Wednesday, 18 November 2015

5 reasons why you should get involved in a community activity

Community is everything. Not only is it a way to connect with others but it's also a way to be a part of something contributes to a better world. I think it's a natural feeling for humans to want to be connected, but somewhere along the way we've learned to shy away from any person out of our immediate circle of friends or family. Some believe they are completely happy with the friends they can count on their one hand, which is perfectly fine, but that doesn't necessarily mean there aren’t people out there who you have yet to create a great connection with, and one of the easiest opportunities to create these connections is through community activity.

Here are 5 reasons on how joining a community group or participating in a community activity can change your life for the better.

1. You meet people that care about the same things as you

Have you ever sat around a table with your best friends and started talking about something you love only to be misunderstood or have the conversation change complete direction? Just because they are your best friends it doesn't mean they are into the exact same things as you. There's something quite refreshing about spending time talking about something you love with someone who loves it just as much as you.

2. You learn more

People have their own cognitive library of knowledge. The more people you meet the more chance you have of them sharing that knowledge with you and giving that knowledge a chance to secure a spot in your own cognitive library. Now you have the ability to share that knowledge with others. Participating in a group activity will give you access to a range of information and give you the ability to learn an abundance of new things.

3. It looks great on your resume

A resume is not necessarily about your professional experience. Being able to show that you put the effort in to be involved in other activities can mean a lot to an employer. Of course we don't want this to be the only reason you choose to participate in a community activity but it's just an added bonus for when you do.

4. You contribute to a cause

Many community activities contribute to great causes, any many communities are often in need of volunteers as they may lack funding and resources. In fact many community programs often require people’s time over people's money. Instead of giving your cash, give your time, even if it's just once a month, and you're helping to contribute something positive to the world.

5. You expand your perspectives, which leads to increased empathy

Spending time with the same people all the time can limit your perspectives. Becoming involved in a community group or activity gives you a chance to meet others and potentially introduce new perspectives into your life. Expanding our perspectives is one of the fundamental pillars of empathy, and increased empathy allows us to have a better understanding of the world.

There are many community groups and activities that are specific to certain causes or interests. Check out the following sites and see how your life can change for the better -

Friday, 10 July 2015

The online 'Pay It Forward' movement

Letting generosity thrive

One of the most heartwarming recent examples of community to hit the online world is the pay it forward movement.

Not too long ago the Internet started to become somewhat of a virtual garage sale. From Ebay, to Gum Tree and most recently the Buy, Swap, Sell groups on Facebook, it has never been easier to sell your unwanted stuff. In a way, having a plethora of fully functional online selling platforms reminds us just how much stuff we have that we don't really need. On any given hour pages overflow with old commodities, lingering patiently, waiting to find a new home. After all, it is best to recycle these old goods and make a few bucks rather than throwing them away right?

Well, while it's all well and good to make some easy cash from those sales, there are others who have found a more rewarding approach. An approach that provides much more than a monetary gratification, the approach of paying it forward.

The 'Marrickville Pay It Forward' Facebook group is the largest of it's kind in Sydney. It is a community of over five thousand generous, humble individuals who have pledged to help their fellow community members buy posting their commodities online, free of charge. It is a place where no monetary gain is to be made, a place where individuals have a mutual respect and understanding that others in the community may be in need of a little empathy and generosity.

Each day, items such as furniture, clothes, plants and even meals are shared for free. There have been stories of strangers helping with removalist jobs, families sharing warm, hearty soups to anyone in need on a cold winter's night and stories of small acts of kindness, such as baking a delightful cake so a child could enjoy their birthday party. Just by being a part of this group you can witness the deep-seated values of kindness instilled in one another, the increased awareness of the environmental impact we all bear, and the heightened sense of community connectivity that we all long for.

For me personally this page is an example that humanity is still rife in our society. In an era where the individualist in us often prevails, this group, and the many other groups alike, are examples that our empathetic values can transpire and that we are more connected than we choose to realise.

So next time you are looking to part from something old, instead of making a sale, why not give a little back and pay it forward. Your act of kindness will make a lasting impact on someone's life.

Below is a list of some local online platforms that accept free stuff:

Feel free to share your experiences of paying it forward. Generosity is a wonderful gift that we all possess. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Descending The Corporate Ladder

Why I left the corporate world to start over

From a young age we are always encouraged to amount to something. You get your first job as a ripe young teen and excitement waves over you as you receive your first pay check. After that, before you realise how underpaid you may have been for flipping burgers or scanning groceries, you might enrol into higher education or an apprenticeship, or you might find yourself a nice spot as a Junior Assistant of a large corporation and step onto the first rail of the corporate ladder.

