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Creating Space Project

Ruth Nelson is a psychologist. In the Creating Space Project, Ruth interviews women for personal stories and then explores that story for what it reveals about the storyteller's values.
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Stories from women. Ideas about values and identity. 

Jul 15, 2018

“I am a drop waiting to return to the ocean”

Mohammad Ali Maleki is incarcerated on Manus Island. Five years ago, he attempted to seek asylum in Australia and, for this, he was detained.

An Iranian poet, Mohammad writes in Farsi. His friend, Mansour Shoushtari, translates the poetry into English, and Mohammad messages the poetry to Michele Seminara, an editor at Verity La.

Michele and I talk about Expectations, a poem contained in his chapbook, Truth in the Cage.

Michele describes his work as “incredibly sad but also in a way uplifting.”

I think I know what she means. I feel so sad listening to the words of a man jailed for being a refugee, but I also find myself reflecting on my relationship with freedom, through the lens of his relationship with freedom.

“For years the ceiling of my room has been my sky.”

The Australian government does everything it can to suppress asylum seekers’ voices.

Mohammad and others like him have been strong, persistent and ingenious in getting their voices out.

Compassionate and gentle, Mohammad seeks our essential goodness,

“He’s speaking from what’s the same in each of us.”

Truth in the Cage, is a chapbook of poetry, written by Mohammad Ali Maleki, and published by Verity La and Rochford Street Press. It is being launched on Tuesday 17th July, 2018, at the Friend in Hand, Glebe. Come along. Otherwise, buy it online. All profits go to Mohammad.  

For more information, including sample poems and how to buy the book, check out the link below

https://verityla.com/2018/06/28/truth-in-the-cage/ 

Jul 8, 2018

This interview with Auntie Josie is to acknowledge and celebrate NAIDOC week, 2018. 

Auntie Josie is from the Wailwan nation. She is a First Nations Person. We were speaking on Darug land. I am deeply grateful and honoured that she has shared some of the stories of her life with me. 

These stories concern sexual abuse, domestic violence, suicide and parental death, among other things. Please be advised of these triggers. Listen mindfully for your own wellbeing and with respect for Auntie Josie.

Auntie Josie is a woman of remarkable courage, wisdom and kindness. I have been moved beyond words in listening to her stories and by the generosity she has shown in sharing them with me.

The purpose of sharing the stories is to help Australians, like myself, understand better the experiences of First Nations Peoples. These experiences are the consequence of colonisation and genocide.

I would like to be very clear that I acknowledge that these are Auntie Josie's stories. I am simply privileged to be permitted to release them here as a Creating Space Project podcast episode. 

So too, the thumbnail image is the official NAIDOC 2018 logo and I am using it, I believe in good faith, to be a part of this celebration. 

Jun 14, 2018

Introduction to Conversation with Merle Conyer

I talk to Merle Conyer. I had a particular question, about the interface between Western psychology and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge. I’m exploring that because of a work role I’ll be taking up soon, as part of the Creating Space Project.

As part of my preparation for that, I was put in contact with Merle by Paul Rhodes. Merle has been grappling for some time with the same question that has only recently come to me.

Merle works with Aboriginal communities. She’s a South African woman who’s been in Australia for many years.

As she describes it, she is in that intersection of human rights and wellbeing and social justice.

So I sat with her on her carpet and listened to her, and in listening to her, I have learnt an enormous amount.

For her the word genocidewas shattering. She realised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in her lifetime have encountered the five conditions for genocide laid about by the United Nations (1948) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. There is shame attached to that: The shame for a South African woman, and the shame of being in Australia and realizing the systems of oppression that exist here, the structures of colonialism.

A phrase that has stayed with me from the conversation with Merle is about moving from shame to responsibility and how you tease apart toxic shame from helpful shame.

This interview has helped raise in me lots of questions:

As a therapist, in what ways am an instrument of oppression?”

When I’m in a therapy room with a person who experiences racism, structural oppression, in what way do I perpetuate that oppression?

How do I seek restorative action? How do I seek to redress that? How do I deconstruct the racism that I have been raised in?

