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Financial Abuse – signs and options

After a tragic swathe of deaths due to aggressive partners and the fabulous work of Rosie Battie and other campaigners to raise awareness, most of us are all too familiar with the specter of domestic violence.

Some of us may have experienced it in a former relationship, know friends and family who are going through it now, or we may be still living the nightmare.  Most of us understand all to clearly that physical abuse and emotional torture are just ‘not on’ or part of a normal and loving relationship.  But many haven’t heard of financial abuse, although they may be familiar with some it’s symptoms.

By definition: Financial abuse is a tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship. The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances.

It is even believed that senior financial abuse will be the crime of the 21st Century.

So what does it look like and how can it be avoided?

Perhaps, you’ve been forced into a career that you wouldn’t normally have chosen for yourself.  It keeps you from succeeding as you’d like to.  It’s a daily grind, doing something you don’t love for an hourly rate.  Your partner may even bandy around ultimatums… choose the job or the relationship!

Others won’t allow you to have your own bank account or spending money.  They dole out the housekeeping funds only and keep their partner financially dependent for every dollar. Others track every cent, forcing their spouse to hand over each and every receipt so that they can see exactly how the money has been spent and ensure no cash withdrawals have been made or funds skimmed from their payments.

Some threaten to leave, and being the sole source of income for the family, the partner stays in place, knowing their livelihood and that of their children depends on the breadwinner.

So what to do?  It’s a complex area and advice to ‘just leave’ isn’t always appropriate, although is likely the ultimate goal.  Relationships based on power and abuse aren’t about love, trust and commitment.  Many feel that their partner may turn physically abusive if they don’t get their own way financially.

Reaching out to trusted friends and family members is a good place to start.  Perhaps you need to plan an exit over time.  Others are happy to cut and run.  Do you need to find a shelter or somewhere to house you and the children while you get back on your feet?  Are you able to get part-time work with funds directed to a new account to start saving for a new life?  Dog walking, cleaning, car-washing or baby-sitting can provide cash funds to be stashed for when the day comes. Do you have a hobby that can be monetized?  Can family and friends help with donations that can be repaid when you’re financially stable once again?  Are you able to do an online course or vocational training to bring your skills up to date?  Find out about community assistance in your area from local councils or libraries.

Financial abuse is a complex area, and ensures low self esteem and feelings of poor self worth.  The abuser is happy to be in a position of power and keep their partner down-trodden.

If you’ve managed to break away from a financially abusive partner, I’d love to hear how you managed the exit!

Confronting Child Marriage in Malawi

Part of our visit to Majete 5 involved meeting people in the village who were open enough to share their homes and stories with us.

For some background, for many years, their homes and village formed part of the Majete Game Reserve, and naturally enough for people suffering chronic persistent hunger, the wildlife was viewed as a food source and the trees were cut down to burn and sell the charcoal as an income source.  Over time, this decimated the area until the Government finally decided to partner with private enterprise and re-establish the game reserve to entice tourist dollars back to Malawi.  It was pitched as good for the villages to bring money back to the country, but to those starving, made little sense.

Fencing the entire reserve meant that those living in the Park were forcibly relocated outside of the perimeter and much antagonism arose with the local communities cut off from what they once viewed as their own.

To assist in helping villages find their feet again and look for new sources of income, The Hunger Project was asked to partner with communities around the Reserve and assist with mindset change and leadership.  Education assists in helping find new sources of income and building a better life.

Yet for now, some things remain the same in the villages.

Maxwell (32) and his wife Shiveira (28) welcomed us to their home.  Shiveria was very shy and is currently expecting their 5th child.  Their eldest is now 15 (do the math!) was married at 12 and is a mother herself.  Maxwell told us she wanted to be married and wasn’t forced, but they needed the dowry to be able to eat.  We were witnessing firsthand inter-generational child marriage and teen pregnancy… and it was a little confronting.

I found it difficult to suspend judgement and just listen to the story for what it is seeing it’s so different, unacceptable and unusual in my own culture.  Child marriage however has long been considered normal in the area and no-one raises an eyebrow.The legal age for marriage in Malawi is 18 however child marriage still regularly occurs in the village areas with little to no intervention from the village leaders.