Each of these decisions you make are most probably based off that difficult question we ask ourselves - "What do I want to do with my life?". Unfortunately, the pressure to answer this question at the age of 18 results in many of us having to stick to the path we chose and as the years go by, and our responsibilities increase, so do our abilities to veer off this path and potentially alight on a new, more exciting one.

I began working for a company at age 15, while I was still in school. After I finished school I was offered a permanent position in an enticing role at the company so I decided to stay on. Years passed and I became quite good at my job, I was offered promotions, pay-rises and before I knew it I was climbing the corporate ladder to success. The only issue was that I was in an industry that was so far from my passions. Although I always knew this was the case, it never seemed to be a good time to stop and reassess my situation, why would one leave behind all this progress to start again?

I did enjoy some of the perks of my career, I went on many holidays, gained a lot of experience, and connected with a lot of people. However there were many aspects of the career that I didn't like, long hours, stressful deadlines, lack of community feel with many people under pressure to meet company expectations. It wasn't until my most recent role that the feeling of emptiness began to settle in, more than it did in any other time of my career. I was now 28. I had been working in this company for more than half my adult life and now at a time where I was earning more money than I had ever in my career, I was the unhappiest I had ever been. I had become industrialised, a number in an industry that did not share the same values as I did. It felt as though I was living a lie, as if I had finally amounted to something, only something I did not want to be.

The feeling of not being true to yourself is an overwhelming one. I knew that I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I wanted to connect with people and help people, not just be a number in a corporation. I knew it was time for a change, so after 14 long years I resigned.

The decision to leave such a stable, well paid position was tough. I was confined by the thought that leaving this role, this path I had created for myself could leave me with no where else to go. It is important to note this was not the first time I had thought about leaving. It was a thought that had come around many times before, only to be conquered by the 'what-if's'. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. I was imitating insanity, I was waiting for the 'right time'. Truth be told, there is never really a right time. The right time is when you realise that your happiness comes first and that you are far more capable of change than you realise.

I did have to make a few sacrifices while my disposable income wasn't as vibrant as it usually was, however none of those sacrifices meant more to me than having my happiness back and knowing that I was following my true passions.

It is one month after my resignation and I have never looked back. I have had the time to reconnect with myself, others around me, and new people. I have opened myself up to many new opportunities and my fear of having no where else to go was, in fact, the opposite. I was true to myself and started doing what I 'wanted' to do, not what I felt I 'needed' to do.

I think it's important to ask yourself the honest question "What do I want to do with my life?" and if you're not doing it already then ask yourself "Why not?".

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A Ugandan experience

A recollection of the day I met my sponsored children and my life was touched forever 

I have been in Uganda for only 4 days and have fallen in love. The friendliness and smiles of all the people you meet is so delightful, it's no wonder they call this place 'The Pearl of Africa'. It is now my last few days here in Africa. I have spent over 3 weeks on this amazing, versatile, self sustainable continent. From Zambia, through Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya. My last stop being Uganda, home to the children I sponsor through World Vision, Cavin and Sharon. One who I have known for many years and both whom I am very eager to meet.

Francis, our driver for the journey and Robert, our sponsorship representative, arrive to pick us up from the hotel in Kampala. We set off on the semi-long 8 hour drive to Kitgum, stopping once along the way for a $10 lunch break that feeds the 4 of us. The half completed tarmac road is relatively smooth for much of the drive, aside from the last few kilometers where we dodge potholes until we hit the town of Gulu, where the tarmac stops. We are now in Northern Uganda, a place that has been war-torn until only recently in 2008. You can already see how the 20 years of war has put Northern Uganda behind the rest of the country. Francis tells us it's as if that 20 years were lost in time. While the rest of Uganda was progressing, the North stood still, plagued by violence and fear. Only in 2008 were the last of the people in displacement camps returned to their villages. Some never knowing what life was like outside the camps. Life is very different in this part of the world and I'm soon to get an even closer perspective once we visit the villages tomorrow. For now we check into the Bomah hotel, a fully facilitated hotel incomparable to that of the surrounding area.

In the morning, before we commence the field visits, we stop by the World Vision office of the Kitgum project. As we arrive we are greeted by the manager Calvin and introduced to all the staff. It's great to see that here, so far from home, is the office of all the people that have been involved in the development and care of the Kitgum project which I have been supporting for much of my adult life. The staff are so happy to meet us and I am likewise happy to meet them. 

Here in Kitgum is a team of more than 10 dedicated people who are on the front line of assisting the families in need. As soon as you meet them you sense their devotion and good hearts and its truly humbling to see. Calvin, the manager, spends some time with us and answers all of our questions. I start to get more of an understanding of the work that World Vision do here and begin to develop a greater connection to my involvement here in this remote village in central Africa. 

