New Year

She had a change of heart when undertaking her annual ritual. It was liberating.

Read More...

2018 Advent Calendar – Making a Difference

canstockphoto11518095

I am looking forward to Christmas. Not like in my younger years when we counted the days until Santa showed up leaving gifts below the tree in our family lounge, our belly’s stuffed with Christmas goodies, roast chicken and pudding. I am looking forward to spending the time with my three girls, even though it may be fleeting now they are spread across the land.

In my time away from regularly working this year I have taken time to reflect about what is important.

  • Is it the money?
  • Is it health, contentment and family?
  • Is it turning up to a job that might not quite align with your personal values?
  • Or is waking with purpose each day and focussing on work that fires your passion?

I will let you decide which answers I have chosen. But more on that in the new year.

In the lead up to this Christmas I would like to highlight opportunities for us to give, with gratitude. There are many people and issues that are asking for our help, both in our home country and across the world. I often feel our political arena is creating walls where we should be creating openness and acceptance. I am privileged, and I know that. I have little need for more ‘stuff’ – how about you? Do you think its time we spend some time making a difference to those around us that might just need a hand up?

Don’t get me wrong, there will be presents under our tree as we come together as family and we will be eating some gorgeous food but I do think there is room for some thought to others that may not be as fortunate as me, or possibly you.

So lets start this 2018 Advent Calendar of Making a Difference. Over the next 24 days I will profile charities that are close to my heart and align to my values. You may like to consider giving to one or more of them, or it may inspire you to put some effort into donating to a charity that is close to your heart and speaks to your values. You may even like to make your gift purchases from some of these charities. Its up to you.

ItsInTheBag

Day 1: Share the Dignity.

This is an Australian charity that I have supported for a few years, founded by Rochelle Courtenay. Rochelle learned of homeless women going without basic sanitary items during their menstrual cycle and instead of saying ‘the government should…’ or ‘someone should…’ she asked ‘What’s stopping me from doing something’. This has become Share The Dignity.

“WE BELIEVE ALL WOMEN MATTER AND ALL WOMEN DESERVE DIGNITY AND JUSTICE.”

I have started with Share the Dignity as their current Christmas campaign, #itsinthebag finishes on December 2nd, though donations are always welcome. Up to December 2nd you can drop off a handbag at a Bunnings store that contains basic women needs like personal hygiene products, shampoo, tissues, deodorant, items to make a woman feel special. These will be distributed locally to homeless women, women at risk or women experiencing domestic violence or poverty this Christmas.

Share the Dignity, like many charities also have a shop that you can purchase gifts for your family and friends, or even yourself and in return you are giving something back to those in need. Either way you will make a difference

You can find more information at www.sharethedignity.com.au

 

 

 

Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / ESchweitzer;

 

Spending time with my Tribe

I remember when she first asked me whether I would write a letter. It was over a wine and a chat in Newtown where she shared with me her idea – she was turning 50 and Olivia, her daughter was turning 16. She wanted to do something that marked this momentous time in both their lives…and knowing Amanda I knew a cake would not suffice!

I was a bit emotional to think that I was one of the 30 women that Amanda asked to pen a letter to their 16-year-old self, but oh what a marvellous challenge and inspirational project.

DearMe_tribe

Every letter in the collection shows emotion, reflection and a timelessness. You could be a 16-year-old girl in the 1960s, 1970s or in 2018 with the same self-doubts, questions and wisdom that are captured in the collection of letters titled Dear Me. As Amanda says in her forward “while I think young woman today face some unique challenges, many of the challenges are timeless and, you might say universal”

dearme_bookDear Me was launched this week, with many of the authors coming together to embrace the final product, party with Amanda and Olivia and celebrate with a tribe of girlfriends, old and new. It is a powerful feeling to be among your tribe, wrapped in a celebration knowing we had travelled similar but different paths to this moment in time. Those paths captured so eloquently, sometimes raw and forever etched in the pages of Dear Me.

The energy I savoured from this event, buoyed by meeting new inspiring women in my tribe then propelled me to another experience a few days later in my own home town. As part of Small Business Month, we welcomed Lisa Messenger, Australian entrepreneur and author to a luncheon. I have enjoyed The Collective, especially the mag for some time and was excited to enjoy the company of Lisa with other townsfolk to glean some brilliant insights as she spoke to local business people (85% women!) over lunch.

