The Next Adventure Begins …

It’s been nine long months since I put fingers to the keyboard and bashed out my last post on this blog. Along with millions of others around the world I’ve wrestled with pandemic dislocation and upheaval, along with some challenging circumstances on the personal front. I don’t plan to go into those circumstances in this blog – I mention them only becuase they have propelled me into a new life adventure.

After 15 extraordinary years with World Vision, I made the difficult decision to step away and last week I signed-off from my career in international development with enormously mixed feelings. It’s been a great privilege to belong to this organisation that truly changes the lives of vulnerable children, and the crowning glory has been meeting and working with extraordinary colleagues from around the world.

Global family

I’ve represented the organisation at the UN in New York, delivered training to staff and leaders in more than 40 countries, led local advocacy community consultations, planned campaigns and advocated for child rights in dozens of fora. But it was getting to meet with, learn from and be inspired by the children and communities we served that always really made my socks roll up and down.

Along the way I also had opportunities for flitting mini-adventures and take with me so many incredible memories – hangin’ with the Maasai, whitewater rafting the source of the Nile in Uganda, getting up close and personal with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, making buuz in a yurt in Mongolia, and soaking in the wonders of the immortal Taj Mahal and the truly glorious Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar to name only a few.

Incredible adventures …

My work mates gave me a stupendous send-off with many kind words about the impact that I have made and the legacy I have left. It touches me deeply to feel that I really have achieved, in some small way, what I set out to do – to make a difference. It’s been an incredible journey and I’m filled with gratitude.

So, what’s next?

Of couse it’s writing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and no matter where my career vicissitudes have taken me my heart keeps on leading me back to pen and paper (OK, or keyboard). So now that life has opened this door of change I’m seizing the moment once and for all and throwing myself at this authorship caper with everything I’ve got.

To kick things off I’ve enrolled in a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. Why study, I hear you ask? I’m fully aware that there is a whole world of debate out there about the merit of studying writing. One school of thought says that either you’ve got writing talent or you haven’t – no amount of studious navel-gazing and can generate genius. These proponents argue that a writing degree is just a very expensive piece of paper and wanna-be writers would simply be better off sitting down at their desks and getting on with it.

Others, obviously including the universities that offer such courses, claim differently. Graduates speak of the benefits of exploring their writing style in a supportive environment, the saluatory nature of structured feedback and the opportunity to learn about the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry.

Since I’ve signed up it’s pretty clear that I’m placing myself in the second camp. Yes, I could just plonk myself at my keyboard and start writing. But I’m looking for ideas and inspiration, for challenges and stretch tasks that will push me out of my comfort zone, and for the mental stimulation and sheer, unadulterated pleasure of studying and learning. I’m also pretty keen on addressing the gaps that I know I have around editing and publishing. Hence the UTS Masters. It’s got a great combination of academic interrogation, flexible creative writing subjects (including novel writing), and those pragmatic topics focused on getting your book into print.

Course enrollment!

So, I retun to this blog with a new purpose. Another year, another writing story. This time my plan is to document my Masters experience and see what conclusions I come to about the merits or otherwise of studying writing. I also intend to have a jolly good crack at bashing out manuscript number two before I’m done. I still haven’t completely given up hope on Under New Management (for new readers, see earlier posts on my literary adventures in France), but I’m deeply cognisant of the fact that authors’ first efforts are rarely the ones that launch their careers. My motto may be a cliché but I’m sticking with it: if at first you dont succeed, try, try again!

To fire up my synapses I’ve just read Stephen’s King’s excellent On Writing, which my dear friend Rachel gave me for my last birthday. I’m ashamed to say it had been gathering dust at the bottom of my ‘to read’ pile, but I guess it was just waiting for the right moment. As you can see from the number of sticky tabs I’ve used as markers there are heaps of writing wisdom nuggets that I plan on applying in this new phase of my work.

Here’s what Stephen has to say on writing courses: “I’m often asked if I think the beginning writer of fiction can benefit from writing classes or seminars. The people who ask are, all too often, looking for a magic bullet or a secret ingredient, neither of which can be found in classrooms or at writing retreats, no matter how enticing the brochures may be. As for myself, I’m doubtful about writing classes, but not entirely against them … Writing seminars and courses do offer at least one undeniable benefit: in them desire to write fiction or poetry is taken seriously. For aspiring writers who have been looked upon with pitying condescension by their friends and relatives this is a wonderful thing … You might not learn the Magic Secrets of Writing (there aren’t any – bummer huh?), but you’ll certainly have a grand time, and grand times are something I’m always in favour of.” Me too!

Stephen also states emphatically that writers learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot. I intend to heed this advice to the full! To this end I’ve been busy this weekend converting my World Vision home office into a writer’s study. Perched in front of me now are my collected works on writing and some other selected inspiration sources. I’ve also made a raid on the local library and am relishing working my way through a fascinating and eclictic pile of reading goodies. Finally, my World Vision colleauges farewelled me with a voucher for Dymocks Books (thanks heaps guys!) and I’m poring over the catalogue and licking my lips in anticipation of uni book purchases.

I hope you, readers old and new, will enjoy this new writing adventure and blogging journey as much as I know I am going to 🙂

Inspo!

It’s a Big Wide World …

I’m in Adelaide today, and it’s hot. Really hot! I’ve acclimatised to Narooma’s year-round temperate clime, and Radelaide’s summer swelter has come as a bit of a shock. I’m visiting my Mum for a couple of weeks (lovely) and may incidentally avail myself of the literary and cultural delights of Writer’s Week and the Adelaide Festival (excellent!).