How do I dismantle those processes of colonization in myself.

Merle explores the idea of cultural humility. As I understand it, this is about making space within my space, and within the spaces I operate in for voices from other cultures and other systems?

Merle then talks about the therapeutic modalities that have served her well in practice. These include somatic therapies and postmodern therapies, including narrative therapy.

I am also in conversation with First Nations Peoples, this interview is just one act of preparation.

Jun 6, 2018

Jennifer Jones lives in Myanmar and co-founded the Room to Grow Foundation. She works with children: Unaccompanied refugee children who have experienced enormous trauma. They have swum rivers while bullets fly overhead.  They have worked in factories. They have foraged for discarded cabbage leaves to stay alive. 

But their suffering is not the focus of this story. Their strength is the focus.

“Those kids… taught me about strength, about resilience, they taught me about survival, about what it takes to live in a really difficult world. Their parents teach me about what it means to make choices that are more difficult than any I ever have to make in my life. And above all, the dancing teaches me that kids who have gone through these terrible situations can find a moment of joy. Not all of them, not every time. But all that stuff that they’d been through, they could just drop it to be fully immersed in a moment of joy when they got it.”

This is not just a story about dancing with refugee children.

It's about Jennifer's journey away from pity and into a more ethical relationship with people who are in need. It's about white and non-white relations, international NGO work, colonisation and post-colonisation. 

It's also a reflection on how a government and media can manipulate a society into believing a certain class of people are not human, such as the Rohingya experiencing genocide in Myanmar, and refugees and asylum seekers trapped in detention centres, like those on Manus Island and Naura in Australia. 

 

Jun 6, 2018

Jennifer Jones lives in Myanmar and co-founded the Room to Grow Foundation. She works with children: Unaccompanied refugee children who have experienced enormous trauma. They have swum rivers while bullets fly overhead.  They have worked in factories. They have foraged for discarded cabbage leaves to stay alive. 

But their suffering is not the focus of this story. Their strength is the focus.

“Those kids… taught me about strength, about resilience, they taught me about survival, about what it takes to live in a really difficult world. Their parents teach me about what it means to make choices that are more difficult than any I ever have to make in my life. And above all, the dancing teaches me that kids who have gone through these terrible situations can find a moment of joy. Not all of them, not every time. But all that stuff that they’d been through, they could just drop it to be fully immersed in a moment of joy when they got it.”

This is not just a story about dancing with refugee children.

It's about Jennifer's journey away from pity and into a more ethical relationship with people who are in need. It's about white and non-white relations, international NGO work, colonisation and post-colonisation. 

It's also a reflection on how a government and media can manipulate a society into believing a certain class of people are not human, such as the Rohingya experiencing genocide in Myanmar, and refugees and asylum seekers trapped in detention centres, like those on Manus Island and Naura in Australia. 

 

May 29, 2018

Rebecca Langley is an Australian woman who has become involved as an ally in the movement for freedom in West Papua.

Recently, she has been a supporter in the Let's Talk About West Papua campaign that has been launched in Australia, which aims to address the ways in which Australia supports Indonesian occupation of West Papua, including funding, arming and training the security forces. 

She talks here about how she became involved in this community, inspired by the music of Blue King Brown, the activism of Izzy Brown, the 43 West Papuans who came to Australia by outrigger canoe, and the Freedom Flotilla. 

It's problematic that we are two white Australians taking up space to talk about the oppression facing Indigenous people. Rebecca and I are both uncomfortable about that. 

There were particular reasons at the time why it wasn't possible to talk to a West Papuan (including time restraints), and I decided I would rather talk to somebody, given the timing of the campaign addressing human rights violations, even if I couldn't talk to a West Papuan woman. 

 

May 15, 2018

Amy Martinez listens to the story of Isabelle from Belle and the Bear, in which Isabelle’s bear was stolen by her mother’s abusive partner.

“I feel like [the teddy bear] stands for something else that has been taken away from her.”

