You definitely need to look at a range of perspectives, always.
My mum and dad are working class, my dad involved in the unions. They divorced when I was seven, so mum was predominantly a single mother after that, the primary carer. I have a wonderful relationship with dad though, he has always been there for me. Both their lives are based on fairness and respect.
This is a story I remember vividly. We were walking home from school one day, mum and I, when we saw a girl - I think she would have been about fourteen. At the time I was seven so she looked very big to me. I did not want to go near her. She was crying.
There were a lot of other people walking past at the time but they ignored her. Mum was the only one who stopped and asked if she was O.K. She really listened to her and asked what she needed. The girl had been locked out of her house by her brother. Well, we went to her home with her so she could get her stuff and we took her to her dad.
That experience taught me a lot about the need to put yourself out for others, but also about listening. My mum didn’t ever think about doing what she thought was right, such as taking her to school or taking her to her mother. She listened to what the girl wanted; what the girl thought she needed, and acted on that.
As I have got older and studied more I have been able to put into perspective the need for and importance of different voices, particularly how discourse can be influential in shaping our roles and community values. The values my parents taught me led me down the path to an interest in social justice.
When I went to university I saw the Oaktree Foundation’s Generate program advertised. It is just a basic introductory education program about empowering you and giving you the skills to empower others. It teaches you about the issues around aid and development. Going through Generate was a very invigorating experience. We learned about the complexities of ‘development’ and it was all done in an accepting and safe space. It made me think a lot more deeply about what it is to be a part of a movement.
I don’t think many people are really aware how many others live in extreme poverty.
After doing that I decided to take up a volunteer position with Oaktree. It is the largest youth run development organisation in Australia at the moment. They focus on advocacy but also have partner projects overseas.
We act as a financial partner for local non-government organisations who are doing really important educational work. We have a really good project in Timor Leste that does conflict resolution and human rights training that is gender inclusive - we look for that, and projects that are disability inclusive - it should be self-sustaining too.
We pick projects that give the ‘beneficiaries’ and the local people implementing the programs ownership. We recognise what our place is in development and we recognise that ultimately we should not be a long-term part of the picture. It is really cool. We support a couple of drop-in centres for women in Papua New Guinea, too.
In Cambodia at the moment we are partners with the Beacon Schools Initiative which is going to schools in remote parts of the country, giving scholarships to children with an emphasis on girls as there are more girls than boys that don’t have access to school, and helping to train teachers.
I have always been interested in leaving the world a better place but aid and development did not concern me as much as other injustices initially. I feel concerned about many things, but gradually I have become aware that extreme poverty is such a horrific and systemic injustice, one that impinges on many other human rights. Many things that we do continues to entrench others in poverty; it is unacceptable and assaults the values of compassion and fairness that I would like to hope all people share.
Since the start of this year we have been working on the Movement to End Poverty petition. It’s a petition calling on the government of the day to ensure we meet our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals by ensuring we increase our overseas development assistance to 0.7% of our gross national income.
We also want to increase the effectiveness of our aid. It is important that aid is delivered in an ethical manner. For me, overseas development assistance is one action we can all be a part of; one step towards balancing the inequalities in the world. We launched it with one of our flagship campaigns, the Roadtrip to End Poverty.
Almost a thousand young people from all over the country went over a week, by sixteen different routes to Canberra, getting signatures along the way. Once we arrived we had meetings with over one hundred Members of Parliament over one day. In the lead up to the election we have been meeting with candidates and lobbying candidates. Talking with people as we collect signatures matters, too, the more we talk about it the more we are all aware that ‘everyday’ people can have an impact.
This is so closely aligned with my values. It is important because we are living in a world that is not necessarily aligned with these values at all.
What I have learnt in my short time at Oaktree is, again, that you definitely need to look at a range of perspectives, always. I think having an awareness of different views also helps to ground your own work.
I am not too sure what I will be involved with in the future, there are so many exciting things going on. But I will be involved.