Martha Abari Bartholomew

It has taken nearly 10 years but I am slowly coming to realise that it truly is small business, entrepreneurs, social activists and industry experts with business and marketing savvy who possess the greatest ability to ‘agitate’ for the change they desire.

Martha Abari Bartholomew is a South Sudanese entrepreneur and I will use her own words to articulate her intent:

“It is not about personal business but it is about what you do to transform South Sudan. For the country to reach a better status, we must have a good environment of entrepreneurship – entrepreneurs are the ones who will build this nation… It’s not about the government, it’s about us standing on our own feet. If we can all stand on our own, we will prosper. If we are depending on the country to hold us up, we will all fall. I want to make sure every person around me doing business are raised together to develop this nation.” (source)

I found out about Martha because she participated in UNDP’s Entrepreneurship Training and Business Development Services workshops and is featured on the UNDP website as a leading example of a young person successfully building a business in South Sudan. There is little else I could find online about her, asides from some stunning photos on her Instagram (see featured image). She is a vibrant, enthusiastic and capable member of her society. For this fact, I think we should know she exists in this world and feel hope that she is helping others to stand up independently and take control of their own futures.

Martha faces broader hardships than the standard young woman taking a risk in small business. South Sudan is plagued with social problems, drought, famine, economic crisis, political instability, honestly the list goes on (source, source, source)… It would be easy to think it was all just too hard to break through these hardships, and find yourself in the standard ebb and flow of society. But Martha has utilised international aid to benefit herself and her goals, and reclaim control over her business. She is clearly blessed in being (relatively) safe in her community, potentially wealthy, and in a position to participate in training to further her education. This is not the reality for a lot of women (and indeed men) in South Sudan, there are literally droves of being migrating across the country away from famine and persecution.

I believe sometimes this can lead to a negative view of people like Martha and I think this is misguided. We should not feel anger or like she ‘doesn’t deserve it’ or that she has it ‘easy’. She is still working bloody hard and we should give her the credit that is due to her. In addition to that, where we should be directing our anger is at the sanctioned violence, government corruption and military-driven violence that is perpetrated against innocent people. We shouldn’t bring Martha down in the pursuit of raising others up.

So let’s celebrate this beautiful human being for standing tall whilst digging deep into the entrepreneurial pursuit of self-betterment and social change.

Thank you to the following sites:

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a South African activist during the Apartheid. She had a career in social work, she was an activist, she was the President of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League and was elected to Parliament in 1994. She was also the wife of Nelson Mandela.

Winnie passed away on the 2nd of April 2018 and I would like to explore her life and contribution that stood separate to her husband, because she herself had an intense career as a social activist worth discussing. I have to note here that she was also a deeply flawed human being and by all accounts facilitated horrible things and associated with some horrible people.There is a timeline and listing of faults, charges and incidents here.

The general run through of her life is as follows:

  • Winnie studied to become a Social Worker at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg in 1953.
  • At the time, South Africa was in the midst of Apartheid – a time during which Indigenous African people experienced extreme violence, segregation and mistreatment whilst those of European descent experienced access to privilege, wealth, and health.
  • Winnie was the first black social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg.
  • Winnie met and married Nelson Mandela in the 1950s – he was already deeply political at this time.
  • During her husband’s extensive periods of imprisonment Winnie continued surreptitiously working towards the defeat of Apartheid as a member of the ANC.
  • Winnie herself was tortured and detained in solitary confinement for a year, was placed under house arrest and had her house firebombed.
  • Her arrest was as per the “1967 Terrorism Act, No 83, which allowed the arrest of anyone perceived to be endangering the maintenance of law and order. It stipulated that anyone could be arrested without warrant, detained for an indefinite period of time, interrogated and kept in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or a relative” (source).
  • Throughout all this, Winnie continued to publicly speak out against the mistreatment of native Africans, including through engagement with international media.
  • She was constantly harassed, imprisoned, restricted, raided and intervened with by government officials and police. She was even banished from her own country for a period of time.
  • In 1994, in the same year that Nelson Mandela became president (the first black president of South Africa), Winnie was elected into Parliament and appointed deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology.
  • She was removed from this assignment in 1995 (by Mandela) due to her rumoured  and proven affiliations with radical groups and ideologies.
  • After this time, Winnie was convicted against charges of human rights violations. My understanding of this is that she set up guards to torture and kill black Africans who were assisting the Apartheid.