It’s now just under six weeks ’till my departure and I’m starting to get very excited. This whole writing in the south of France thing is becoming imminent and I confess I’m occasionally experiencing qualms of trepidation. I’ll leave the cold feet for now, but will perhaps explore this increasing phenomenon in a future post …

Today I’m going to take you on a quick tour of the highlights of my past 13 years and how they have shaped my present passion for authorship. You may recall in my last post that a visit to the Solomon Islands with AusAID inspired me to save the world’s children from injustice and poverty. When I dream, I dream big! Going solo clearly wasn’t an option, so I looked around for a workplace that would enable me to add my mite to the cause.

In terms of organisations that dream big they don’t get much bigger than World Vision. WV is a global advocacy, relief and development NGO with an annual budget of $2.5 billion and more than 50,000 staff working in almost 100 countries. It is Christian, child-focused and community based, and strives to ensure that children are healthy, educated, protected and given the opportunities to live full lives, free from injustice. I decided WV was the place for me.

I joined the organisation in 2006 as their head of public policy, based in Canberra. My job was basically to convince the Australian government to give more and better aid to address global poverty and to represent WV to them as a desirable partner for achieving this aim. Initially I engaged with John Howard’s conservative government that wasn’t really into development at all, but shortly afterwards Kevin Rudd swept to power and declared that Australia was getting back in the aid game. It was a heady time.

All the random skills I had developed in my eclectic career came together in this role. I was an advocate, communicator, facilitator, spokesperson, negotiator, trouble-shooter and of course, writer, though my writing now focused on developing compelling evidence-based policy recommendations and proposals. I managed to get quite a few runs on the board and caught the eye of those higher up the WV hierarchy. WV is a federated structure, made up of a small Global Centre (the Feds), Support Offices (the ones that make the money, Australia, US, UK, Germany etc) and Field Offices (the ones where the real work of tackling poverty gets done).

I was tapped to go federal as WV’s global Director of External Relations. My job was now to coordinate representation of WV with UN agencies and processes like the G20. I would also become responsible for training our senior leaders and advocacy staff, building their skills for engagement and influence. The only problem was that I had to move to New York.

HWB loved it and I loathed it. The Big Apple might be a fun place to visit, but it wasn’t my cup of tea as a place to live. It is famously the city that never sleeps. I certainly didn’t. I was serenaded by a nightly cacophany of sirens, horns, reversing trucks and jack hammers. I waded through knee-deep snow to rat-infested trains and dodged racing commuters who would rather die than make eye-contact. I came home to Australia after my first 18 months and realised I hadn’t seen a star or a bird that wasn’t a pigeon or sparrow in all that time. Happily, my new role required me to do a lot of travel that enabled me to escape the city, and when I say a lot, I mean a LOT. I spent 25 of the first 52 weeks of my New York posting in far flung parts of the world, and over the past 10 years I’ve visited more than 50 countries in the line of duty. How lucky am I?

I’ve been privileged to visit many of WV’s programmes, meet with local communities and see first hand the difference that our work makes. I’ve trained advocacy staff and leaders around the world on how to influence their governments and hold them accountable. I’ve been shocked and saddened and enraged by injustices of all kinds, and inspired and awed by the resilience and persistent hope with which communities meet calamities beyond imagining.

Community meeting in Agra
Meeting child protection champions in Jakarta
Leading a session at a community consultation in Mali

Most inspiring of all have been the times when I’ve had a chance to meet and talk with children. Just look into the eyes of this little girl and see if it doesn’t make you want to leap forth and make the world a better place for her …

Malawi inspiration

Children aren’t just recipients of our aid. They are agents of their own destinies and one of World Vision’s aims is to empower children to be advocates themselves. I have participated in many children’s groups and heard kids from many backgrounds speak of their dreams and desires. They are so simple. Safety, enough food, a chance to go to school, a hope to be able to contribute to their communities. And always one kid who wants a new football and the construction of a playing field.

Kids in Tanzania

One of the most personally satisfying moments I had was in Nepal, just after the devastating earthquake in 2015. I had been visiting our WV disaster response centre in the north of the country and had asked if there was anything I could do personally. It’s sometimes hard to equate lobbying for an inclusion of a child rights clause in in a Global Compact in Geneva with a tangible difference for real children facing real problems in their communities. Our staff advised that there was a remote community whose little school had been completely destroyed. The children had nothing, but needed books and pens and backpacks. For a trifling (for me) amount of money I was able to have our team purchase enough kit for 50 children. We treked up the inaccessible mountain and delivered the little back packs of goodies to the children. I’ve never felt more alive.

Handing out school packs in Nepal

But is hasn’t all been work. Sometimes, when I had two trainings running back to back I would have a spare weekend in between gigs where I could escape the training room and explore a bit, and these snatched moments have offered me some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have white-water rafted the source of the Nile in Uganda,
made bouza (sort of dumplings) in a yurt in Mongolia, hung out with the Maasai in the Mara, been photographed in the Lady Di pose at the Taj Mahal, had close encounters with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, zip-lined in Costa Rica and sailed a dhow at sunset in the waters off Zanzibar.

Hangin’ with the Maasai

Apart from the gratitude I have for living in lovely Narooma, and for my dear family and friends, I am filled to the brim with thankfullness for the chance that I’ve had to get a glimpse into so many cultures and the lives of so many children. We talk about Australia being the lucky country. Well it’s true, and it distresses me that so many Australians don’t always seem to realise just how lucky we are. The world is a rich and wonderful place, despite the ongoing injustices that still need to be challenged by the idealists and believers. There are stories of hope to tell, and I want to tell them.