So, I inhabit a pretty diverse space. Given the nature of my work, (as discussed here and here) many people I work with do not share my cultural background.

However it may seem that this is simply me departing my world and entering into that of my colleagues and peers. Well, yes to an extent it is. So even though I encounter regularly people from many different places and cultures and am often inspired and encouraged by their skills, abilities, courage and differing perspectives on the world. Believe me I am very privileged to work with amazing and inspiring people, here are a couple so you can get a glimpse of how lucky I am to do the work I do;

Dr Cynthia Maung; my organisation works with hers, the Mae Tao Clinic to provide vital and essential health care to Burmese refugees and migrant workers. Her clinic treats over 100,000 patients per year. She also has community programs for local schools and health worker training programs. Dr Cynthia has won many human rights awards for her work – she is a fantastic person Dr Cynthia profile

K’nyaw Paw: Is a young Karen activist, she works for the Karen Women’s Organisation and through KWO my work APHEDA supports a range of projects. From caring for nursery school children and unacompanied minors who need dormitory housing to complete their education to Womens Capacity Building and empowerment programs. K’nyaw Paw is currently being profiled by the Nobel Women’s Initiative because of her comitment and dedication to advancing women’s causes. here is more about KWO.

Charm Tong: is SUCH an inspiration! Before she was 30 she has been pivotal in establishing the Shan Women’s Action Network and the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth. Like K’nyaw Paw she is also a key activist and lobbyist for womens issues with the Women’s League of Burma…. Did I mention she is the most busy person I know! Here is an article from when she won a human rights award: but for current activities check out the SSSNY school.

And they are just 3 of my colleagues/peers! I work on 30 projects on the Thai Burma Border. If you want to support any – just see our website there is info about how to donate there (tax deductable if you are in Aus)

And from the Solomon’s:

The wonderful Merbilly, who is one of the first females to head an NGO in the Solomons. This woman has no limits! And the SKILLS project she is heading up is making real change in people’s lives: She is such a high achiever and the program is so lucky to have her

Merbilly is on the right (I am in the Middle) and our friend Margaret is on the left

The inspiring people from APHEDA’s community learning centres. These women are dedicating their time for little or no pay to ensure that the people in their community have opportunities to engage in learning and advancing themselves, either in practical skills (livelihoods and agriculture) or in numaracy and literacy. They are making a real difference;

And! Maybe you think I only find women inspiring… it is not true! Many men in both the Solomon Islands and Thai Burma Border dedicate themselves to bettering their community via working for non-government organisations, community based organisations and as volunteers. Here is my friend Grayham who I used to work with in the Solomons who is very committed to community and social justice issues. He is the only man in the Solomon Islands with Gender Studies qualifications, which is pretty amazingly progressive given the horrifically entrenched violence against women and women’s subjectification that occurs in that country – Grayham is a man committed to changing that – he needs all the support he can get 🙂 awesome guy.

Gray holding a workshop

But that is me, and my working life. Obviously my children will not come with me on work trips – so will they get the cultural exposure they need?

How will they, growing up in Australia with ‘white’ parents, feel not only ok about themselves? But connected to their cultural heritage, inspired to dream big, become whatever they want in the world etc. Where will they see role models and personal heroes?

Well, firstly. Husbot and I can never pretend to fully replicate our children’s cultural heritage; we can not and will not be able to raise our children in a replica Thai environment here inSydney. Although I go to Thailand often and know quite a bit about Thailand I can never pretend to understand Thai culture fully. In fact even people who live there for years cant.

That won’t be our ambition. But although Husbot and I are ‘white’ Australian and carry our own cultural baggage we do not now feel defined by our cultural heritage. We are hardly a ‘meat and potatoes’ family. Much of the way we live – being Buddhist (me), vegetarian (me), environmentally aware and embracing cultural traditions from other cultures (especially Tibet) may not be considered ‘fringe’ these days but is certainly a departure from the way our parents and grandparents lived. We can’t help but be influenced by years of living and working in Asia and the pacific and the close connection with communities we have embraced.

Many of our friends and colleagues were born overseas or born in Australia and still raised with their Asian cultural back ground. In our workplace in Sydney alone I have worked with people who were originally from; South Africa, Sri Lanka (Tamil), Indo-Fijian, Vietnam, Nepal, Indonesia, England, Chinese-Malay. Not only that but I work with people who are gay and lesbian, with people who are agnostic/ atheist, Christian (including Catholic, Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists etc), Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim.

We are friends with the Tibetan community in Sydney (and Brisbane) and the many in the Burmese community and as well as participating in activist activities we go to Losar (Tibetan New Year) and celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday each year with the community. We celebrate Karen New Year and usually I have been in Thailand for Loi Kratong (but not this year 😦 )

And our friends are a lovely mix of people born in Australia and people not born inAustralia, and people born in Australia but have a diverse cultural background.

Here is a photo of a good friend of mine and her husband at their wonderfully colourful wedding in Nepal that Husbot and I were privileged to attend; 

In other words through us, our children will not only be surrounded by white people, they will know children with diverse backgrounds and will be able to see many people in various professional capacities with diverse backgrounds as role models.

But, children do not only experience their world view from their parents. And like I said before the number of times our children contact our work colleagues will probably be limited. So what about the wider community where we live?

Well I was surprised when someone recently commented that the area we lived in was exclusive and all white! Apparently that is the perception of Sydney’s north by people who don’t live here.

But they see this area very differently to how I see it! So who was right? Who was wrong? To get the answer I consulted the statistics (from census) listed on this website:  Northside Community Forum

Which says: The Northern Sydney region is a culturally and linguistically diverse region with 33.5% (240,380 people) of its population born overseas, which is significantly higher than the NSW average of 23.8% and the Australian average of 22.2%. Moreover, 21.7% (158,212 people) of its residents speak a language other than English (LOTE) at home, which is slightly higher than the NSW average of 20.1% and a lot higher than the Australian average of 15.8% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007; Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2008).

With the Warringah area (where we live) always appearing in the top 3 in terms of diversity in languages other then English, and people born overseas.

But I knew that already! Because as I said before (it takes a village) we have already selected the school we want our children to go too – Dee Why Public School – it has children from 36 Nationalities in attendance, it is quite close to where we live and we are sure it will be sensitive to any special needs our children will have (we know they run a special program for Tibetan refugees who may need special attention so we are sure they will be sensitive to any adoption issues that could arise).

So I feel assured that our children will certainly not feel constrained by an all ‘white’ Australian upbringing. I think also they will not feel that we tried to replicate some sort of fake Thai existence in Sydney (by buying Thai food and hanging up a few decorations from holidays in Thailand)…. In fact at this stage I predict complete cultural mish-mash. LOL there are worse things that can happen!

I think I said before that after celebrating Australian/Western New Year, then Losar (Tibetan New Year), Karen New Year, and possibly Songkran (if the weather permits water throwing!) my children will either be wondering which one is the ‘real’ new year….. Or think that 4 years have passed in a few short months!!  Very funny!