There’s a fascinating quote by Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe that I read, on her marrying Nelson Mandela: “The decision in itself was a big decision‚ because she got married to the trouble itself … That is a major decision. It reflects the character of the person”.

She got married to the trouble itself… It’s such a unique way of looking at how her marriage with him set up the events that happened throughout her life. It makes me sit and wonder what her life would have been, had she continued on as the social worker at the hospital. Clearly she was a strong willed, brave woman not willing to bow down to social norms, but how that would have manifested is interesting to ponder.

I have to identify that it would be foolish for me to believe that I could understand what it took for her to survive during the time of Apartheid, known by the government as trouble and with a husband away. It’s why I’m worried about commenting on those elements of illegality that tarnish her life. Was it a case of kill or be killed? Does that matter? I’m not sure and I am not informed enough to make any kind of statement on that.

Winnie was married to her husband during his imprisonment spanning nearly 40 years. So for nearly 40 years, Winnie did what women do best: she got on with it. In the same way that has happened thousands of times over throughout history, she dug her heels in and she continued pushing forward while her husband was away. This is a particularly unique example of that scenario, but it is what it boils down to. She had to make decisions for her and her family, like sending their children to another country to board for their safety, that impacted on her life drastically and that would have surely taken a great personal toll.

She lived a lonely life both in her marriage and her friendships, with many people entering her life to be later discovered as spies. She did in fact do social work until 1965, when government restrictions placed upon her movements meant that she was no longer able to travel to her place of work. What this must do to a person is anybody’s guess. At one interrogation it is reported that she was kept awake for five full days and nights. The impact on her well being must have been monumental, and I wonder what part this played in her later actions.

I could keep musing on Winnie all day. Just like every human on this planet, Winnie contributed both positively and negatively to this world. I believe, however, that it is important that we learn of her story, of her faults and her power and bravery, and try to approach her story with curiosity and compassion.

Thank you to the following links:

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

This week we are swinging all the way back to the 1860’s to meet Henrietta Swan Leavitt – an American astronomer ‘known for her discovery of the relationship between period and luminosity in Cepheid variables, pulsating stars that vary regularly in brightness in periods ranging from a few days to several months’ (source).

… If that sentence made your eyes go cross eyed and zone out, let’s try that again.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt is famous for working out that the brightness of stars translated to their distances from the earth. This lead to Edwin Hubble figuring out how to measure galaxy distances. This has had incredible impacts on our understanding of the universe, including the fact that it is expanding.

Now. If you are well versed in space talk and know about influential astronomers I am certain you have heard of Henrietta. I know bits and pieces about space, planets, black holes and the like thanks to a very informed husband sharing his knowledge with me, but I did not know about Henrietta! It is incredible that she had employment at all outside of the home in her time, however it is understood that she did work for well below the salary of a male counterpart, even working for free at Harvard at the beginning of her career.

Don’t even get me started about the fact that Edward Charles Pickering, who she worked for at the time of discovery, published her findings under his own name… … … I’m not sure of the office politics of the time, maybe this was standard practice, but a little hat tip might have been nice…

In articulating what Henrietta’s story and achievements mean to me I need to go on a slight tangent. Today I was listening to an episode of the Podcast Unladylike called ‘Breaking the Bronze Ceiling’. This episode spoke about how despite the fact that during the Vietnam War many American women went and served their times as nurses, cooks and so on, they are not immortalised in public statues in the same way that those who shot guns and actively fought are. It is a really great conversation about how there are so many women woven through our histories that have done momentous things – brave, inspiring, dangerous, daring and rebellious things – that have faded away into history.

Those men who did serve in the war would know the part the women played in caring for and treating them, but the public do not see that and so how can they know? Similarly, I am sure that those in the field would know and honour the work of Henrietta, but why didn’t I know her name before my beautiful friend Nicola sent me a link on her? Why wasn’t her face prominent in my Year 8 text book, or mentioned in the context of the recent passing of Stephen Hawkings, who no doubt benefited from her discovery?

It would seem that Henrietta was fortunate enough to be from a family that had enough wealth to educate her and a family hierarchy that meant, as a woman, she was not held back from entering and pursuing the work that she did. I would say that is remarkable in and of itself from the beginning of the 1900s. I am grateful to the impact that Henrietta had on our understanding of the universe, and am in awe of the fact that her discovery has lead to such monumental advancements in that understanding subsequently.

I guess in summarising my thinking I am glad I am doing this blog so that these incredible humans are being pulled to the front of my mind, and I hope that you are enjoying this journey too.

Thank you to the following sites:

Sadia Khatri

It’s time to meet Sadia Khatri!

Sadia is pushing against the entrenched problems of sexual violence in Pakistan through her initiative ‘Girls of Dhabas‘. To quote directly from their Facebook page:

‘Girls at Dhabas is an open community of women and non-binary folks who wish to occupy public spaces on their own terms and whims, who promote and archive their participation in public spaces, and who build community by learning from shared experiences. ‘

I absolutely love this interview with Sadia, even if it is too short for my liking! She talks simply and eloquently about what she sees as the core social problem in India: gender segregation. She indicates that she has personally suffered abuse as a child and that she now chooses not to be a bystander against acts of violence and control against women.

In particular I love this message from Sadia:

‘We must watch out for each other because we live in a society that just turns a blind eye and lets incidents of violence against women and girls go unnoticed.’

It makes so much sense that if your safety is threatened every time you step out on the streets, you are less likely to walk out there in the first place. As story after story of violence against women pile against each other across India, Pakistan, and let’s face it, Australia, the US and EVERY OTHER SOCIETY, how are we surprised that women and their children slowly remove themselves from public spaces as the fear seeps into the lives of people?

Girls at Dhabas shouldn’t have to exist. Women and girls everywhere should be able to walk with confidence through public spaces, knowing that they can enter public bathrooms and street alleyways without fear of attack. But this isn’t the case right now. It may not be the case for a long time, or even ever. But if everyone just withdraws back into their homes the problem can only ever get worse, never better.

Sadia is showing the confidence and strength that is essential in the leading voice of a movement such as this. It means that other women around her don’t need to share the public spotlight (in terms of social media or potential backlash) but they subsequently benefit, ultimately achieving Sadia’s goal and energising her community. So whilst Sadia is knowingly and willingly putting herself in a position of potential compromise, rather than criticise her for ‘tempting fate’ by being too bold, we should offer deafening support of what she is doing across all social media platforms and all other avenues.

Sadia is a stunning example of a human being who refuses to stay silent while others suffer, even when she has suffered herself. I found this a lovely, uplifting initiative to read about and look at the photos on Tumbler/Facebook/Insta… Check them out if you have time.

I want to do this next inspirational human justice. So I want to outline a few things here, some that I have said in previous posts but that are important for this.

  • I am Australian. I am a white, heterosexual female who would comfortably be described as upper middle class.
  • I grew up in a loving family. It was not without stress. It was not without tension and hardship. But it was loving. It was safe. I was provided for and my community provided a safe environment for me to grow, play and explore.
  • I have been fortunate to travel to many countries and seen a variety of cultures, but they have (for the majority) been safe for me to travel to either independently or with my husband. On those occasions that it was genuinely unsafe for me to be alone (because of my gender, my race, or my general ‘otherness’) I was safely watched and cared for by friends and hired help.
  • As a result, I have not personally experienced much of what Sadia Khatri has either personally experienced or is otherwise working to stop others from experiencing in her community and country more broadly.
  • I will ALWAYS make every attempt to write courteously and without assumption about what people outside of my lived experience do or don’t consider as social, political, religious or community priorities.
  • My view of the world (and as such, my writing here) is impacted by my background. It is also impacted by my belief that every person should have dignity, privacy and safety in their lives that can be relied upon.
  • I also believe that access to medicine, hygiene products/practices and education to be of extreme importance and understand that this is achieved in different ways in different communities and cultures.

Thank you to the following sites:

Ingrid van Beek

You can be the most forward-thinking, inclusive human being on this planet and still find yourself clutching your bag closer when a man who looks drug-affected sits next to you on the train, or averting your eyes to the homeless person sitting on the street because you’re worried he’ll be aggressive to you for no apparent reason.

It’s so hard to talk about these topics because we are often embarrassed or ashamed at these deep seated prejudices and inbuilt cautions we have. So we pretend like we don’t do these things, or we placate ourselves through other acts of kindness to people who are ‘easier’ to engage with. As a woman I think I am particularly conscientious of the way others are behaving around me in public spaces (especially at night or when I’m alone with one or two other people) and we are all aware that there is an absolute, statistical necessity for this sense of self-preservation. But even though my own behaviour on the streets may not shift, when I consider the work of Professor Ingrid van Beek it does make me reflect on what other social and clinical supports we could put in place for those people in need of help.

