Second home

Posted by on Mar 17, 2011 in Blog, Life, News & Events, Philanthropy, Travel | One Comment

My family considers Japan our second home.

We named our son Akira after a close friend we made while staying there a while back. We’ve visited many times and try and get back there as often as possible.

Akira studies Japanese for 80 minutes every day at school, in the hope that he forms a similar connection to a country his parents love. We perhaps went overboard as he has wanted to live there instead of Australia since the age of 5.

Akira’s best friend at school is Japanese, along with many other friends at his international school. He not only learns the language every day but delves deeply into the culture, environment, systems, flora, fauna, landscape, food and way of life in his ‘favourite place in the world’. Dan and I fight over who gets to help Akira with his Japanese homework to test our own flimsy grip on the language.

My first photographic exhibition was images from Japan and my hard drive is clogged with thousands of others from this wonderful country. The numerous artworks on our walls at home are a testament to our Japanophilic obsession.

My travel file is filled with details of our next planned journey to Japan, strangely enough to the north-east of the main island. Our close friend Noriko was due to travel back to her homeland last week but instead we sat with her at their table watching horror upon horror unfold.

I was about to sit down to a Chinese dinner with family when I first noticed the newsflash about the quake and tsunami. I honestly felt sick to the stomach and sat with my eyes glued to the corner TV instead of downing my roast duck.

Things of course haven’t improved much since then in terms of feeling any better about Japan’s devastation. I turn to the news frequently for updates but I’m a sensitive person and don’t last long when the human face of the tragedy is shown.

These are the most extraordinary people who have welcomed me into their country warmly and graciously over and over again.

One man drove his car 200km to return a bag I stupidly left on a bus and then apologised to me and gave me a gift. A waitress in a country town offered Dan and I a place to stay at her grandmothers house when we were cycling around the country. A bus load of elderly Japanese women bought Dan and I drinks after we cycled to the top of a particularly steep hill. Another lady drove around to every hostel in Nara throughout the night until she found the one we were staying at to return Dan’s jacket he had left at her restaurant.

These are extraordinary people. They are warm, gracious and welcoming. They are humble and stoic. They are also hilarious, fun and optimistic. They’re intelligent, talented and courageous. Many of them are our friends. All of them are our brothers and sisters. And I can’t begin to express how upset I am.

The world seems a little too fragile at the moment, doesn’t it? But we all have to remain positive, strong and kind-hearted. Please, do what you can to help. Trust me, the Japanese would give all they had if the situation was reversed.

x Andy

Girl in the Window


Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in Blog, Life, News & Events, Philanthropy | No Comments

Australia has awoken this morning to see the results of a Category 5 Cyclone that hit northern Queensland in the dark stormy depths of the night.

As we wait for word on the extent of the disaster many of us are wondering how we can help those affected. Again. All this after we have been giving to those affected by the devastating Queensland and Victorian floods of the past weeks. And then informed of the tax we will all be contributing to rebuild the areas in need.

This on top of the other ways we give. Our family supports a young disadvantaged girl in Sri Lanka and regularly support various causes via Get Up (an awesome activist group keeping the people and politicians honest). We’ve been involved in Movember (to the best of Dan’s follicly-challenged abilities) and I’ve been donating to AAPEC since the birth of Akira (after I nearly lost my life to the disease Pre-Eclampsia during Akira’s birth). We buy the Big Issue. We hit the streets to protest against war. We happily give a few bucks to the guys at the lights to wash our windows.

We’ve volunteered for various things, helped friends and family in need and take all our unwanted goods to those less fortunate than ourselves. Being a paramedic, you can imagine how many people Dan has helped whilst off-duty in our block of units, at car accidents and for strangers in street who have collapsed, fallen or hurt themselves in a myriad of ways.

Akira has been born into an environment of giving and is surprisingly generous for a child. He gives all unwanted toys to disadvantaged kids instead of selling them on ebay, he donates used books to Indigenous kids through his school and contributes to Christmas hampers for the needy. He loves his ‘Sri Lankan sister’ and hopes to go and visit her one day and give her as much as we can afford.

We are probably no more or less generous than other people in the country in terms of giving, though unfortunately Australia rates very poorly compared to other well-off countries (besides volunteering efforts, interestingly). Different states also have very different cultures of giving with NSW pathetically tight-pursed and Victoria leading the way by a country mile.

I know all this because I have worked for years in the philanthropic industry, administering and distributing funds from the generously wealthy to the not-for-profits across the country. What a fascinating world…full of ethical challenges, heart-wrenching need and tear-jerking generosity.

What would you do if a rich, powerful person gave you $1,000,000 to distribute to society? Would you go down the obvious roads of children’s cancer foundations, finding a cure for AIDS or crisis organisations such as the Red Cross? Would you neglect the arts as our government does? Would you direct funds to far-reaching issues such as childhood obesity? Work on saving the environment perhaps?

Would 1 mill even scratch the surface of these various needs? Would you give the whole lot to one organisation to try and make the greatest impact or give less to many organisations to try and spread the benefit? Would you give it all at once or funnel it over a few years to make sure the money was spent wisely? Do you put your trust in the organisation’s mission statement, the people in charge or the accountant?

I used to have to make these decisions. It’s not easy, let me tell you. Even if you were responsible for giving more like 10million it never feels like its enough. But its always worth it, no matter how small the amount.

In fact just one person can make a difference. And they don’t have to spend a cent. My son read about Rosa Parks yesterday, the woman largely responsible for abolishing racial segregation laws in America by making a simple stand against discriminatory laws. Akira also turns off the light every time he leaves a room. And he plans to invent the solar-power car (I can’t bring myself to tell him its already been done, I can only hope he takes it one step further and makes it a viable option for everybody).

And, yes, we can give more. Always. To those in Queensland. To our little friend in Sri Lanka. To an elderly aunt who spends her week longing for her regular visit to keep her heart strong. The great news is, its good for everybody. When we give, the physiological and emotional benefits are extraordinary (lucky we gave money to the boffins who researched this!) and the recipient obviously gains even more than us.

Really, if you travel the world you will realise how revoltingly well off we are in this country. Dan earns in one single day the entire amount our Sri Lankan daughter’s father earns in a year for toiling the fields every day, 14 hours a day, in the searing sun. We are lucky. Very lucky.

So go on people, give in. Keep on giving.

x Andy

Double Need