Tag Archives: Charity

Home Hug Surin gets a new driveway

A long drive to the orphanage of Home Hug Surin from Yasoton, saw us once again collaborating on a humid Thai day to bring about what the home required as part of the Hands Across the Water Social Venture Program.

A gravel driveway for the frequently used travel bus and a beautiful paved entrance to the main hall of the orphanage was on the agenda.

After a quick debrief, we easily moved to where we could all add most value, with many of the girls opting to spread the gravel that had been dumped on the drive, and the guys to move the concrete sleepers and commence spreading the sand and laying the pavers for the entrance walk.

The work was hot and sweaty and once again, our hosts paid us special care, providing cool refresher towels, plenty of water and fabulous food to keep us going.

By the late afternoon, the kids were home from school and joined us in the work that was left, loving having visitors at the orphanage and being useful amongst all their new-found foreign friends despite plenty of language barriers.

Once the work was finally finished and we were all exhausted, we enjoyed a lovely debrief and a session of thanks followed by a beautiful meal with the children, who just loved our company.

It’s been said that the ‘workman is worthy of his wage’ and our payment was more than enough in the smiles and thanks of the children we met at this lovely home.  They also showed their appreciation through traditional dance, a spot of hip hop and some songs for us – all to standing ovations..

From younger children, to intellectually impaired teenage boys, this place operates from a place of love and makes a beautiful welcoming environment for all these amazing and resilient children, who have nowhere else to call home,  It is again a testament to the amazing work of Hands Across the Water and the love and tireless work of Mae Thiew in protecting the children in her care.

Sounds sleeps and pleasant dreams were had by all.

 

Collaborating on an orphanage wall

So our day started bright and early with a 4.30 wake up and a flight from Bangkok to Ubonrachatani in the north.

Our group had been looking forward to heading to the Home Hug orphanage as the highlight of the visit.

For most who’d visited before, it was to rekindle relationships with the children and the beautiful Mae Thiew who has been looking after children for 40 years in her local community.

Many years ago, Mae Thiew was moved by the conditions of those in the hill tribes and seeing families sell their children to traffickers for money.

She sold everything and moved to the north, buying land and fiercely protecting the children who came into her care.

Times weren’t always easy and some days she needed to decide whether children needed medicine or food. Awful choices to have to make with many children dying.

Since Hands Across the Water partnered with the orphanage, no children have died.

And so we met the gorgeous children who live under the loving care and protection of Mae Thiew.

Our role at the orphanage was to paint the new wall out the front of Home hug to make it into a welcoming place, help remove the stigma associated with the children, some of whom have HIV and be a highlight for those coming to visit.

We were shown a great video of the amazing ability of art to bring together a community – watch the Ted Talk here.

We then collaborated, came up with different plans and the children chose their favourite, incorporating many ideas into what they’d like.

We eventually settled on a child weilding a ribbon to mirror the saffron colours of Mae Thiew’s robe, green for grass underneath with white handprints of those who’ve visited and blue sky above full of music, love and the bikes for the fantastic riders who every year raise so much for the work Hands do.

We learnt beautiful lessons on resilience and determination from this quiet and steel willed monk.

We drank in the smiles and relished holding hands and exploring the property with the children who taught us that acceptance, tolerance and happiness were still options despite adversity.

An amazing and moving day once again on  day 2 of our Social Venture Program…

 

“Slumming it” for a day…

It’s incredible to me how everyday cliché expressions, can take on new meanings after certain activities.

On returning from Africa last year, each time someone jokingly asked ‘I wonder what the poor people are doing?’… I knew.

And now I know what it means to truly ‘slum it.’

Our mission in the Khlong Toei slums of Bangkok, was to destroy a family home so that a new, better, more inhabitable dwelling could be built on site for a family.

We met lovely On and her son Anon who lived in the ‘home’ and I use the term loosely, it would have been condemned years ago where I come from.

The lower floor was covered in a foot of stagnant swamp water and rubbish and had been abandoned for years.  The only way to the upper lever was through a set of stairs unlike any I’ve ever had to navigate before.

On top of this, On had polio as a child and still carries a decided limp.  Her son, Anon is suffering from leukemia and is currently undergoing treatment.  Yet on each of his returns from hospital, he heads back to this home.

The family mattress was full of holes and cockroaches.  There’s no running water, sewage facilities or cooking abilities at the home.  It really wasn’t much more than a ‘roof over their head.’  The floor boards were rotten and termite eaten and full of holes.

And so we tore it down.

On and Anon are in temporary accommodation for the next six weeks whilst locals come in to build a new, entirely habitable dwelling for the family.  Raised enough so the swelling of the Chao Praya river doesn’t leave part of itself behind each time it floods.

It is this that the funds raised by the 13 people sharing this journey with me go towards.  The Duang Prateep Foundation in partnership with Hands Across the Water ensure that On has all she needs going forward.  The funds we raised cover new mattresses, cooking utensils, pots and the furniture we helped put together.

It was an epic day.  Busy, fruitful, emotional and in turn made us so grateful.  We had highs and lows, but were so proud that we were a part of this great opportunity to afford someone a better life and grateful too for our own families and the homes we get to return to.