Ingrid has spent 30 years assisting the drug affected, the homeless and the sex workers of Sydney. Ingrid was the Director of the Kirketon Road Centre until 2017, where she aided people in the King’s Cross region, offering them safe sex supplies and a safe injecting space, as well as much more [see the various links at bottom of this piece for more]. In Australia we have a very hard time ‘leaning in’ to people who sit on the fringes of our society. It’s normal to hear people saying things like ‘they did that to themselves’ and ‘what did they expect sleeping out in the street?’ I think sometimes it’s easier to be angry at these people because then we don’t have to inconvenience ourselves or consider what we could be doing to solve the problem. It’s often only when someone either runs into an addiction themselves and comes out the other side, or has a close friend or family member suffer from addiction before the conversation becomes more about ‘assisting’.

I understand that as a health professional and someone who is medically trained to treat people Ingrid would see peoples’ experience with drugs, homelessness and unsafe sex differently to the general population. But I don’t think it’s so hard to understand her viewpoint. Dr Marianne Jauncey, who took over the role of Director from Ingrid, says ‘what I see is an extremely helpful, effective way of practicing good medicine — not seeing a problem but seeing a person.’ This is the intention behind the practice. To give people another chance despite their drug reliance or situation.

I understand that just because we can understand, respect and appreciate these words, that it doesn’t translate to a change in our own behaviour or feelings. But it does help me think about my own feelings on this subject. It helps me recognise my own privilege and fortune for not winding up in a similar situation to what the people accessing this clinic are in. It also helps me see the need for more locations such as this clinic, and for support for people like Ingrid to get in to these jobs.

If you are suffering from addiction and would like to talk to somebody you can start here:

Thank you to the following sites:

Angela Luna

So you’re into fashion. You want to design things. Yet you also want to contribute in a way that helps people. What do you do? Well! You work out a way to profit from an emerging market of all-terrain scaling bad asses who are taking to the mountains and you use your profit from the sales of your unique product to fund your social enterprise.

Let’s meet Angela Luna, the young fashion designer who has created a wearable tent. A wearable what? A tent! This design is making serious changes for refugees and the homeless, giving them warmth, discretion and dignity in their time of need. It is also functional and a fantastic addition to the wardrobe of the intrepid traveler.

This beautiful quote sums it up so well:

“I started to question my interest in design… I was even considering switching majors and going to a different school for political science or something… Then it became more of just figuring out how to use what I have — design — to help these people and to try to do more than just make clothing.” [source]. You can watch her Forbes ’30 under 30′ video here.

I love everything about this. Using her strengths and skills, Angela has found a meaningful way to help people facing hardship. She is being clever and creative and injecting colour into what is often a very glib, grey topic. We often feel so overwhelmed when we think about helping refugees. Angela’s ability to look at that horrifying scene in front of her and see a patch of blue in the sky that she can pick at and open up is so uplifting.

Since finding out about Angela (thank you to my beautiful friend who told me her story) I am often reminded of her and what she is doing as I go about my day. It honestly stops me short how simple yet effective her solution is. People in refugee camps do not have the luxury of space for blankets AND tents AND coats. Despite the best of intentions, the goods given are often in disrepair or not suitable for purpose.  Then what happens if these people have to up and move? Angela’s design removes some of the hardship  by pulling some of the most essential items needed into a single, wearable product.

I often feel pulled from different directions and like I should be helping all of these people or assisting in all sorts of scenarios. I want to help. But sometimes it is just too much. I like the idea of playing to my strengths. I like the idea of keeping it simple and working out the best way that I can contribute. I feel like learning about Angela has given me a little bit of relief from the pressure I put on myself to solve the problems I see around me, and instead to sit and observe and consider the best way that I can get involved, acting when I know that I have that solution that is going to really hit the mark for both me and the cause I have been able to focus in on. Angela is a true icon of hope and demonstrates that we are ALL useful and can contribute to the world, often in ways that we might not have realised when we started out on our journeys.