The sadness that Amy feels for Isabelle relates also to her own experiences in childhood. Now, as a young adult, Amy says she is starting to notice the ways in which people hold power over her.

For example, she had a boyfriend who was very controlling.

“He knew that I cared so much about him that he could do whatever he wanted and get away with it because he could say certain things to bring me back.”

Amy’s reflection is a curious mix of vulnerability and courage. It takes a lot of strength to allow yourself to publically experience and express strength and there’s a lot to be learnt here about emotional resilience and getting to know yourself.

May 8, 2018

"Hope is a spacious place. It's so full of possibility."

Chantale has a way with words that is a little hypnotic. And she has a way with ideas. Hope, for her, is a red balloon that expands your chest so you can breathe a little more easily. 

Much like her balloon, or more accurately, because of her balloon, this is a conversation that expands - into mental health, the vagaries of babies that interrupt interviews, what keeps us awake at night, climate change, what a better future means, Brene Brown's vulnerability hangovers, messiness - and into a conversation about conversation, stories and words. About the things that make us human. 

And here is the poem that she shares with us - it's worth lingering over:

357/365 // the balloon // #365daysofpoetry

Love, mistaking my heart
for a balloon,
took a deep breath 
and blew 

and now it sits
uncomfortably tight in my chest,
swollen against ribs
that creak under the strain

drifting upwards 
until my toes barely 
touch the ground 

I am adrift 
in newly awoken hope

(Chantale Roxanas)

Apr 30, 2018

I’m excited by this episode. I love all of the interviews I do (maybe not my interviewing all the time, but I love all the stories) but this one was like interviewing the kind of person I hope to be in another decade or so – still committed to social justice, still passionate about what I do. Not bitter about the losses.

 

Dare has just left her role as CEO of Reverse Garbage, which is a facility that diverts resources away from landfill and into creative and practical re-use. Need a whole bunch of shredded paper and foam bits and bobs? Go to Reverse Garbage.

 

Social justice and equity, especially intergenerational equity, are the values that underpin Dare’s career that has spanned health promotion, anti-slavery, refugee rights, gender issues, housing and neighbourhood development.

 

When it comes to issues of sustainability and climate change, Dare hopes to help nudge us into the direction of a circular economy, as opposed to the linear economy that the Western world currently embraces.

 

“There is a finite amount of matter in this planet so we’re always turning one thing into something else… we need to keep working with that in a way that it keeps going.”

 

Dare is trying to help save us from ourselves. That is a story worth sharing.

Apr 23, 2018

Angela is amazing. Single mother of two kids. Assistant director in the city. Courageous, empathic and generous.

I played her Amanda's story from Red Flags and then we talked about it.

Domestic violence is hard. I struggled to ask Angela about it and I feel a bit ashamed of that. 

Remembering abuse brings up strong emotions and layers of self-judgement. Talking about it brings up the complicated nuances of male and female relationships in society; it brings up the fear of reprisal if it's heard by the abuser or their family.

But Angela feels a responsibility to speak up about her relationship with her ex-husband, both to help other women and to end the intergenerational transmission of abuse for the sake of her children.

And I feel very grateful that she let me share this story.

Apr 14, 2018

Isabelle is the twelve-year-old daughter of Amanda, who talked about domestic violence in the episode Red Flags.

Resilient and insightful, Isabelle talks about her mother's abusive partner stealing her teddy bear when she was six years old.

“I was just an angry child because I lost my teddy bear.”

On the cusp of adolescence, Isabelle has already learnt a great deal about herself and emotion regulation. She is unapologetic for a justified anger and, at the same time, understands that lashing out in anger is not often effective.

"Emotions rub off on people. If you’re angry all the time, no one will want to talk to you. If you’re calm, people wll rely on you."

Apr 6, 2018

“Why doesn’t she just leave him?”

 

Trigger warning: Domestic violence.

 

Amanda Cosgrove describes how it took five years to leave a man who was abusing her and the strategies that he used to manipulate his way into remaining in her life, including using her children and slowly undermining her belief in herself.

