surprised me as much as it drew further hope in me. He conveyed that the family was committed to supporting Meera in her future career and education pursuits and there were no immediate plans for her marriage on the horizon.

There, in this small dust covered village, I had discovered not only attitudinal change towards girls’ education, but behavioural change in delaying the onset of marriage in order to further this young woman’s career. I couldn’t help but imagine what Meera’s path would have been if not for the intervention of the CBR workers under the Parivartan project. By being identified, having the opportunity to access corrective surgery and supported to join an Inclusive Self Help Group, Meera had been provided with all the tools necessary to change her life and that of her family’s forever into the future. As I left her household I couldn’t help but notice the sentiment of the other young women in her village whose steely and hope filled eyes reflected the catch cry of ‘if Meera can do it, then so can I’.

 

© CBM Australia

https://www.cbm.org.au/news/article/challenging-traditional-gender-stereotypes#.V467SE0ViM8

 

 


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Global Goal #5.

When thinking about equal rights or women’s rights more specifically it’s easy to affirm one’s commitment based on the generic idea of it all. Most would agree that the basic principles of equality in terms of opportunity and access are minimum standards for application. The pursuit of equal pay, the elimination of violence towards women and girls and enhanced voice and influence at collective decision making level seem to be no brainers. These elements are by far the ones which gain the most airplay on the global stage, and perhaps that is so because they are the most palatable in the scheme of things. However, the issue that seems to be so blatantly neglected on a consistent basis is that of the pursuit of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and at the crux of this issue, abortion rights for women.

When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were being negotiated, advocates of women’s rights groups rightly pointed out that the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had failed to put forward a goal specifically on women’s empowerment an equal rights therefore successfully negotiating the addition of Global Goal 5: Gender Equality. An aspect of this goal focuses on eliminating the deprivation of women’s rights in regards to decision making around their sexual and reproductive rights.

Living in what is termed as a ‘first world, developed nation’ it’s easy to overlook how important this element is, considering that the majority of us have access to this not as a hard earned fight or achievement, but as a foregone basic human right. You would think that a woman would have the ultimate decision making capacity when it came to her body, but alas, in so many Global South nations this is anything but the case. I’ve come across so many stories where women with disabilities have undergone forced sterilisation due to ill conceived misconceptions about their impairments. In every one of these circumstances the ability to make decisions on the fate of their future is handed to those around them and decisions made on their behalf. Surely, being able to make a decision on one’s own fertility is the most basic of human rights to be afforded to an individual.

There is also then the question of what happens to a young woman who is humiliated, beaten and raped at the hands of an assailant who has subjected them to worst form of physical and sexual abuse. How is it possible that this woman can then be forced to have a resulting child without her consent? Who has the right to dictate to their fellow human being that the pain and torment of that assault means nothing in the face of being forced to go through with that pregnancy? What about young women being forced into marriage and bearing children at such a young age that their bodies can’t handle the stress and resulting in paralysing impairments and disabilities due to this act alone?

We seem to have come so far as a human race and developed in leaps and bounds to that beyond imagination. However, how is it possible that something so basic as being able to make decisions about our own bodies as women has been taken out of our own hands? How have we been forced into an existence whereby someone else dictates our fertility or our infertility and in some cases without our knowledge and consent? I find it mind boggling that we have come so far and yet still face such discrimination towards the decision making capacities of our own future…

Sx


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The need to reflect from within.

Every now and then I take the opportunity to take stock of the recent events of my life and attempt to then reflect and (albeit infuriatingly) measure my progress towards some semblance of adulthood and or life success. Most of the time I am much too hard on myself and revert to a cycle of chastising my lack of progress and then succumbing to demoralising comparisons to others around me who my mind deems to be further along in the path. This entire episode got me thinking about the reasons why we tend to compare our life journey to others in such a harsh and contrasting way.

It’s all too easy to look around at someone who is fitter or skinnier than me, or someone else who is far more educated and professionally well established than I am. The truth of it is that there will always be someone who is further along in their career than me and has a greater influence on their professional sphere than I do. But I also forget that it works the other way too. If I were to change my thinking on all of this and look the other way I would see that there are probably those who look at me and feel the same levels of absurd inadequacy towards themselves. Perhaps when they glance my way they see someone who is further along the x, y or z path than they are, so in reality isn’t it really all just relative?

In any way you look at it, these types of comparisons are destined to ensure that we never measure up. No two human beings are the same and no two journeys through life will ever be identical and therefore consistently comparable. But the truth of it is that is what makes this existence so invigorating and full of possibilities. Each and every one of us is born into this world as an individual. As we follow our path in life, different groups and influences will shape who we are and the outlook we have towards our individual and collective being. Some of us will follow in the footsteps of our parents or those close to us and others will choose to pave their own path. However, attempting to compare one’s own progress on a uniquely individual voyage to someone else’s who has chosen to take an entirely different direction seems like sheer lunacy.

On each of our journeys we will encounter distinctive and differing challenges, hurdles and setbacks. Some of us will come up against more of these and at higher frequencies than others. Others may have luck on their side and encounter these either later in life or inconsistently throughout it. Either way the means in which we attempt to tackle these issues will ultimately determine our life’s existence and the truth is ‘success’ is an entirely subjective idea anyway. Furthermore, maybe that isn’t what life is about at all. Perhaps instead it’s about the experience whereby we shouldn’t be looking behind or sideways for comparative examples of achievement but reflect within ourselves about how far we have come from the people we were just yesterday.

Sx


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Make Your Vote Count.

Election time is almost upon us and this particular installation looks to be too close to currently call. I’m always wary during campaign times of touting my political opinion in public, or more contextually, across social media. So today, instead of posting my support for any one political party, I will instead urge each and every one of you to utilise your individual and collective democratic rights at this time and make an informed choice. As we go to the polls tomorrow let’s try and abolish some of that political apathy that has descended on us after a long and often times, tedious campaign trail.

The past few years in Australian politics have unfortunately been dominated by in-party squabbling and leadership spill after leadership spill. It’s easy to say that majority of us have been appalled by the behaviour of those who are supposed to be our duty bearers and representatives on the global stage. But let’s try not to get distracted by the ugly nature of a clash of personalities and egos involved on both sides of the political spectrum and instead focus on the facts and the policy platforms of the parties we have to choose from.

Let’s look to cast an informed vote based on what is best for our country and its citizens. When I go to the polls tomorrow I will cast my vote to elect a party to power with a political platform based on mutuality, respect and decency; one that promotes regional security through investment in the economic development of our neighbours and invests in community development and governance structures of developing nations worldwide. One that that treats all human beings with dignity and adheres to the binding standards of the Humanitarian Charter with regards to those who end up on shores in the pursuit of a life free from oppression and persecution. I will consider the environmental fate of our planet and promote a party who seeks to reduce our carbon footprint and is committed to investing in alternative energy sources. But that’s just me…..

So remember when you go to cast your vote on that ballot paper tomorrow, consider the things that are important to you, the non-negotiables; and when you put pen to paper and exercise your democratic right, make sure that you make it count.

Sx