A View of Vuna (GoPro Video)

Video

I’m excited to present my first ever video project!

Having spent several months in Tonga, riding my bike down the same major road each day, I really wanted to make a video to capture the trip (and a few other things). Of course, this was no more than an idea. Which means, it was  post-it note stuck on my bedroom wall…

Then, I was pushed by a gust of inspiration after attending a local film festival and seeing some of the work done by several new film makers. I hadn’t used a GoPro before, done any video editing, or even know what I would film – but I just went for it.

Once I started, the pieces seemed to fall into place as what was once a vision, started to take place in front of me – looking far better than I imagined it. There was minimal sleep, eating, and doing of anything else until I was done. But I absolutely enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you feel the same about watching it.

Enjoy.

Boy

 

Helping Hands, Hindered Feet

DSC00931

Today was a day that I know will stay with me for a long time. But I hope it says with me forever.

Joining the ICON youth group on their charity day, I got to see parts of Tonga that I potentially would have missed otherwise. I would have returned to Australia with a checklist consisting of all the ‘sights and scenes’, but void of the vital experience which is understanding what life is like for the people behind a country’s curtains.

This is especially important in developing countries, as with the spotlight kept on glamourised tourist attractions, there is a large portion of people and areas also in need of attention, that remain unfortunately unseen. From experience, I can say that my original google image search of Tonga presented a different reality to what I’ve encountered since my arrival.

And since my arrival, today brought me closer to a sad truth. It’s the circumstances and conditions that many people find themselves in. I won’t dedicate this post to identifying the political, economical, and cultural reasons of why, I’ll just describe what was.

There were a lot of tears and emotional stories, but all sadness subsided in the wake of the gratitude that was shown for the single bags of groceries we were donating. Gratitude that I had never shown when I would push a trolley full of them to my car each weekend.

Amongst the rust and dismantling housing, I discovered that there are some things that better stand the tests of time. Faith in God, music, laughter, the support of those close to you, and a genuine appreciation for the little things, when you have very little at all to begin with.

As an individual, I can do my part to help because of organisations like ICON Tonga and my Australian Volunteer program, that seek to unite individuals to address bigger issues. However, making a start can be as simple as showing more appreciation in our daily lives at home, and a deeper interest in the countries we visit while traveling.

I learned that to lend a helping hand, you don’t have to reach out too far, and you certainly don’t need to be holding much.

 

 

Identity

DSC00624

 

Having a sense of identity.

These are a group of youths that know it means more than having a social media profile. Through an 8 week program founded on religion, creativity and expression, they learned to recognise their their worth, values, and direction in life.

In a culture where obedience and social hierarchies are heavily engrained, what may be considered common thought in the west, is a change facing several challenges in Tonga. Luckily, the leaders of the ICON Youth Group have the commitment and courage to take them on.

I had the chance to observe these weekly workshops take place. Being older, I was also able to share some of my own experiences, but I definitely learned more than I could contribute.

I learned that no matter where you grow up in the world,  a big city, or small country, being young is still a strenuous journey marked with many cross roads. Right turns and wrong decisions are everywhere, which is why it’s important that youth programs and other initiatives are just as widely available, and recognised for the directions they provide.

The workshops all led into a final exhibition that I also had the privilege to attend. This was the chance for the youths to preform individually and as a group, addressing the question of ‘Who Am I”.

Individually they where from different backgrounds and had different interests, but what brought them together was their desire to express themselves in a positive way. Through outlets ranging from dance, fashion, singing, rap, music, art, to drama, they provided their answers and were well applauded.

In response, the crowd was reminded that the exhibition wasn’t just for entertainment, it was to deliver a message.

What I’m taking away is the importance of pursuing positive things you’re passionate about, if not for where they will take you, then for how they make you feel. It can mean the difference between a right turn and wrong decision, something that we never get too old to make.

So here I am writing and sharing my experiences, thoughts and ambitions, because regardless if it gets read, it’s who I am.

Malo

Peanut Boy

 

Peanut Boy

It was alongside a footpath in town that I met peanut boy.  Where I was playing sports or watching cartoons at his age, still in his school uniform, he had a job selling the legumes which have warranted his nickname I’m using in this post.

As the only english he seemed to know was “peanuts” and “three dollars”, I wasn’t able to get his actual name. What I did get was the impression that he didn’t actually comprehend why his parents were eager to see the peanuts in his box replaced with  paper and silver pieces,  or why it was even his responsibility having already spent a day at school. As a child no longer than 7, I can only imagine he knew to do as he was told, especially if it earned him an applause or additional affection.

I however,understood his parents motives. The practice of consumer psychology isn’t just pervasive in the multimedia channels of the developed world, it’s also found on the streets in areas that advertisers don’t even bother to reach.  People selling from offices or the streets alike, know that the greater the sense of sympathy you can evoke in someone, the more likely it is that they will act accordingly in your favour.

Peanut boy was just like babies and puppies that I remember street beggars in Thailand would hold up to my attention as I passed. He was an instrument.

As  I withdrew $900 of cash from the ATM, I lied that I had no money but will next time, for what I believed to be his own good. I hope he understood that giving him the money that he wanted, would only ensure he would be back there again the next day, and the next, something I know he didn’t want.