It was now time to meet the other people who play a huge part in the future of Kitgum and whom have played a part in my life for such a long period of time. The local people themselves. 
We pull up to the small village where Sharon resides and as we disembark we are greeted by many with smiles and handshakes. The sound of cheers and a woman's calling ring in the background as we are prompted to sit on the seats provided for us. Children and mothers gather around, the children sitting across from us, staring curiously at the people that have come from so far to visit. One of these children is Sharon. A 6 year old girl that I have recently started sponsoring.

Sharon's community welcomes us with open arms. The leaders come up to shake out hands and personally thank us. I learn the Ugandan word for thank you quite quickly which makes for better communication with myself and the people I meet. I sense the sincereness in their eyes as we shake hands and look at the person who has touched our lives in so many ways. It's amazing how much can be said through one encounter without words. 

The elders put on traditional songs and dances for us, each song having a distinct meaning. I even get the opportunity to join in on some of the dances, laughing and smiling as I tap my feet to the rhythm of the bongo drums while moving around in circle. At this point I can smell the food cooking as smoke emits from one of the huts. It seems Sharon's mother has prepared a big feast for the community to commemorate our visit. We eat a delicious banquet of traditional foods such as kasava, kidney beans, rice and spinach. Consuming the food just like the locals, no cutlery, just hands. 

After lunch I get the chance to talk to the community. Robert translates for me while I thank them for their hospitality, tell them a little about my life and my involvement in World Vision and answer any questions they may have. I get the chance to hand out lollies to the children and the curious smiles on their innocent faces fills me with joy. Having combined two visits into one day it was time to leave, so we say goodbye to the village people and are thanked once more. It's a strange feeling to receive such gratitude when you yourself feel so happy and privileged to be contributing in such a way that is making a difference to their lives. 

The last and much anticipated stop for the day was to visit Cavin's village. I have been sponsoring Cavin for 10 years so it's almost as if I feel like part of the community already. Although we don't communicate on a regular basis, we have shared many letters and photographs across the years as she grew from a young girl into a young woman. From sponsoring the family directly to sponsoring the community as a whole, I've never had the chance to see first hand how my support and the support of World Vision has played a part in their lives.

As we pull up to the village, we get the same warm welcome that we were given in Sharon's village. The afternoon storm had made its way to Kitgum by this time so the World Vision truck drove us right into the village. I could see the children running into one of the huts to stay out of the rain, however a few waited patiently outside for us. One of them being Cavin.

As I disembarked the truck, I came face to face with a beautiful young woman that has been part of my life for such a long time but whom I have never met. She shakes my hand and I do so in return, and we both lean in to give each other a hug. It was a moment that I had played out in my mind so many times and as I held back tears of joy the moment planted itself in my mind as a cherished memory that would last a lifetime. 

Understanding that it must be a bit overwhelming for both of us, we head into the small dark hut with all the other children and take the seats provided for us. The next half hour was full of many questions, many laughs and the chance to meet some of the other children of the village.

I meet Cavin's auntie. An older woman who has lost her sight. She is assisted over to us where she sincerely thanks me and blesses me for my help. She seems like a very strong, resolute woman and meeting her brings a tear to my eye. To say that these experiences today wouldn't bring the most insensitive people to emotion would be an understatement. The experiences are that of which are a rare opportunity and that of which touch the soul.

The visits were extremely eye opening for me. Allowing me to see how people live and how far they have come since the war, as well as seeing how far they have to go. I have hope for their future and that hope has been upheld by seeing the morals and actions of World Vision. Especially meeting the hard working people in Kitgum, whom I've come to acknowledge as true heroes in this world. The community representatives, the sponsorship coordinators, and all the others who work hard each day to find ways to empower and encourage communities to better themselves.

On a personal level, the visit allowed me to feel considerably closer to the cause that I have been supporting. From home I never got to see what life was like for Cavin. I just put my faith in the organisation I supported and next thing I knew, 10 years had passed and I hadn't seen what changes had took place. Now I can see what my support, and the support of many others contributes too. Back at the office I ask Calvin, "Have you seen much change over these past 10 years?". He replies "We have seen great change, however there is still a long way to go. We are definitely in the right direction and where there is a will there is a way. And there is surely a will".

I leave Uganda, with amazing memories, eye opening experiences, a little more wisdom and a lot more hope. As one wise woman once said "you can't do great things in this world, only small things with great love". Those small things contributing to the significant change that will bring about a rightfully brighter future for many. 

If you wish to find out more information on sponsoring a child through World Vision, visit their website through the below link: