In the past month, I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend time in Nepal, India and Sri Lanka engaging in various aid and development work. In fact, I’ve been very fortunate to have spent the last 15 years in over 80 countries listening and learning from the world.
During my time in Nepal, I helped to facilitate a project for a school just outside of Kathmandu that was still suffering from the effects of the earthquake that took place on ANZAC Day last year. On the day before my arrival at the Nepali school, an Australian Aid funded program had just passed through, giving students a medical check-up on their ears, noses and throats as well as providing simple but effective health education. While there were no Australians involved in this medical program (just the funding component, which is exactly how it should be), the head of the school, the school management committee and the parents association, all passed on their thanks to me. They reiterated how important the program was and how it provided much needed care for their children.
Just before leaving Nepal, I went to Kathmandu where I visited the wonderful Seven Women organisation. This not-for-profit empowers women in Nepal to secure livelihoods, provide shelter for women facing abuse and gives women of different abilities their first opportunity to learn, find work and be self-sufficient which is all incredibly empowering. Seven Women was founded by a young Australian woman, Stephanie Woollard, and is now fully operational in Nepal with local staff. Seven Women, now an example of a sustainable organisation with a strong local income stream, has flourished from the support it was given from fundraising and sales of the women’s products in Australia and can now stand on it’s own two feet.
Next up, I was off to India where I was grateful to have the opportunity to be writing global citizen curricula that will reach 2.5 million Indian students throughout the country. This opportunity came about from another Australian-born organisation – the Global Poverty Project.
The Global Poverty Project, aka Global Citizen, is now a huge phenomenon in the US, the UK and Canada with concerts attracting 60,000 people in Central Park in New York featuring acts such as Beyoncé, Pearl Jam, Ed Sheeran and more. Back in 2009, I helped in the early stages of launching the Global Poverty Project by creating their youth and schools program. While I worked largely as a full-time volunteer for over a year (as did most of the other staff), we did receive a vital grant from the Australian Government that enabled us to put some larger projects in place. This eventually led to a wonderful partnership with Plan International Australia and the youth/school program reaching over 300 schools in two years. While I wasn’t directly working under the banner of Australian Aid in India, I certainly know there was some grease in the cogs that helped me to be there.
At the moment, I’m in Sri Lanka where I’ve been soaking up the warm hospitality, generosity and kindness of this beautiful country. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said I work in aid and development during conversations with local people. They immediately ask me: “do you mean AusAid?” I reply: “kind of.” Why? One – because AusAid no longer exists due to cuts and restructuring under the current Australian Government and two – because I usually don’t work directly under Australian Aid projects as their prime objective is to support local people (in other words, not having people like me come in and tell them what to do).
There’s no doubt the people of Sri Lanka know, appreciate and smile when they learn I’m from Australia. People tell me about a bridge that was built, a school program that helped their children, health services for their community and in one case while in a meeting with someone from the World Bank, Australia’s lack of presence in Sri Lanka today. Although, Australia’s lack of presence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Australian Aid always acts as part of a bigger plan to empower people to empower themselves so they no longer need aid.
As for me now, I’ll head to Kyrgyzstan to work with UNICEF for a month on behavioural change communications for health promotion. From there, I’ll be in the Middle East working with the Gates Foundation on my own project with Teaspoons of Change and Polio Points – an education system for creating more effective and active global citizens.
In my view, thanks largely to what I get to experience on-the-ground on a daily basis, in all of these countries, Australian Aid makes a huge difference. There are always communities in a lot of need, meaning now isn’t the time (that said, it’s never ideal) for the Australian Government to turn its back on aid. Instead, we should value working and supporting others. We need to continue supporting the projects like the ones I’ve come across in the past month that have big impacts.
None of these opportunities would have been possible without the support of Australian Aid – whether through their funding of Australian Volunteers International (AVI), which allowed me to volunteer in Ethiopia for a year in 2008, or supporting campaigning organisations such as RESULTS Australia and Global Poverty Project. I know I am part of working with people to find solutions and be an active supporter of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development because of Australian Aid.
For me, it’s a no-brainer that we need to stop cutting Australian Aid – not only morally, but also because of the incredible impact we can continue to have. It is time for Australians to feel as proud and honoured as I do to walk the streets of these countries and be appreciated for the country I come from because we have supported and offered generosity to their communities.
d’Arcy Lunn is Founder of Teaspoons for Change and an aid worker