 

After the relationship ended, she went through counselling to rebuild her self-worth and self-respect. Forgiving herself, despite it not being her fault, took a long time. She also did courses to learn ways of identifying the red flags that can be a warning of abuse.

 

Despite all this work, Amanda found herself in a relationship that turned violent. Her son had to step into to save her while she was being seriously assaulted by her partner.

 

A woman of remarkable strength, insight and resilience, raising five healthy and happy children, Amanda shares her tale as a lesson in how, under the right circumstances, we are all vulnerable to abuse.  

 

“Hopefully with more and more people speaking out about it, hopefully women do listen and don’t try and pretend everything’s fine like I did for so long.”

Mar 29, 2018

Nivelo started Equally Wed in the faith that one day, Australia would enact marriage equality. A wedding directory catering for gay, lesbian, queer and transgendered couples, Equally Wed reflects Niv's belief in equality and civil rights.

"The reason why I really started this business was so that everybody had the same rights and option."

The inspiration for Equally Wed came seven years ago, when Nivelo's brother and male partner opened a package containing a cake topper. The expression on their faces of joy and happiness really struck Nivelo. They had found something that represented them, something they could see themselves in. 

And that, to Nivelo, is important. 

 

* This is not a paid endorsement of Equally Wed. I just admired the imagination and motivation that it took to set up this business years ago and hold faith that one day Australia would get its act together. 

Mar 22, 2018

A child with a disability taught retired teacher, Elizabeth Appleyard, an important lesson on mental health and wellbeing.

In a class exercise, when other children were wishing for material items, this child wished for a new hand.

At the same time, this child appeared to be an essentially happy soul. He had friends, he laughed, he played. 

The lesson for Elizabeth is that happiness is transient. To be happy means that, at some point, you will also be sad. They are emotions on the same spectrum.

Underneath them is contentment and peace. You can feel sad and know that, basically, you're alright. 

Contentment is about enjoying day to day existence, about experiencing each day as a present to be unwrapped.

"I can pay my bills and I can do what I like with my day. That," says Elizabeth, "is a luxury."

Mar 12, 2018

Dei Phillips is a Bundjalung woman.

 

Fierce and compassionate, she is relentless as an activist and advocate for Aboriginal people in Australia. In trying to arrange this interview, we kept having to postpone. Dei is always busy, whether it be marching on Invasion/Survival Day or seeking legal representation for young Aboriginal first offenders.

 

She is a passionate educator about pre-colonial history and geography. When I finally got to talk to her, it was more than worth the wait. I got to hear about the importance of language, story, and place. These things form our culture and identity. I felt that I understood more about how utterly devastating it is to have them stolen. 

 

And it all began for Dei back in early primary school.

 

As a little girl, she found herself attacking a boy tormenting a small girl with cancer. While she regrets being in a physical fight, she learnt, in that moment, the feeling of strength that accompanies protecting someone else.

 

It was a defining experience, in terms of becoming an activist.

 

“That singular moment of watching this young girl, who was a white girl, be dehumanised for something that was completely out of her control.”

 

The basis of activism, says Dei, is the desire to protect.

 

The only Aboriginal child in her inner-city primary school, Dei would sometimes be sent to stay with her grandmother, a thousand kilometres away. Here, she went to school with family and cousins. The contrast between the two experiences was quite stark. Going to school with her mob was freeing.

 

“You don’t feel frowned upon, you don’t feel like people are making judgements on you as much as when you’re the only Aboriginal in the school.”

 

I’ve tried a few times to write up more of the interview for these notes. I thought I was just struggling to condense all the themes of it down to a short piece. But I’ve realised that, as a Settler woman, a descendent of English and Irish, I don’t feel it’s my place to write up the knowledge that Dei gifted me in this interview. So, I hope you are able to listen for yourself.

 

If you’re not able to listen, you could email me to ask for pdf of the transcript: admin at creatingspaceproject dot com

Mar 5, 2018

Teresa Benetos was a nurse in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. She’s writing a memoir about her time as a hostage in Iraq.