Thank you to the following sites:

Marielle Franco

The recent murder of councilwoman Marielle Franco has sparked outrage in Brazil. While it is publicly believed that she was assassinated, investigations into her death are ongoing. Thousands of people poured into the streets following her death, mourning and protesting. Her death comes in the aftermath of Michel Temer (Brazil’s president) increasing military powers in Rio’s favela to address gang violence.

There is a sea of articles on her death. But I would like to focus on Marielle’s life. She was an extraordinary human being who deserves to be remembered for everything she stood for.

  • Marielle grew up in the Maré complex in Rio’s favela. It is a notoriously violent and poverty-stricken area.
  • Marielle completed university as a single mother before she began speaking out against human rights issues in her country.
  • In a shock to the political system (inherently racist against afro-Brazilians, not to mention sexist and religiously dominated) Marielle was voted in as the fifth-most voted for candidate in the 2016 election for Rio’s city council.
  • Marielle was a symbol of hope for minority groups in her efforts to defend the inadequate treatment of the disadvantaged.

Marielle was sparking positive change. She shook the foundations of her government and suffered at the hands of someone who made the decision to remove her voice from the crowd. Her 19 year old daughter, Luyara Santos, was quoted saying “They killed not only my mother but also her 46,000 voters”.

Let’s focus on the fact that 46,000 individuals voted for someone who was:

  • a woman seeking more government-funded day cares to allow women to work
  • a part of the LGBTI+ community
  • afro-Brazilian
  • from disadvantage and was strongly against the Pacifying Police Units
  • a single mother, etc.

Her voters supported positive change for minority groups. They voted for a new opinion. A new position. A new approach. A new opportunity. Whilst her life was tragically taken from her, Marielle is proof that one individual can rise through the ranks despite all odds and one individual can inspire thousands to think differently, align themselves differently and want a different outcome to that of their current norm.

I like to think that out of those 46,000 voters more and more voices will rise up. The numbers will swell in support of the things Marielle stood for and the pressure for change will force the conversation of corruption and political decay onto the international stage.

I hope this horrible and violent event pushes those people sitting on the edge in the direction of positive social change, equality and unification against a corrupt government and political system.

Thank you to the following sites:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you can bring me to tears through the written word then you have my respect. It is a genuine skill to convey the energy and feeling required to evoke such sadness, elation or relief out of your words. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one such author that does this for me every time I read one of her books. She is also a very talented public speaker. I highly recommend her TEDTalks, We Should All be Feminists and The Danger of a Single Story.

I also appreciate a book that skillfully allows me to experience this world in a way I could not imagine myself. Chimamanda achieves this for me too. Born in Nigeria, Chimamanda sought her tertiary education in American and now lives between Nigeria and the U.S. She educates while she entertains, she is fiery and passionate while being considered and demonstrative of kindness and compassion. She builds her narratives in such a way that the loss of her characters’ is your loss; their joy is yours.

I am a white Australian girl who grew up in a relatively small country town. For me, reading stories about people experiencing a different life to mine is good for me. I get to read how people from other cultures experience and demonstrate their love and what trials exist in relationships outside of my own lived experience. I get to read about the shared experiences we all go through and realise I’m not that special in my experience. I think that too is a good thing.

The Western world has a strong tendency to think our way is the only way. We tend to come to the table with a  framework, tool or methodology that we are convinced will work because it is evidence based and therefore foolproof. There is a particularly humbling part of Half of a Yellow Sun where an English man living in Nigeria and writing about historical sites and findings seems to see them almost as an oddity, a specimen to be studied. His genuine innocence, fascination and excitement in another culture’s history is interpreted by the people of that culture as condescending and unintentionally assumptive of a lesser intelligence or advancement.

I think what Chimamanda’s work does is to invite a shared humanity. To be curious about other people and the lives they are experiencing without being demeaning or diminishing. To share experiences and to put care into how you communicate with people who may seem ‘different’ to you. To open dialogues between each other and encourage community through kindness. I envy her eloquence and love getting lost in her words.

Thank you to the following sites:



Bonus post: International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day 2018!

This is a quick shout out to all of the fabulous women in my life and to express my gratitude to each and every one of them.