Maxwell’s daughter stopped attending school once having the baby and may never have the opportunity for further education… until The Hunger Project bring their literacy classes to the area.

At home, remain 2 sons and another daughter, plus the baby on the way.  Hopefully by the time their existing daughter is a teenager, the mindset training will be complete and her parents will take part in the Vision, Commitment and Action workshops, educating them with alternate options.

Well, here’s hoping anyway!

“I wonder what are the poor people doing?”

If you’ve ever made that throw away comment whilst floating around a resort pool with a cocktail waiting for you on the side… I can now give you an answer…

For a complete change of pace, we headed to Majete 5.  A new community for The Hunger Project bordering a game reserve in southern Malawi (and yes, it’s the 5th surrounding the reserve.)

This area has been working with The Hunger Project for only a short while on their mindset change, and have just had their first Vision, Commitment, Action (VCA) workshop.  Their communities surround a reserve for tourists, now hosting the Big 5 and was once the source of their food and income.  Now, relocated on the outside of the fence, life is harder than ever before.

This means that what we’re seeing is pretty much real Malawi and the lives people lead faced with chronic, persistent hunger.  Many who are fortunate, eat twice at day.  At the moment, there is no Epicentre building, and the work has just begun.  They are skeptical that any real changes can be made in their lives, resigned to the lives they lead and yet hopeful that change can be made by partnering the THP.

We witnessed history in the making during the morning, when locals expressed their hesitance and reluctance to engage, believing that life had always been ‘this way’ and that it probably always would be.  They were also cautiously optimistic that maybe this time, real change could be made, but hardly convinced.   And before our eyes, after a rousing talk by the THP Director of Malawi Rolands Kaoatcha and THP employee Grace shared their passion, changed their minds, so hopeful for their children, that change was indeed possible.  It made us reflect later on how much our own limiting beliefs keep us imprisoned to the ideas we ‘choose’ to partner with.

Maternal and infant health is a huge issue in the area, with women in labour having to walk for 27kms (around 7 hours+) to the nearest health facility to give birth.  Many are too tired to make the full journey and give birth along the way.  Any complications mean possible death for the mother, infant or both.  To say the tears were flowing on hearing their stories is the understatement of the trip so far.  Knowing that I would have died trying to have my daughter without medical assistance made the stories more poignant for me and we were moved to tears with one man begging for a health service and ambulance for their women during our visit.

We were soon divided into four groups and braved epic Malawian heat as we were each welcomed into the homes for four local families who shared their personal stories with us.  One family married their daughter off at 12 (apparently she was willing) so that the dowry could feed the remaining family for the rest of ‘the hungry season.’  Others shared their stories of love and loss, of saving 10 years for iron sheets for their roofs and their struggle to feed their families at least twice per day.

To not be moved by such every day battles, and put our own ‘first world problems’ into stark perspective, we’d have been heartless indeed to have not been touched.

Malaria is still a huge issue, and the Majete Malaria Project is working in tandem with THP to improve the lives of those in the villages.

Despite the confrontational day we had, we too were optimistic about their future based on the Epicentre we have seen reach self-reliance and knowing that the work ahead can make positive and real change in their lives.

Their vision that their children may one day end up as President, or even doctors or nurses is more possible right now they could ever believe.

My question for myself as I settle in to bed with a full belly tonight is, as ever, “what’s holding me back?”

The Moth and the Cocoon

The Moth and the Cocoon

A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth and he took it home to watch it emerge. On the day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Deciding something was wrong, the man took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily, but it’s body was swollen and wings small and shrivelled.

The man expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body in its natural beauty, but they do not. Instead of developing into the creature free to fly, the moth spent its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings.

The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. The merciful snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes struggle is exactly what we need in our life.

Author Unknown

This story I first discovered in my handbook for my Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program to Uganda with The Hunger Project and I found it really resonated with me.

In the context of this trip, I feel that it relates to the struggle that takes place when The Hunger Project first heads into the villages to meet with the elders and discuss the work they do. For two years they work to create a vision of what is required for that community, with a huge shift in mindset being required.