 

Growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic household, it has taken many years for Teresa to realise that, as a woman, her story is of interest. After thirty years, she says, it is time to tell the story of ‘The Accidental Hostage.’

 

As a teenager, she battled with her father to be able to finish her Leaving Certificate at school and study to become a nurse. Against the background of an economic recession, Teresa was compelled to seek work in London, during the era of “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish.”

 

She left London and went to work in Belfast during the Troubles, the thirty-year armed conflict and political deadlock in Northern Ireland.

 

Then, in 1990, she took a job in a hospital in Baghdad. Before she returned to Iraq after some leave, she had her fortune told: She would be surrounded by uniforms and there was months of worry ahead for her parents.

 

On August the 2nd, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and decided that foreigners were not allowed to leave. Teresa was one of about 200 Irish nurses held hostage. So long as they continued to work in the hospital during Operation Desert Storm, they were relatively safe.

 

As well as the fear of their own position, they experienced the vicarious trauma of treating the civilians impacted by armed conflict, including the pre-invasion gassing of Kurds, with children being carried on foot from Mosul with horrific injuries. Following the trade sanctions imposed by the UN, people were running out of food; the hospital was running out of medicine and supplies.

 

This is a story both harrowing and inspiring, as well as bearing historical importance. Reflecting on family, career and recovery from trauma, the interview reveals Teresa's strength and resilience. It also provides tantalising hints into her skill as a writer.

 

The conundrum of the story is a familiar one: Family. We flee into the world and sometimes end up longing to return. What Teresa wanted most, trapped in Baghdad, was the family and the parents she’d so desperately wanted to leave.

Nov 9, 2017

This episode is part-two of Bearing Witness: The backstory to Creating Space where we hear the inspiring yarn behind Ruth Nelson and how this podcast came into being. In the first episode we followed Ruth who, as an 18-year-old, inadvertently signed up to volunteer in community work with refugees leading her on the path of studying psychology.

 

She survived a brain encephalopathy, and in not choosing the path of least resistance, Ruth headed to northern Uganda at the age of 26 to work in community outreach as an NGO. It’s in this episode where we pick up Ruth’s story as she struggles with the futility of her presence, as a young inexperienced community worker, in an active conflict zone. Ruth saw her role, initially at least, as bearing witness to the atrocities of this insidious and complex conflict but over the two years she initiated and facilitated many programs, some of which had surprisingly comedic outcomes.

 

After Ruth returned to Australia to complete her qualifications as a psychologist and to work in the field, life happened, and she made a difficult decision to put her career on hold to dedicate her efforts to raising her child. It was during this period, Ruth felt like she was losing hope as social media reflected a world of growing ignorance and intolerance. So she decided to share stories. What was supposed to be a blog, became a podcast and Ruth searched far and wide to ask women to share their own stories at the virtual campfire. Ruth believes we are sentient bags of saltwater who just love a good story, and in listening to others we can readily identify shared values despite coming from different, seemingly alien backgrounds.

 

Since the Creating Space Project started in June 2016, Ruth has facilitated, so far, the sharing of stories, in a narrative framework, of 73 ordinary, yet extraordinary women. It was my opinion Ruth’s story needed also to be shared and she eventually acquiesced to my appeal for an interview. I think it makes for a particularly inspiring listen … enjoy!

 

This is the last episode before Ruth takes a break for a few months, as she is due to have another baby. But fear not - the Creating Space Project will return!

Oct 31, 2017

It seemed remiss - to me at least - with all the stories that have been shared by this project of ordinary, yet extraordinary women, it had not featured the captivating journey of its creator, Ruth Nelson.

 

It took 12 months and some gentle persuasion for Ruth to acquiesce to my appeal for an interview. The notion that she would become the object of interest left Ruth feeling ill at ease, yet her experience, I argued, was at the essence of the Creating Space story.

 

I knew Ruth’s personal story would make for a fascinating and inspiring episode, but as it transpired, the yarn - much like Ruth herself - proved difficult to contain and so, I proudly bring you the first episode in a two-part series.