Next stop, the orphanages of Yasoton…

I won a trip to the Bangkok Slums!

Well, there’s a blog title I never thought I’d write… or even be a little excited about, but as it turns out, in 9 more sleeps, I’m off to Thailand.

And as much I’d love to be sipping Mai Tai’s by the pool at a stunning resort… that’s NOT what this trip is all about.

I recently attended the Future of Leadership forum in Brisbane which has a fabulous number of brilliant speakers donating their time and resources to raise funds for the amazing charity, Hands Across the Water (aka Hands or HATW.)

One of the prizes on the day, which I was fortunate enough to take out, was a trip for the Hands “Social Venture Program.”  This 6 day program will take me from the Khlong Toei Slums in Bangkok to the community Projects and orphanages in Yasothon, Northern Thailand.

The people I’ll be meeting aren’t famous for the attention they garner, they aren’t social media stars and they don’t drop quotable quips, but they are possibly the most amazing people for the impact they have on their local communities and the lives they live.

It will be my privilege to spend time in their homes, learning and changing myself.  I feel so blessed to lead the life that I do, and cherish the moments where I can learn and grow as a human from these remarkable people who do so much, not because they want to be famous, but because they can.

We’ll be relocating a very deserving family from the slums into temporary accommodation, then demolishing their home for locals to be able to come in and build a new, habitable dwelling for the family.

Then we’re off to Northern Thailand to work with the Home Hug orphanage, be involved in the community project in Surin and make a difference however we can before returning to Bangkok.

So far, I’ve been able to raise $2,000 for this fantastic cause and I’d love if you’d like to contribute too: Donate Here

If you’d like to know more about the amazing work that Hands does in their Social Venture Program, or have your corporate or colleagues involved, you can check them out here: HATW Social Venture Program

I look forward to sharing my adventures as I go and will keep you posted on this amazing trip.

The Gang’s All Here! Let the Adventures Begin…

Well, yesterday saw the arrival of all the gorgeous girls joining us on our adventure with The Hunger Project.

All have undertaken a personal journey to be here and have had to commit to raising the $10,000 in fundraising… No mean feat.

We shared a lovely welcome dinner last night and settled in for a big sleep prior to kick-off today.  A club over the road however blasted away til about 4 am making a full nights’ sleep a little difficult.

After another great breakfast and gorgeous sky started our day, and we headed off for our leadership program to begin.

Today started with a brilliant dance session by a talented Ugandan group who had us all shaking our tail feathers after receiving our gorgeous gifts of scarves and skirts.

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We then settled in to learn lessons in leadership, forged closer bonds with our fellow travellers, and heard from the local country director, Daisy who inspired us with the work done in the epicentres around the southern part of Uganda, some of those we’ll visit on our travels.

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We’ve been encouraged to dream, confront our fears, be mindful, respectful and challenged as to how we truly listen.

Making the most of this journey will involve being open to the new, letting go of past beliefs and future expectations and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

After the confront of yesterday’s paper, today’s ran a 20 page feature focussed on Mother’s Day – reminding some of us of the babies we’ve parted with to be on this journey and restoring faith that motherhood is a gift, and a usually, a universally appreciated one.

And we’re all completely loving the buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It seems so surreal that surrounded by such luxury and comfort that we’re actually here to visit some of the most marginalised people on earth… not that far away…

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The Countdown is On!

Well it’s only a week til I board the plane and head off to Africa to participate in the Business Chicks Immersion & Leadership Program.

Yesterday saw me in ‘freak out’ mode with a missing passport and cancelled flights, but all’s well that ends well.  Passport found including Uganda visa and yellow fever certificate, flights rebooked and all back on track.

A lovely little parcel arrived today too with a handmade notebook by the village partners to use as our journal on our trip along with the details of our Immersion Program and introductions to all the gorgeous girls who will accompany me on our adventure.

Business Chicks, like those going on this trip, and The Hunger Project believe that by supporting developing women leaders and creating a space for them to connect and stretch, they can make a difference in the world.  Empowering women to be leaders in turn can help solve one of the biggest humanitarian issues of our time, hunger.

Hunger isn’t just a problem for those suffering from it, but a global issue that requires new ideas, thinking, partnership and ways to solve the underlying issues.

I’m so looking forward to being part of this journey, lending a hand and learning from each other, being part of something bigger, and finding a place where it’s safe to give anything a go!

I’m sure I’m going to learn so much more than I can possibly bring to the table on this trip.

Bring it on!

Women in Focus host The Hunger Project

It was lovely to be invited along to cheer on the fabulous Amelia Lee who spoke at the Commonwealth Bank Flagship store in Brisbane on her journey with The Hunger Project and how it had been a life changing event for her personally.  She’s vowed no more living with excuses, but to step up and live the dream – inspired by the hard working women she met in Uganda who are changing mind sets of generations of hopelessness, to believe that quite simply, they can make a difference.

Fleur Davidson, manager of the CBA Flagship store, hosted the high tea with all arranged by the very competent Angela Muller.  A room of 30 women all enjoyed a late lunch of mini quiches, pancakes and sandwiches, washed down with copious amounts of latte and cappuccinos!