The local villagers need to take complete ownership of what they’d like to create and THP helps facilitate. To get people to shift from generations of chronic, persistent hunger to believing better things are possible, is monumental, and not embraced by everyone.

Each of the lovely ladies, or Trippers, too on this journey have their own struggles. Each has a unique family, personal or work situation that requires energy and focus.

Like the moth however, we too need to recognise that often freedom and flight will come after the struggle.

A great lesson and really fitting on this journey.

Visiting villages in Kiruhura, Uganda

Our afternoon saw us invited into the homes of some local villagers not associated with The Hunger Project (THP.)

Our first host, Jane was a widow with three children. Since her husband died, she works doing casual labour to provide for her family, surviving on less than $1 per day.

She invited us into her home, a mud hut with two small rooms. The first room, a dark sitting room ended up hosting around 16 people as she answered our questions about her difficult life.

We passed through her bedroom, which consisted only of a filthy mattress where the whole family slept. I seriously would not let my dog sleep in such conditions.  Her children were dirty, clothed in rags, clearly malnourished and unwell.

Out the back, by the cooking pit, we were joined by Margaret who had 7 children and told us her story. Children were shelling peas at her feet and a small pig was caged behind the kitchen area.

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Each day is a struggle, with hard labour and childminding, with no assistance and no respite.

Mary next asked us to visit her home. She and her husband had six children with one of her sons in boarding school. She told us that they will often go to bed hungry to ensure they can pay the school fees.  The focus and priority placed on education is outstanding.

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Her home was a little larger than Jane’s and she was a hospitable host, offering us refreshment tho she had little to spare.

After another bus ride to an even more remote area, we came to Evaline’s home, and her story profoundly impacted many of us.

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Evaline’s husband abandoned her when their third child was 9 months old, even selling their mattress for cash before he left. In the understatement of the day, she told us, ‘he wasn’t a very caring man.’ She hasn’t seen him since. She has now been diagnosed with allergies, tho she’s not sure to what, but her skin is often itchy and sore. She also has been diagnosed with syphillis but can’t afford the tablets that cost $1 each, let alone transport to the distant clinic where they’re supplied.

Evaline also stays up many nights to do a local brew to supplement her income which she can sell for $3. This can take up to six hours to complete so she is often exhausted also surviving on little sleep. She’s thinking of not sending her children back to school next week as it’s just too expensive to buy the pencils and books on her limited income.

These three women we’d met had all heard of The Hunger Project, but weren’t actively involved due to health and transport issues. They’re able however if needed to access the health centre and services provided such as Functional Adult Literacy classes and learn about Income Generating Activities, all available at the Epicentre.

The contrast between these three women and those who have embraced the principles of THP were startling!

“Have Courage and be Kind”

Well my teenage daughter went and saw Cinderella with her girlfriends, shed a little tear over the magic and was determined to drag me off and see it for myself.

I wasn’t sure really what to expect.  This is one of those tales that you just don’t remember the first time you heard it, you just always have known the story and grown up with the romance of it. And it’s magical!

Right up til you’re bullied and bitten in kindy and no fairy godmother shows up, or your manic depressive mother drums into you that life isn’t easy, there is no magic, no handsome prince or happy ever after.  A wedding is just dress ups for one day and marriage is shit.  But still, there’s a part of you that hopes, that wants to believe… One day…

I fell in love with Helena Bonham Carter (and her eyebrows) playing a young Serena in a Hazard of Hearts, alongside the very dashing Justin Vulcan of Mandrake (a terrible Barbara Cartland romance that still appealed to my hopeful 16 year old soul) and thought she was a great fairy godmother for Cinderella – I’d have her any day!  And the fact that she’s a wizz at shoes is a definite bonus!

Cate Blanchett, another favourite, is spectacular in taking on the role that ruined life for stepmothers everywhere.  Beautifully elegant, yet bitter and twisted and the reminder that life isn’t always easy.  You can choose to be cruel and manipulative… or not… But it’s Cinderella’s choice, to ‘have courage and be kind’ despite all adversity she’d faced, that is the beautiful theme that shone throughout this movie.

For Cindy, the magic ended at midnight after the ball; life was still more than a drudge but there were choices to be made.  To live in joy with the memories, enjoy the company of friends, and sing, just because you can… or not. And hey, who knows? Some days, things just do go your way!