 

We start with Ruth at 18 lying to nuns about her experience and inadvertently signing up to volunteer at a charity, Josephite Community Aid, with refugees. Following a stint in Tanzania, an encephalopathy left Ruth with three weeks to live and the prognosis of a living in a group home after she failed to die. Not content with just surviving, Ruth completed a degree in psychology and left for Africa, this time, again inadvertently, landing an active conflict zone. She spent two years in Northern Uganda and witnessed the region transforming from a state of war to post-conflict society.

 

When listening to Ruth, in her characteristically understated manner, we might be fooled - for just a moment - to believe her story is anything other than extraordinary, because it is. She possesses a generosity of spirit, that leaves very little room for ego. There is also a joyfulness in her manner, and despite the sometimes-horrifying and traumatic experiences, Ruth delivers humour and hope.

 

We hope you enjoy episode one of Bearing Witness: The Backstory to the Creating Space Project

 

Guest host Sarah Down interviews the usual host of the Creating Space Project, psychologist Ruth Nelson. 

 

Oct 24, 2017

Rachael Vincent talks about the emotional impact of the postal survey on same sex marriage, or marriage equality, in Australia.

It has been frightening and deeply upsetting for the GLBTQIA community to be confronted with people's level of fear and hatred.

"The license given to people to say things that would not normally be accepted."

Swastikas painted. People assaulted. 

"This is a state-sanctioned homo-bashing festival."

For Rachael, a white woman quite a long way up the privilege ladder, it is an insight into what it is like to always have to fight for your rights and your identity. 

 

Oct 17, 2017

Most of us aren't very good at changing our minds. Beliefs that we have held since childhood can be very resistant to change. If we have been raised to understand that marriage is between a man and a woman, we often believe that to be “natural” or the “way it should be.”

 

This is especially true if we have been taught to link such a belief to our faith in God. It is easy, under those circumstances, to be swayed by fear and worry to say that change is wrong. It is easy to take on board the messages that children will be endangered, that society will be endangered, and to be closed to any evidence to the contrary.

 

Rachael Vincent talks, with great love, of the three very conservative Christian women who very strongly shaped her as she grew up: Her two grandmothers and her godmother. When they realised that she was homosexual, their belief that God is love and their faith in the power of love, transcended any prejudice that could have led them to reject Rachael.

 

It is, what she describes, as “the miracle of changing one’s mind.”

 

Rachael is hopeful that, over time, society will simply come to increasingly accept and welcome the queer community. Marriage equality, or same sex marriage, is simply another issue that modernity has brought to consciousness. As she says, “Gradually over time, just as the sea erodes a rock, we come to terms with these things.”

Oct 4, 2017

Mary is Chinese Australian, born in Fiji during World War Two. Mary believes her life is blessed. She is 76, the mother of 7 children, the grandmother of 5 children. 

Her Catholic faith strongly shapes the way that Mary sees the world. The three most important things in her life are loving God, your neighbour, and yourself.

To her, loving yourself is very important. 

"I like this bit... We need to do the right thing by ourselves, look after ourselves."

Despite the strength of her Catholic religious beliefs, she also believes that all religions are essentially good,

"If we go back to their teachings, it is love God, love your neighbour as yourself."

She also acknowledges that Catholicism is far from perfect.

"A lot of harm has been done in the name of the church."

 

Mary feels it is important to accept people for who they are. She says that she tries to be accepting, especially as she herself is not perfect, although sometimes, she finds that hard.

Her deep faith in God leads her to have a basic trust in life, that things will work out for the best, even if that is not the way that we would have wanted. She loves life and hopes to be around for much longer, although she is not afraid of dying. 

"Basically I think that’s my life and I like to think I’m happy about it."

 

Sep 25, 2017

I interviewed Bern in her beautiful four-bedroom house, to the accompaniment of a budgie called Snowstripe. Like my home, it was strewn with toys and the walls were adorned with photos – a little child, loving parents.

 

We were a few days late getting to the interview. Bern’s five-year-old child had been sick with the gastro bug going around Sydney. Bern works from home and had managed to squeeze me in between meetings on a warm spring morning.