That weekend, while in the supermarket queue, I noticed a sale on oreos,  and I thought that would definitely be something he personally would want. As I left the store wondering when I would next be in the area after school, I heard some footsteps following me, and there he was.

I didn’t even get a thank you, and he didn’t get they money he expected. We went our separate ways, but  shared an understanding that, what you want, isn’t always what you need.

 

 

The Magic of the Mind

Stage Fright

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a live improv performance by a local drama and arts community group. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but based on my experiences in Tonga so far, I knew that, even with little, Tongans knew how to make a big impact. Tonight was no exception.

With an empty stage, two teams used their imagination to fill it with props, and their acting skills to make them fully functional, allowing the audience to join them in a series of three minute trips to different scenarios, countries, and even planets.

We laughed, we cheered, and even joined them on stage for a dance at at the end. I got to see how important such creative community events are. In a country where the wrong opportunities are highly available, it is so important to have as many positive ones as possible.

Especially ones that encourage as much expression and escape as drama and art. It was great to see Westpac donate $10,000 to the program, but in another way, these guys themselves also proved that when you bring the right kind of minds together, you don’t need much else.

Three to say thanks to

Giving Back

My travels have given me the chance to meet many people, but there are just three that I’m going to talk about, and say thanks to. Christine, Gordon, and Sonia.

Firstly, Christine. She may be be blind, but her perspective on life is truly inspirational, and definitely worth sharing.

Her positivity and dedication has allowed her to make several admirable accomplishments so far, from starting university at sixteen, to spending a year volunteering in Fiji, and recently commencing another year in Tonga.

As the first blind person I had the chance to properly meet, I had already taken the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions which she was happy to answer. Then when the opportunity came up to be a guest speaker at the school where I’m volunteering, she was even more enthusiastic to share what she had learned on her journey so far.

In addition to explaining braille, the written language she uses, and how certain technology such as text to speech computer programs and screen-less laptops work, Christine spoke about opportunities.  She didn’t seek any sympathy for the opportunities she hasn’t had, such as seeing her parents or the sunrise, but rather expressed thanks for the opportunities she has been given.

These were through her family, teachers, friends, employers, and the organisation I was also involved in. The main message that I , and hopefully the students, took away was that, as much as there is in life that is out of our control, the biggest factor on the quality of our lives is our outlook and willingness to make the most of the chances we are given.

Using her youth as a relatable reference, she stated with a smirk, she had a specialist teacher willing to spend one on one time with her every week, but of course, the teacher couldn’t force her to learn. It was Christine’s decision, as it is mine to write this post to inspire others as I have been, to make similar decisions in my life.

Now to Gordon and Sonia. Gordon was appointed as a Cookery Trainer, and his wife Sonia accompanied him by also volunteering at the school. Time that otherwise could have been spent collecting coconuts and basking by the beach.

Leaving Tonga in two days, I haven’t bothered with the specifics of their flight because I suspect the only way to return to the place of which they came is by putting on a halo and spreading their wings.

True angels, or at the least, two people with abnormally sized hearts.

In the year they have been here, they have gone above and beyond the role of volunteers to give, give, give and give. They set up computers, bought fridges, mentored many students in extra activities, and the list goes on. Arriving with over 100kg of luggage and leaving with 8, they only thing they wanted to take back were memories.

As the students wished them farewell today, I had a chance to see how being in a position of privilege allows one to truly change a school, a community, even a  country, for the better. I also saw how appreciated it is, and with culture, community, music, laughter, love, their richness in other areas, makes them more than capable of giving back.

Giving back

ImageI never thought a decision to ‘do something’ would have such a profound effect on my life then on after.  This decision was to volunteer my spare time at BoysTown, a youth organisation, before I started studying full-time again.  I had to chance to see how the simplest decisions you make as a teenager can shape your life for the decades to come. Decisions such as saying no to drugs, going to school, and who to hang around with etc. When I think back, while I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I had my parents to keep me on the straight and narrow anytime I might waver. Unfortunately the not all youths have parental barriers on the edges of bad decisions, let alone, ..parents.

While I hoped the youths learned a few things, I certainly took away some lessons worth keeping. I learned how once money is removed from the equation, you’re efforts are no longer on a scale of increasing expectation, but appreciation.
I learned that just like not everyone has the same values, not everyone values the same things. Specifically money. While I wasn’t earning anything, I found the feeling and effects of my contribution, very fulfilling and rewarding in itself.

 

I then went to study and return to a position chained to a desk. Fast forward to the current day, and rather than looking for my next chain, my past experience tells me that I would be happier if the chain isn’t required. I know the type of job I would like to have, and coming close to three non-profit organisations, tells me I’m in the right direction to finding a job I willingly will attend each day.

In the mean time, rather than feeling powerless or depressed, I’ve reminded myself of the reality that there is always people who are worse off. This isn’t by faking a diagnosis to attend a testicular cancer group. I’ve started to volunteer again with three different charities. It’s amazingly simple, making others happy has as shared effect. It goes perfectly in line with a quote Buddha had about happiness being like a candle. You can use the one flame to light many others , without the first candle  being at any loss.

Or another quote that sums up this whole post..

I want my life, I want my work, my family, I want it to mean something. If you are not making someone else’s life better then you are wasting your time. – Will Smith