I do hope her prince doesn’t snore and fart loudly and leave grubby hunting gear and undies on the floor, but if you can be happy in the face of adversity, I guess it’s just as easy to be happy in the palace…

A night at the Weribee Zoo Slumber Safari

Werribee
Now this is glamping!

After a trip from the sunny Gold Coast to cool Melbourne, I played soccer mum, picking up the iMax and ferrying the work team out to Werribee Open Plains Zoo.

There were six of us, staying in two cabins and ‘glamping’ for a night at the slumber safari.

I implemented an annual offsite in 2014 for work, and took the team to Bali for a spot of team building and serious business planning and sessions away from the day-to-day grind of the office.

This year, we combined with a conference in Melbourne and did our two days business planning prior to heading to Albert Park…. But not before some fun at the zoo!

The girls were happy to be assigned to the Growling Grass Frog cabin, and the boys were right next door.  After settling in, having a cold one on the verandah and admiring our view overlooking brolgas, Eastern grey kangaroos and a rhino, we were set for our first activity… a late afternoon wander through the zoo, and bus ride.

Our little tour took us past oryx, camel, kudu, eland, hippo and out towards the home of six Batchelor giraffe at feeding time.  What gorgeous and elegant animals they are, and so close!  Leroy the rhino wasn’t to impressed with us being in his territory and the zebra turned their gorgeously striped butts to us as we ventured by.

The highlight of the afternoon for me tho was getting up close and personal with the White rhino Kepamba.  He’s obviously immune to the awe he induces at around two and a half tonne, and was happy to munch away while we enjoyed taking turns patting his thick, dusty hide.  To be so close to one of the Big 5 when they’re becoming so rare, was pretty emotional.  The ones I saw in Africa all have their mighty horns cut every two years to keep them far less attractive to the menace of poachers!  To see this baby with his horn intact, and being much loved, was incredible.

Kepamba
The lovely Kepamba

The next visit had us drop by the lioness who gave us a few growls, just because she could, and we headed back to the Safari grounds for drinks and dinner.

With the theme of being sustainable and Eco-friendly, the Moroccan spread put on for our evening meal was pretty amazing, and all prepared on-site.  Bravo to the chefs!  None of us went to bed hungry!

Chad
Chad gets up close a personal with a white rhino

An evening stroll through the zoo later saw us wandering through the Aussie section with the dozy koalas and kicking through the shearing shed, before heading back to the hippos by twilight, patting a python and looking in vain for the lovely cheetah.

Roasting marshmallows by the open camp fire finished the evening before we all retired to our comfy beds and rugged up for the night.

Leanne getting friendly with Kepamba
Leanne getting friendly with Kepamba

Waking to the sound of birdsong isn’t new for me, but to have lions roaring in the distance as well is a little unusual, and completely amazing!

A quick shower in the rustic bathrooms with our resident huntsman spider made me glad we weren’t visiting in the dead of winter when the cold winds would whistle up through the floorboards!

After our hearty brekky and a giggle at our fellow campers, all at breakfast in their onesies, from bub to grandma, we packed up the car and enjoyed our final zoo experience – behind the scenes with the cheetah at last and her keeper.  We wandered her grounds, got close up pics (still behind the wire) and watched her morning run for her rabbits foot.  Very cool!

We also snagged a quick visit to the serval cats, helping feed them their mealie worms for breakfast, and I couldn’t leave without checking in on the mighty silverbacks.

I’m heading to Uganda with The Hunger Project in two months and have added gorilla trekking on to my experience there.  It was hard to tear ourselves away from the interaction we were having with the dad silverback as he wandered down to the glass and promptly turned his back to us, while still managing to interact and watch us as much as we did him. It was pretty special and made me wonder how amazing and awe inspiring it will be when there’s no glass in between, and just jungle!

Russ
Russell gets cozy with a Silverback!

If you ever do get a chance to head to Werribee, definitely book in for the Slumber Safari.  It’s totally worth it.

And if you can help support my fundraising efforts for the fantastic work of The Hunger Project, please head to… http://tinyurl.com/