I was not disappointed.

Her hometown is Coolah, just down the road from here and she remarked it was like ‘coming home’ as she drove across the north west. It is that old saying you can take the girl out of the country, but you cant take the country out of the girl!

Her tomes of counsel resonated across the hall, such as – have an unwavering self-belief, just meet people as equals, make it easy for people to say yes, cash isn’t the only currency – sometimes sharing the same values and beliefs will be enough for a business relationship to blossom, dont be afraid to break a few things, find people that supplement your weaknesses, be nimble – be flexible – duck and weave until it works, always be curious.

Oh so many pieces of very sound, encouraging advice!

I was sold already however I almost wanted to leap from my seat and bear hug Lisa when she said with such conviction that…

countryhorizons_lisamessenger
A bit of fan shot, with Lisa Messenger

“Rural communities are the single thing that I am most passionate about. Location isn’t an issue – as long as you have a laptop, kitchen table and vision you can do anything”

Yep, I know you want to hug her now too – don’t you!

She finds the BEST talent in regional areas. We have known this for decades, the secret is out and I’m OK with that.

I’m a believer in things happen or come in threes. What could my third be – what other revelations about the power of a tribe could I experience this week?

2pm – The Civic – Gunnedah – today, Sunday. I enjoyed an afternoon at the movies with my mother watching, most fittingly Ladies In Black. The underlying themes of women as second-rate citizens was such a yang to the ying of the tribal celebrations of earlier in the week.

countryhorizons_LadiesInBlack
Spending time on a Sunday with mum!

I could not help but think what the women in the movie would write to their 16 year old self, or what they would think of Lisa’s advice. It was a serendipitous close to the week, a time to reflect how far our tribe has progressed, but there are similar challenges that still exist today.

Thank you to my tribal colleagues, I am inspired by many from the past, stimulated by those in my present and so excited about the vision I see for our future tribe.

Footnotes + Links:

Dear Me is available for purchase – head to www.xplore.net.au/inspiration/books/dear-me/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AmandaWebbAUS/

You can follow Lisa on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Ladies in Black is currently showing in cinemas – check out www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/ladies-in-black-2018/35635/  for more information about the movie.

Thank you to Gunnedah Shire Council for arranging the Lisa Messenger lunch event, as part of Small Business Month – a  NSW Government initiative.

Thank you to Gunnedah Shire Band catering for a delicious lunch as well.

Taking time to understand mental well being

canstockphoto27314159.jpg

“He says he is suffering from depression” she scoffed. “I don’t know what he would be unhappy about?”

I opened my mouth to respond, to clarify that depression isn’t about being unhappy but I couldn’t find the words to explain it. I just nodded and tried to change the subject. That was a few years ago.

Awareness around our mental health and well-being is improving with quite a bit of funding being provided for awareness campaigns, research and education.

But there is still a stigma and misunderstanding.

I have to admit that I have been in the denial and misinterpreting camp, though I have been willing to know more, understand better. I have read, I have listened, I have wanted to empathise.

Today I had a light bulb flash, a serendipitous moment that made sense. I wanted to share with you.

Why do we talk about our physical health and not our mental health? Why do we split them into two?

If I asked you “how are you?” most of you would think about your physical state like –

“I’ve got a bit of a back ache today” or “the arthritis is playing up, must be a change in the weather coming” or “my shoulders are aching a bit, must have been the way I slept”

And that’s what I expect the answer to be.

What if…we start to think about our wellness as our whole self? Mind and body. They are not separate, they function as one yet we tend to think about them as two separate ‘conditions”.

Our mind is a powerful element that can affect our physical state.

Our physical state, likewise affects our mind.

Did you just go aha? I did. (or you might already know all this and it is me that needed to catch up)

I know that when I am stressed I get headaches, I am tired and exhausted.

Stress is a state of mind – headache physical.

I broke my ankle 2 years ago. The hardest part about that mending was trying to manage the sadness and feeling of helplessness as the ankle healed.

Broken ankle physical – helplessness a state of mind.

See where I am going? They went together to make me.