CBA

Former trippers were in attendance and there was great support for Skye Anderton of Ruby Olive, and I (the two Qld trippers heading to Uganda this year) with a raffle held.  The generous crowd came up with $860 for us to share and commit towards our fundraising efforts.

This started the ball rolling for Skye and took me to nearly the $8,000 mark in my journey.

If you’d also like to assist me in reaching my ambitious goal of $25,000 please head to http://tinyurl.com/pd5c8y6

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!

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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/

Why The Hunger Project Resonated with Me

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Charity is often a deeply personal issue and only becomes dear to us when we are personally affected or emotionally moved by an issue.

I was a giver, over a long period of time – little bits, to a lot of places.  I love the Guide Dogs, Fred Hollows Foundation and the RACQ Care Flight Chopper – they’re all personal favourites.

But choosing to partner with The Hunger Project and commit to raising over $10,000 was the first time I’d ever embarked on anything of this size or nature.

Here’s a few reasons why The Hunger Project got my vote and why I’ll be heading to Ethiopia next May:

The Three Fundamental Pillars of The Hunger Project.

Top-down, aid-driven charity models often fail to reach the people who need the most help. To be sustainable, we have discovered three critical elements that, when combined, empower people to make rapid progress in overcoming hunger and poverty:

  1. Mobilisation for self-reliance
  2. Empowering women as key change-agents for development
  3. Making local government work
  4. Mobilisation for self-reliance

The Challenges:
A. People in under-developed countries, particularly in rural areas, often live or work in isolation. Whether this is because they are physically isolated such as in the jungles of Africa, or socially isolated by caste or because they are women who are not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort, or villages that are divided by tribal rivalries, any kind of division weakens their potential collective power.

  1. Often aid money has come and gone, but the people are still hungry, and they come to believe that it will always be this way. This can lead to hopelessness and cynicism.

Our Work: When people are united for a purpose and act together to improve their own conditions, there is a multiplier effect and much more can be accomplished.

One of our first steps is to reduce the resignation that chronic hunger and poverty creates in a community.  We work to bring people together to unleash their creativity and productivity through education and skill building. Through a process of enquiry, we ask the villagers what is missing then help develop a social structure that allows local, productive action, self-confidence and strong advocacy in each region.  395,000 trained volunteers around the world are mobilising millions of others to take self-reliant actions.

In Africa, through our Epicentre Strategy, more than 121 clusters of villages have launched village-level projects to generate their own income and build classrooms, food storage facilities and health clinics.

In India more than 83,000 elected women representatives in India are speaking out and bringing water, health and education to their villages.

In Bangladesh 272,000 trained Animators and volunteer youth leaders are initiating projects such as campaigns against early marriage, dowry and violence against women; education programs for safe drinking water, nutrition and sanitation; birth registration for rural communities; and income-generating activities.

  1. Empowering women as key change-agents for development.

The Challenges: In most of the areas where we work there is severe gender discrimination which perpetuates a cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Our Work: Studies show that women are the best change agents. We work with grassroots women to help them gain a voice in local decision-making, shifting local priorities towards nutrition, sanitation, clean water, health and education. We coalesce women who work together to end corruption, stop early child-marriage, and ensure punishment for rape and domestic violence. Our model emphasises important roles for women, working as equals to men, to determine community priorities and build the required skills to transform their lives for generations to come.  Many studies have proven that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase.

In Africa, Our Microfinance Programs provide women food farmers easy access to credit, adequate training regarding the importance of saving and income generation.

1.3 million people have taken the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop.

In India, our Women’s Leadership Workshop has empowered over 83,000 women elected to local councils to be effective change agents in their villages.

In Bangladesh, we catalysed the formation of a 300-organisation alliance that organises more than 800 events across the country each September in honour of National Girl Child Day, a day to focus on eradicating all forms of discrimination against girls.

  1. Making local government work.

The Challenges: Weak, corrupt, or unresponsive local government. Need we say more?

Our Work: In working with the local people we find and train leaders who learn to reform laws by transforming the mindsets of local officials. They focus on the issues of primary education and health care, family income, nutrition, water and sanitation. These can only be solved at the local level, and will only be solved when people are able to communicate their needs to leaders and hold them to account.

In Africa, Local government officials are included at every stage of our Epicentre Strategy. When the villagers build the epicentre building, local government provides nurses, teachers and supplies for the preschool and health clinic. Some African governments, having seen our success, are building The Hunger Project model into their national plans.

In India, we work in 3418 local village-level government units (gram panchayats), in 90 districts. There are 175 block-level Federations in 8 States where locally elected rural women come together to voice concerns and change laws as a collective unit. Currently, the priority issues include increased transparency at all levels of government. We also partner with 48 local organisations to jointly accomplish improved education, nutrition and health.

In Bangladesh, we work with 508 local government bodies (Union Parishads) ensuring 100 percent sanitary latrine coverage, 100 percent birth and death registration, and open budget meetings to provide transparency and accountability.

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If any of this also strikes a chord with you and you’d like to donate to this great cause, please support my efforts at: http://tinyurl.com/pd5c8y6

THP