In my immediate family I have women who I absolutely adore. Firstly, how lucky am I? Secondly, these women have shown me that being a woman takes strength and that strength doesn’t look like any one thing. Instead, strength has manifested itself as anger, desperation, suffering, sadness, hope, grit, trial, error, reevaluation, assessment, attempts, perseverance, stability, safety, authenticity, kindness, severity, frustration and above all, love. I am fortunate enough to still have both of my grandmothers. The fortitude of their generation is profound and humbling. I have been told countless stories of hardship, struggle and chaos but the end message is always that of love, acceptance and a need to continue on. If I have been taught anything from the strong and powerful women in my life it is that dwelling on the past doesn’t do us any good and we must always move forward with love and purpose. This is a constant journey.

Then there are those women who have been so gracious as to welcome me into their lives as their friend. I am lucky enough to have friends who I have worked with, done sport with, studied with, or otherwise met through some serendipitous exchange. These women have shown me the importance professionalism, kindness, self-care, belief in yourself, courage, and assurance in your own worth. They have then reminded me of the importance of these traits when I inevitably forgot them in times of self-doubt. I have seen women go from nervously logging in on their first day to backing their own opinion with grace, politeness and confidence in just a few months. I have been mentored by friends, at times acted the mentor, and seen that the most balanced of friendships are a constant switch between each role as required.

I feel so lucky that I know these creative, exciting, energised and loving women. I have been brought into their lives and encouraged to expand and challenge myself to have the best experience on this earth that I can. Thank you to all of the beautiful women who inspire and encourage me daily.

Feature image credit: Chibird

Iby Knill

I would like to introduce you to Iby Knill. Iby is a Jewish Czechoslovakian national who survived Nazi Germany. In her adult life Iby became an active public speaker on her experience and advocates the need to encourage tolerance and acceptance of others.

  • Iby, originally from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, grew up in a well off and by all accounts happy family. She speaks six languages. To speak to the innocence of children, when Iby was forced to wear a golden star as a child to identify that she was Jewish, she didn’t understand the uselessness of the act.
  • Following a tip off from a friend to her mother in 1942, Iby was able to escape being put into sex trafficking by German soldiers. While she was saved one type of horror, the various other trials she pushed through can be read at depth here or here.
  • In summary, Iby suffered torture, terror, starvation and more during different periods of detention, including six weeks at the infamous Auschwitz, before taking an offer to attend as a nurse at a hospital in the Ruhr. She had no idea upon putting her hand up if this would be a journey straight to the gas chamber, or if it were a genuine offer. To take that gamble speaks volumes for her experience at the time.
  • She worked as a nurse at various German hospitals and eventually returned to Bratislava and her mother in 1946. Iby met and married a British Army Officer named Bert. She moved to England in 1947.
  • To quote Iby directly: “For fifty years I lived the life of an Army Officer’s wife. I made his family and its history mine. It was only after his death and after my children had left home and made their own lives that I felt the need – and the duty – to recall my own past and to record my own history. ” (link)

It’s hard to know where to start when reflecting on an experience such as Iby’s. Her experience could have easily been yours or mine given another time. I think it is the lack of control that those such as Iby had in those times that makes us shut down around this topic. But I would like to focus on how exceptional it is that Iby has gone on to have a life in which she had children, a husband, and has gone on to pursue activism in a way that she was able to create and define on her own terms. She goes to speak at schools about her experience, agreeing to interviews in which she talks through her experience, and engages with people about positive engagement of minorities and a need to reduce and hopefully remove discrimination.

  • Despite long-term fear, suffering and trial a human being can still rise to be something. We can build from our experiences, learn from our experiences, but we are not defined by our experiences.
  • We do not feel the need to become something GREAT. We do not need to write books. We do not need to become public figures. We do not need to rally groups of people and gather followings and inspire greatness in any one way. We can inspire others by our kindness. We can gather followings by building strong family connections and linking our friendships to build communities.
  • You do not need to feel overwhelmed by stories such as Iby’s. She survived. She moved through her experience and speaks freely and openly about it. Of course she grieves the loss of family, friends, and a life that never was for herself. She feels fear and holds memories that undoubtedly haunt her. But she does not allow this to cripple her life experience and we need not feel crippled by the sadness and negativity out there in the world.
  • We need to continue injecting the world with happiness, laughter and kindness wherever possible, whilst acknowledging our sadness or trials in a calm and freeing way. If we do become overwhelmed we need to seek professional help.