This morning I attended a short course about Mental Health. In 90 minutes Kate from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program provided a clear and for me, a different perspective about mental health.

She spoke about mental wellbeing (note I didn’t use mental health!) as a scale or continuum from not coping to coping well. All of us move along this scale, its normal. Where we are on the scale depends on our physical well-being, our ability to manage and juggle what is happening in our life and how much we are carrying the load of someone else, those around us whether family, friends or work colleagues.

Check out this great clip – Mental Health Wellness Continuum – it was another aha moment for me.

The session also included some snippets about how to ask the right questions to help others, where to go to get more help either for self or those we are concerned about.

And then some gobsmacking realities –

  • 25% of what our GPs see in a day is mental health.
  • 8 people a day die of suicide in Australia…eight. 6 of these are men. That is 2.5 times more than people die on our roads. I am still digesting this one.
  • The more rural and remote we get the greater the number of suicides and risk factors. There is also a greater lack of help and support opportunities. Gosh.

My take home I want to share with you is this:

Don’t wait for special awareness days to ask those close to you R U OK?

Don’t dismiss their physical symptoms with a light hearted “I’ve got a Panadol”.

Don’t say “have a few wines or a beer and it will be alright, it will pass”.

Take time to listen. Ask. Show you care.

E V E R Y D A Y.

And make the effort to learn more about mental wellbeing and how to help others. It could save someone’s life. It might save your own. We are all part of the same village, we should look out for each other.

If you are an employer, big or small, make mental well being part of your Work Health and Safety program.

Start by checking out the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program website. There are loads of tools, stories and contacts to get you started

Thank you Kate from RAMHP and the Gunnedah Community College. It was a day of discovery.

Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

Forever Diamonds

60weddinganniversary_hands1

He had snatched her hat as he ran past and hurled it over the convent fence, planting it firmly in the nun’s garden. She risked a week of detention to salvage her school hat and as she tramped back to her friends, planting the hat firmly on her red hair she asked “Who is that horrible boy?”

Her opinion didn’t change for some time, despite the urging of her friend Mary, that horrible boy’s sister. He tried to coax her to the cinema but she went with friends. He offered her a lift home but she preferred to walk.

He was a patient man, he could wait.

On weekend leave from the Army he arrived at the local football game in his father’s jeep. She spied this young man in uniform, his blonde curly hair sticking out from under his hat. That horrible boy was starting to look appealing.

He asked to take her home. She hesitated, still.

“Sing me Temptation or I will you take you home” he commanded of her. Their fate was sealed as she climbed into the jeep and a journey of many decades began.

“Tell the little red head she can write to me” he told his sister as he returned to service, with little certainty this would happen. When a letter did arrive several weeks later, simply signed “from your ardent admirer” he did not believe this could be the one he had hoped for. It took several more letters to convince him.

It was a filibuster romance – she nursing in Newcastle, he completing service in the Army. He surprised her with visits, sweet talking the matron into allowing her out unescorted with a soldier. For three years or more they saw each other only occasionally. Each time the attraction grew. They became friends before lovers.

He was a patient man, he could wait.

Until neither could not wait any longer. The approvals were given – Clem agreed to the union and Ellie busied herself with the planning of her daughter’s wedding.

On April 7th 1958 that horrible boy married his red-head. It was Easter Monday, 8 am.

She met him at the altar in a Lilly of the Valley silk and Chantilly lace gown that she had designed herself, her cousins Judith and Rosalie by her side. He only had eyes for her as he waited, bolstered by his brother Pat and brother-in-law Bill.

The autumn sun glistened in the early morning, weaving its magical spell as two became one. Their hands joined to walk together as best friends for the next sixty years.

The wedding was celebrated with a reception in the Town Hall before they borrowed his father’s ute to honeymoon in Port Macquarie. After a few short days of surfing in the ocean waves – which they were never to do again – they settled into wedded life with his parents at Laurella.

60 years later their hands are still joined, their eyes still yearn for each other, their love still unwavering.

Sixty years. Six decades. 720 months. 21 900 days.

A lifetime. Together. Best friends.

They have rejoiced at the birth of their nine children, though life would have been chaotic with 5 under five and only a ute as the family car.

They have celebrated the birth of 25 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren (so far!).