 

So, a normal mother, busy with work and parenting, in a normal family. As Bern said,

 

“We have a 5-year-old child. Property, investments, insurances, wills, we have everything every other loving couple has. Apart from the right to have our relationship recognised by [Australian] law.”

 

Bern volunteers with community organisations, including Park Run and Rainbow Families. She is warm, kind and welcoming. The values she learnt from her family of origin, in particular her father, are abundantly reflected in the life she leads: The importance of commitment to family, raising a child in a loving environment, treating others with respect and compassion, leading a life of integrity.

 

It makes it feel very strange to know that GLBTQIA families like Bern’s are “on the receiving end of the negative feedback of this postal plebiscite debate, there’s lots of hate and horrible things being said about ourselves and our family and members of our community.”

 

When it comes to marriage equality, in the words of Bern’s five-year-old, “Wouldn’t it be a really nice world if everybody voted yes?”

Sep 13, 2017

Imagine a teacher from primary school remembering you vividly, fifty years later.

 

Sister Josephine Mitchell is a Josephite nun. A renowned champion of human rights and social justice, she is, among other roles, a former teacher, both in Australia and East Timor.

 

Educare, she says, means to grow. Teaching means helping young people to grow and realise their dreams. Providing education and being a small part of someone’s life is, to her, a privilege.

 

Sr Josephine tells a story about a little boy that she taught 50 years ago, on the banks of the Richmond River, in northern NSW. It seems, to me, remarkable, that she remembers individual students from so long ago.  

 

“I can remember that little kid and many many little kids like that.”

 

“Most of the ones we dealt with in Timor really wanted to make something… they wanted to go further, but didn’t have any way to do it.”

 

The criteria for accepting children into the schools she taught in in East Timor were simple: The children couldn’t afford to pay for an education. Sr Josephine is fiercely passionate about working to alleviate poverty and to respect human dignity.

 

“A human person who is inhibited because… they’re not respected, they’re being persecuted, oppressed, living in poverty - in such poor conditions they can’t break out of that.”

 

To her, such injustice is intolerable. She doesn’t see it as helping though. There is a condescension to helping someone. It’s about working towards freedom, and that is a mutual process.

 

“They can reflect back to me who I am. Sometimes I’m not the most desirable sort of person and they can let me know that things aren’t going too well. They can affirm me. Their values, they can share with me, some things that I have not considered. Some of them overcome huge difficulties to keep developing. That’s heroic, some of them have very big obstacles.”

Sep 4, 2017

Sonia Muir is one of two women responsible for the Rural Women's Network, a government department in NSW, Australia.

 

Set up in the 1990s in response to the isolation experience by women during the drought, there is still a need today to facilitate the connections between rural women, reducing isolation, acknowledging their hard work, and developing their confidence and self-esteem.

 

This year is the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Network, and Sonia has been there for each of those years. She has met thousands of people in the course of her work. And each of them has meant something to her.

 

For Sonia, this is meaningful work. It has an impact on people’s lives. It allows her to feel that the energy she expends is making a difference to someone. And, as she says, “When you give of yourself and you give of your community, that comes back to you tenfold.”

Aug 30, 2017

“Through music you can express something that you can’t express in words and that you maybe don’t even know… it’s a line to the soul”

 

Professional horn player, Carla Blackwood, performs Nocturno by Franz Strauss.

 

From listening together to this short piece of music, a conversation opens up about the importance of music. Food for the soul, music reveals to us something of what it is to be human. Music lets us engage with the abstract and the intangible and, especially in a modern society that encourages us to focus on what is tangible and material, this is more important than ever.

 

“There’s more to being human than our conscious reality.”

 

Carla also talks about how music exposes that very human struggle between striving for perfection and the acceptance that, actually, perfection can never be attained. It’s a valuable life lesson, this notion of “listening kindly to yourself.”

 

She reflects also on how music, memory and place become woven together and help form our identity. The importance of recognising your roots and where you are from, is one that is perhaps downplayed in Western cultures. But our “soul country” powerfully shapes the person we become.  

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