For those who prefer the video version check out this YouTube clip of an animated video put to an audio interview with Iby (animation by Zane Whittingham). Her father’s watch chain really hits home to me (see the featured image to this article for a closer look). Even in this man’s what must have been paralysing fear and distress he thought to give his son something not only of monetary worth, but also something of such huge sentimental value should he be in a position to keep it.

If you do have any extra time today I would encourage you to scroll through the Holocaust Learning website and be inspired by all of the incredible human beings featured on the website who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust and engaged positively in their life in the aftermath.

If you are becoming overwhelmed

Lifeline or BeyondBlue are just some of the many resources we can (and should!) draw on if we need help. Nearly every organisation has some form of Employee Assistance Program for you to access and in Australia we can of course access our Medicare Mental Health Plans. This gives you a referral to a mental health professional through your GP where you will receive treatment covered up to $80 per session for 5 sessions (a total of 10 can be accessed per year following a review at the 5 session point). If your practitioner costs more than $80 per session you can discuss bulk billing options or alternatively you can choose to pay the gap.

Thank you to the following sources:

Jackie French

If you grew up in Australia with a mum and/or dad who like to read to you at night, you were most likely read one if not many of Jackie French’s children books. They are quirky, loving and beautifully written (and illustrated). The woman behind these books is just as quirky, loving and beautiful as her work.

Jackie French was the 2015 Senior Australian of the Year and in 2016 was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. This is because Jackie is not only a creative and artistic human being, she is a strong advocate for children’s literacy. Jackie suffers dyslexia herself and as the Australian Children’s Laureate (2014-15) she united with the media to better achieve:

  • the right for every child to be guided to the books they’ll love;
  • wider support, both in person and financially, of literacy and library projects for young people;
  • the children’s literature industry to be seen as a vital part of Australia’s economy (see link for more).

I love the work that Jackie French does in engaging children and making literacy a fun and enjoyable task, rather than a hopeless challenge. It tells me that while the task doesn’t have to be complicated (reading a young child a story book at night before bed) it can have amazing and lasting impacts on a person’s life.

Whether or not you learn to read should not be reliant upon your social or financial status. Every child deserves the opportunity to engage with and enjoy books, and also to feel confident and empowered by and through their education. When a child is educated and literate they are far more likely to lift themselves from poverty and access higher education and/or business opportunities (this is supported throughout the world). We should not just think of this as a third world problem, or something that doesn’t impact on our societies. It is very easy for a child to become disengaged or scared of reading if they are not finding it as easy or natural as their peers. Teaching kids the feelings of magic, humour and silliness that we can get from reading helps us be creative and excited as children, which translates to us seeking enjoyment and playful experiences as adults.

I was brought to tears watching Jackie accept her Australian of the Year Award, I still remember sitting on the floor of my lounge room looking at her and feeling so much love, joy and happiness for her and because of her. The memories of her books swirling around in my head and the beauty and simplicity of her message made my eyes smart and my heart feel like it was going to burst. Some of my favourite grabs:

  • ‘Yes a book can change a child’s life. A book can change the world.’
  • ‘The most fulfilling thing of all is to hold a hand out to each other… and say ‘yes, that 101st time we will change the world, and it will be extraordinary’.’

It’s amazing to me that Jackie has spent her career creating and by all accounts doing things she loves. We don’t often see that as an option when it comes to our work and she gives me hope that it can be.

I often feel overwhelmed or bewildered when I see people slogging through life doing jobs they hate and I wonder ‘do I have to do that?’… While I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘no! of course not!’ I do think I have the opportunity to move through this life following a purpose I want to follow. That is a direct result of the fortune I have been afforded in growing up in Australia, with a mother who valued education, creativity and reading. I was always encouraged to read, to engage with the world, to consider my options and to be creative in what I thought I could achieve. I became able to apply myself because of skills I developed as a direct result of my being able to read and engage with books and the concepts within them at a young age. That is worth passing on. That is worth speaking out for. And Jackie French does it with the elegance and grace of a woman who not only knows her own worth, but the worth of her word.

Thank you to the following sites:

You can see a list of Jackie French’s books here.


Ruby Bridges

The story of Ruby Bridges shows us that even changes to the law do not mean immediate change to public opinion or social acceptance. It also, however, shows how the actions of one person can (slowly) change our world and our experience. Ruby Bridges highlights to us that while it may take time, persistence and fortitude can result in social change.