Together they have had the joy of purchasing a new home and filling it with love and laughter til it burst at the seams. The door has always been open to their own children and many others that sought the comfort of the loving family surrounds provided by Neville and Anne.60weddinganniversary_oakstreet

They have shared the happiness of watching their youngest graduate from university, the first for the family.

They support each other in times of sadness, accidents and illness. They share the news side by side, they grieve arm in arm, they journey through the tough united. Their faith the staple rock of support.

Strength, they say comes from communication and talking to each other. Their only advice is to take the time to be best friends and enjoy the same things.

For 60 years each morning is a new day – disagreements are left with the setting sun. They wake hand in hand as those morning sunbeams of their wedding day still weave the magic of love around them. Unconquerable and enduring.

60weddinganniversary_photo

Congratulations Neville and Anne. Diamonds is most fitting for you both.

WASH

DSC04347

She stands at the sink overlooking the rice fields as the panicle, packed with grain sweep in a cooler morning breeze. The sun starts to colour the sky.

It had been a long night for her.

Her youngest had twisted in pain, his arms wrapped across his stomach, his eyes as big as saucers brimming with tears begged her to make it stop. Yet another night of little sleep for the family as his cries perforated the night in between short moments of fitful sleep.

The number of sleepless nights were becoming too many. Her family could not survive much longer. Her husband could not continue to work long hours in the field with little sleep.

She spied the pamphlet on the floor. It was stained with mud that had been carried into the house on little feet as they had darted outside in the rain to go to the toilet. She hoped they went a distance from the house, but she could hardly reprimand given the amount of rain that fell last night. She will check that later.

For now, she just needed to recharge.

And think.

As her tea brews she can hear the thump of coconuts falling outside. Husband is picking a few for her to take into the market. She wipes the pamphlet and slowly turns it over in her hands, looking with envy at the picture of a woman standing outside a freshly finished brick building. She recalls what the man from SAMIC told them.

“We can offer you a loan to build an outside toilet and install a water filter to give you clean water as well. It would cost you about $30-50 US dollars a month to repay. It will be a declining loan. The money is offered under the WASH program, to help provide water and sanitation. You could be the first in your village.”

Could they earn enough from the sale of the coconuts and rice to repay this and keep the family? She could take the buggy and find rubbish to sell if they needed more money. Her eldest was nearly old enough to help too.

Her breath stops suddenly as she contemplates her children getting sicker. Too many in the district had died already from stomach complaints. They say it’s the bad water and no toilets that is doing it. They had no money for hospitals, yet it seemed only a matter of time before one of her brood fell too sick to recover.

DSC04345

There is yelling from below as the chickens scatter. The cow is off its chain again. She puts her dreaming aside and heads downstairs to save the animals from her husband. The lack of sleep is showing itself already. Its going to be a long day. Not the day to try to talk about a new toilet.

 

6 weeks later:

It is so shiny! The water so clean you can see the bottom of the tub. There was even enough money to install a path so there will be no mud being tramped across the rugs inside.

She is now running late to market as the neighbours called in to view this new building, quiz  husband on the cost. Some even wanted to give it try, it has created quite an interest. The people from SAMIC have become quite busy now.

Her smile is one of relief. Her children are better, she sleeps at night. They all have renewed energy to face each day.

A small building can make a big difference to a family in Cambodia.DSC04329

She climbs on the bike beside her husband. Today she is making her first repayment at the SAMIC office. As her children run ahead on the path, with energy levels tripled she knows she has made the right decision.

Maybe she will ask her husband if she can learn to read soon. A better world awaits her and the children, with a little help. She nods at the Spirits as the bike weaves to market, her smile beaming in the midday sun.DSC04353

 

**Inspired by experiences while travelling in Cambodia with Good Return and Xplore.  If you wish to know more, especially the WASH program also see SAMIC.

All photos are my own

Local Volunteers

flickr_SheilaSund_17022017

Volunteer numbers in small country communities is declining. Many clubs have folded as there are not enough people to fill not only executive positions but to come along and be part of the Club, including fundraisers, events and activities. This is a trend across Australia as a whole.

Volunteers can still be found, quietly working within communities. I have come across such people, in my own backyard.

