Saturday, 13 April 2013

                        INVESTING IN PEOPLE

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

On a plane to Launceston, Tasmania from Sydney recently an older bloke sat down in the aisle seat of my row. I was seated in the window seat and the space between us was empty. As I usually do I began to gather 'intel' to see what I could deduce about him. This is something I picked up partially through being a soldier and the saying 'time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted' although not totally relevant in this case, often pops into my head.
As soon as he sat down, off came the brown desert boots, a hole in one of his dark blue socks. A green fleece vest sat upon a stripy blue faded T-shirt which stretched slightly over his stomach. The grey in his beard, thin hair and clothes made him seem for all the world, unassuming. A man of the same era as my father.
We struck up a conversation after I enquired to the length of the flight and it progressed onto where we were from. Don it turns out worked at a bible college in Launceston and had moved there about 6 years ago from Whyalla, South Australia. Initially it wasn't permanent but he and his wife loved it so much they stayed and have no plans to return. 
Along with whatever general duties Don did at his bible college, he also travelled to do charity type work. He relayed a story to me about a recent trip he took with some other members of his christian church to Africa to deliver motorcycles to ministers in the area. It seems that the ministers areas can comprise of several hundred kilometers and they're the main source of not only redemption for the soul but also medicines, medical assistance and counseling. So this small band of the faithful flew into Uganda to pick up a bunch of slow and small but cheap and reliable, 100cc Chinese made motorcycles. The mission, to deliver these bikes to the ministers in the Democratic Republic of Congo to use as transport around their parishes. A trip of about 800km over mainly dirt roads. Truely an epic and slow journey through extremely hostile country which took two weeks to complete. After passing through one check point on their journey a truck a ways behind them was opened up on by soldiers with machine guns, killing the driver. When I asked Don why, he replied that the driver probably rubbed them the wrong way. I guess that's one way to put it.
Whilst in the DRC and staying in a city called Isiro , which has had documented cases of Ebola, Don realized that the system of charity that many of the poorer families were getting by on was floored. So with some locals of influence including nurses and a judge and using his own money, Don instigated a loan system. When I enquired as to how well it worked a smile spread across his ruddy cheeked face and he told me of a woman who came to borrow $15. With this $15 she bought a pot and ingredients to make batches of food. She set up a stand on the side of the road and sold her food. With the money she made, she paid back her loan and bought some small cooking utensils. She returned to borrow $25 shortly after and with that she bought a sheet of plastic so that her customers could eat in the shade, some more ingredients for cooking and selling and could even afford to send her children to school. The school system is free but you can't go unless you can afford to buy the uniform and books. In other words it worked brilliantly. By giving the people with purpose and plans or small businesses better access to more money than they would usually see and making them responsible for it as a loan, they were not only helping the individuals but assisting in the growth of the community and even getting the money back to be reinvested.
After returning home Don discovered a book called "The bank of Bob", about a man funnily enough named Bob who decided to find out if money he'd been donating was being used as intended and if it had helped. Bobs book led Don to an organization named Kiva.
Now Kiva is a totally not for profit organization established to help those in need all over the globe. What makes Kiva different though is that its very much like the system that Don set up in Isiro. Instead of making a donation you provide a loan to a person or group who have made a request through their local Kiva connected institution. Instantly I was skeptical about how these loans were repaid and what if they weren't. The loan amount however, the smallest being $25, is so insignificant that if its not paid back then so be it. I'd consider it a donation to some one in greater need than myself. Kiva's website boasts though that 99.01% of loans have been repaid and they've made in excess of $420 million dollars worth of loans since their inception, with 100% of the loan amount going to the applicant.  
As soon as i could i jumped on to the kiva website and threw caution to the wind and made quite a large loan to a group of women in Guatemala to assist in their business and in sending their children to school. That's right, you can even choose who your loan goes to. I'm totally blown away by the idea and love it to no end. I'm hoping that this one donation can be recycled and reused to change and assist in improving the quality of other people's lives.

To be totally clear I'm not writing to try and sell the idea to anyone but instead attempting to re-instill faith in our fellow man and woman. Good people are out there in the world doing good things for other good people and not just putting more money into another rich company's pocket.
I treasure the idea of being able to directly help people create and sustain a better life for themselves and their family. 
Thanks to my chance encounter with a man named Don who read a book by Bob, the bank of Paul is now open for business.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

"We acquire the strength we have overcome." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a little time with some AMAZING women.
These women just blow me away.
They're not women of industry or politics or even thriving women of corporate development but these women are strong and I don't just mean mentally.
These women are physically superior to some men that I’ve encountered in the military and back that up with an emotional strength that I hope that I can one day replicate.
Very early on in my recovery I was hopping around the Victoria Barracks Army gym in Paddington, Sydney.  Literally hopping around because I had just lost my leg and at that point didn't have a prosthetic. My good friend Brock drove me there every day so that I could relearn how to train, it was also great therapy for my mind.
One day out of the blue a pretty female soldier with a big smile and even bigger bright blue eyes approached me and apologised for staring at me. I was understandably taken aback. I was at the time extremely self-conscious and had developed a technique to deal with all the stares, where if I didn't look at anyone then they weren't looking at me. Yet, here was this woman bolt upright in my face apologising for staring. I looked away and mumble an uncomfortable response of, “It's ok, no worries”.  But she continued and said to me that she had only been admiring my eyes and was just having a perv.  I was shocked, embarrassed and secretly pretty chuffed that I was getting checked out, especially when I wasn’t at the time feeling very good about myself.
Three years on and this same women who took strength from seeing me start my training is now a strong independent single mother and working as part of Brisbane's Soldier Recovery Centre at Enoggera Army base. Not only raising her own child after a physically and mentally abusive relationship but also doing her best to develop a system to get injured, wounded and ill soldiers back to work with the help of a small undermanned and under equipped team.
I recently had the opportunity to donate some time to speak to this group and share my story and my tools and techniques of physical and mental recovery, thanks solely to this woman’s belief in me. I gave a group presentation and then had some time to chat with just the soldiers. We finished the day with some fitness therapy at Crossfit Michelton. A “box” owned and run by Phillip Cosgrove, the son of ex CDF General Peter Cosgrove. Corporate key note speaking is what I do now as a fulltime job since transferring to the Navy Reserves Diving team but the greatest reward of this job is the time it allows me to try and help those most in need, our wounded, ill and injured soldiers for example. The following night this woman secured her absolute strength in my mind by competing in the open Crossfit games and performing admirably.
I took along to these games a friend of mine who is also a young strong single mother. A mother who has raised her child through absolute brutality to herself. Through out the Crossfit games, this young pretty mother and her passionate child screamed support for competitors that they didn't even know, actually drowning out others around them, especially when cheering for the girls. They have a bond unbelievably strong not just built between mother and daughter but secured between every woman and themselves, whether they know them or not. A bond so strong because the mother has had every bone in her face broken, because she has been choked unconscious, because she has had to be the unwavering rock so that her daughter will never have to be afraid as she was. I had the pleasure of admiring how this small unconventional family operated and couldn't help but become wrapped up in it. I learnt that a young child could have a heart so big that when she found out animals were hurt in our world, she shed actual tears for them. That a mother could love and want to protect her child so much that they learnt and practised martial arts together and have bond that even when I tried to give the daughter a present for her and her mum, she still felt guilty and questioned me.
A nine year old girl said to me, “money is to be earnt, not to be given'.