Quick summary of the story of Ruby Bridges:

  • Ruby Bridges was born the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools (Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas).
  • Ruby took a test in Kindergarten to establish if she would be suitable to attend a white school. Ruby was one of six New Orleans African-American children to pass that test due to its difficulty and alleged attempts to make the test impassable for children.
  • As a result, six year old Ruby Bridges desegregated the William Frantz Elementary School in 1960.
  • Her parents and U.S. Marshals escorted Bridges to school amidst mob threats. There were people protesting her attendance, throwing things from the crowd, threatening to poison her, etc.
  • Students were pulled from the school by parents upset by Ruby’s attendance, and only one teacher agreed to teach Ruby for the first year.
  • Barbara Henry taught Ruby in a classroom by herself because further parents had threatened to remove their children from the school should they be put in a classroom with Ruby. She ate lunch with Ruby each day.
  • In protest of the family’s actions Ruby’s father and grandfather lost their jobs and Ruby spent her years being escorted to and from the bathroom by Marshals due to ongoing threats to her safety.
  • After the first year, where Ruby suffered isolation and hardship, racism and personal threats (often from adults), things at the school settled down somewhat and she was eventually able to graduate from a desegregated high school.

The bravery and strength this little girl demonstrated (now a civil rights activist in her adulthood) is inspiring just in the telling. The story highlights so many positive and negative elements of the human experience. We have all seen the ugliness of people, whether it’s in being bullied and harassed in the playground as a child or watching a violent act in a pub as an adult. We have all been witness to actions that are distressing to see and at times incomprehensible in their cruelty. But not many of us have been put in a place such as where Ruby found herself. To walk with shoulders back and head up high when adults threatened her and told her she had no right to attend the school. Grown men and women threatened a six year old child for accessing a place of education. Grown men and women removed their own children from accessing education at that school in protest. Despite government legislation. Despite changing social trends. Because of their own fear and hatred and misunderstanding. But she continued to go to school. Then, within the space of a year, things shifted. They (slowly) stopped protesting so loudly. The threats lessened for Ruby and she was able to continue at her school.

This story fills me with hope. It tells me that in our societies it can take a very brave person to keep their chin up and keep walking into a difficult environment day after day to slowly but surely influence the way that others act and treat each other. Ruby Bridges wasn’t a social activist when she was six years old. But her mother saw the importance of her attending a public school that would give her the best education she could access and that was important enough to weather hardship, threats, challenges and loneliness for a period of time. Her mother’s tenacity and encouragement and Ruby’s unrelenting pursuit of her own education led to a social change in New Orleans that may have taken many more years to achieve had they not acted.

It is essential that we consider the other side of this argument. It may feel cliched, but I want to be considered as being on the right side of history when I look back on my actions and beliefs. Those people who were fundamentally opposed to a six year old girl attending the same school as their children simply because of the colour of her skin (rightly) shocks and appalls me. That is because I have been raised in a time after we realised socially that it is unacceptable to exclude people on that basis. It is essential to reflect that there are examples today that will seem this shocking to our future selves. Recently it was the vote to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia. To this day it is the continued poor treatment of refugees who have sought asylum in Australia. Continuing open discussions that are based in kindness and understanding are essential to help influence public opinion around human rights issues such as these. It isn’t enough to sit still and feel bad. But it is also not correct to wage war against the ‘other’. We keep our heads high, we walk with purpose and communicate our beliefs respectfully and with poise. The innocence that is a small child’s right to pursue an education regardless of the colour of her skin is a beautiful example that we can all be influenced by.

Thank you to the following websites:

Connection is the key

The British Government appointed a Minster for Loneliness following the murder of lawmaker Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist in 2016. She was a woman passionate about helping people suffering isolation and loneliness. You can read more about this story here. Every day we feel tired and lonely looking at news of people ‘snapping’ in their own isolation and despair, before taking it out on innocent people.

When we are dealing with such a pervasive anti-culture how is it surprising that we feel disconnected, unimportant, tired and isolated? This blog will explore beautiful stories of people and communities striving for a sense of purpose, a sense of creativity and most essentially, a sense of connection. Flooding your senses with stories of positivity coming out of hardship or trial, this blog will contribute to a shift in thinking.

We need to get serious about reengaging with positivity. Talk to our neighbours. Build our communities. Share stories and wine. Laugh and cry. It’s not enough to turn off the news. We need to create the news we want to read. So come on this journey with me and see how you feel.