While visiting my mum – who is recently widowed – I enjoyed the company of two astonishing local ladies who regularly check on mum just to make sure all is OK. They live just up the road, but if you are looking for them you will rarely find them at home. You will find them helping others in the local community.

justuptheroad
Just up the road…main entrance to Curlewis

They might be keeping an elderly person company or gently coaching another to take a few steps after an operation, organising a vehicle for a family so they can drive to town for food and appointments or feeding someone else chooks and ducks while they are in hospital. Our community might be small but there is always someone needing assistance. This mother and daughter seem to know who and seem to know when.

Glenda is a trained nurse. Up until a few years ago she had her own business where she would visit people in their homes and care for them. Her daughter Phoebe jokes when we talk about this. Her mum always went over and above what was needed to be done and there were many days she stayed with the client or did that little extra, making her late home for dinner or to help with homework. For Glenda, it wasn’t a 9-5 job.

I asked Glenda “Why do you do it? What motivates you to help people” thinking this was an easy question. She hesitates, sits back in her chair and ponders her answer. “People need help and I can help them. I work with them so we achieve something together. It’s teamwork and gives them back confidence. One small achievement for them helps take away a lot of self-doubt”

There are also other wonderful people supporting this community. A few years ago the local church surveyed the community by door knocking on the 120 residences and asking what people thought the community needed. Not surprising the biggest issue was something for the youth to do. Curlewis is about 17km from its larger country centre Gunnedah, situated in north west NSW about 5 hours inland of Sydney. While many of the youth travel to Gunnedah for high school there are very little other activities to fill their time outside those hours.

Youth drop in

What started as Kids Club through a church has grown. Phoebe and her sister Crystal, with the help of others could see the youth needed not just an activity or two in school holidays but a regular place to go, to mix with others in a safe environment.  With the help of others in the community they have established the Curlewis Youth Drop In Centre. The church has provided them with a building that is decorated with lounges, bean bags and provides a welcoming space one a week.

Over a quiet cup of tea we reflected on why there are less youth offering to volunteer in the community, or regional NSW as a whole. Phoebe has observed that the more willing volunteers are young adults who have lived away from the community and returned or have experienced a life elsewhere. We wondered whether these see the community from a different angle and appreciate the positive aspects rather than being caught in the monotony of their own world. It can be easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day micro happenings of a small town. Becoming independent and living with other cultures and strangers can help people appreciate their own community and potentially bring back newly learned skills and confidence. It will be a challenge to break this cycle. The Youth Drop In Centre is doing this in its own small way.

Each week the centre has 20-30 youth attend. At first the number of adults that came along to help were the same ones that started the centre. Over time others became interested, just helping prepare food or work in the background. Now there is a roster to share the load. The adults enjoy the banter with the youth and vice versa. The young love hearing stories from the elderly volunteers. It’s a win-win.

Many articles highlight the value of volunteering for young people. It looks good on a resume and can help get a scholarship. It also builds teamwork and organisation skills, supervisory or communication skills and confidence with working people outside their home environment.

As a parting question I asked Glenda how does she feel when she has helped someone? What is it like when she sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes and a smile of achievement beaming back at her?

I was expecting emotive words like warm, happy, joyful, proud or delighted. Instead she couldn’t respond; the question was too hard to answer.

Why? Glenda volunteers her time to help others. That is all. No self-gain, no feeding a personal need, no recognition required. The sign of a truly wonderful person who Gives.

 

**Article originally written and published for The Australia Times GIVE Magazine. Publishing here to celebrate International Volunteers Day

List-stumped, plain and simple.

I’m a bit of a list person. At work on a Monday morning I start the week with a list. I usually re-do that list each morning, always with the best intent of crossing items off the list. Some weeks it works great, other weeks and days the wheels fall off quickly and the list becomes just a reference point, not a ‘things to do this week’ list.

But I have a list. Read More

It all began

The view from the remote area - time to reflect
The view from the remote area – time to reflect

Last weekend I spent time with a group of women strangers. Well actually we came together as strangers, we left as friends. Within a few hours together we were invited to become “as naked as we wanted to be” in front of the others. Naked, so soon? Oh gosh what had I signed up to? There wasn’t even phone reception to call in help if this did go super wrong!! Read More