Selamat Detang!

Today I’m writing from hot, sticky Malaysia so Selamat Detang! It’s been a week since I left Africa, so as I said earlier,  it’s been surreal to be in my third continent within a week! I’ve missed Africa so much since leaving, but the Symposium has acted as a fantastic debrief from my trip as we’ve discussed issues of aid and development and I’ve had many opportunities to share about my recent experiences, things I’ve learnt and since reflected upon.

I thought I’d write a quick recap of the three days we’ve spent at the conference (it’s going so quickly!) and some things we’ve heard from the speakers which have really caused me to think and will hopefully consider you to think too!

Monday served as an introduction to the Symposium’s theme of building dreams and we heard from two speakers about development work, sharing resources globally and starting our own projects. I wasn’t able to catch the names of the speakers (long names here) so hopefully will found them out soon and be able to profile them a little! Regardless, we learnt that working in the humanitarian field is all about cooperation and collaboration! If often feels in this field that so many NGOs are doing the same thing, but spending more as they’re not sharing resources – I think it would be fantastic to expand these ideas of cooperation and collaboration across aid and development organisations in Australia as the sharing of resources is invaluable to achieving the central goal of the majority of these organisations – eradication of extreme poverty!

We spent the afternoon in traditional costume as we enjoyed an official opening ceremony with various Malaysian officials in attendance. I wore a dress from Ghana and pretended I was an honorary African (there are 2 at the conference!).  After the ceremony we spent time with our core group, 30 delegates from the 310 that are part of the Symposium. There is a large Korean contingent here and I am continually impressed and inspired by their passion and stories from work they’ve begun in Korea!

My group has begun to prepare a piece for Thursday night when every group will participate in ‘Show Buzz’ – a performance show featuring all 10 groups performing in front of the public in the local mall! Thought daunting, our group have decided to perform a piece about child labour, acting out the process of being bought into labour, and juxtaposing this with consumerism in the West that fuels this terrible industry.

During a quick hour of free time (we’re on a pretty tight and busy schedule!) we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool before dressing for our official dinner with the minister of Melaka – including a police escort to the restaurant!

On Tuesday we had the amazing privilege of hearing from Geraldine Cox, an Australian living in Cambodia for the past 15 years building children’s homes for the many vulnerable and poor children of this war-stricken and impoverished country. She was truly inspiring and I admire her courage and humility when dealing with over 300 children who now call her mum! She said many thought-provoking things, but leaving a big impression in my mind was hearing her say that she’s learnt “not to waste energy on things she cannot change”. Aid workers are often overwhelmed with too many issues and find themselves putting efforts into many little issues rather than channelling on their energy into one issue that they can change – she has really encouraged me to reflect on the field/area I’m most passionate about, so I can completely devote my time, energy and efforts there.

I’ve bought her book, so hope to write a review once I get around to reading it, I’m sure it will be a harrowing yet inspiring read.

We also heard from a woman that works with trafficking in Thailand, and a very passionate man that works with slum dwellers in the Philippines. We also had a brief talk from some government officials from Timor Leste. As you’ve probably noticed, the Symposium has a specifically Asian focus, so it’s been fascinating to learn about the plights and triumphs of those in our neighbouring countries!

Wednesday morning was spent at a Salvation Army project – ‘HopeHaven Centre for Special Children’. We got their expecting to be doing some crafts with the kids by were actually expected to entertain 40+ kids and adults! Most of the children have down syndrome at this centre, but there was also autism and a few other rare disabilities. The kids were such a delight to entertain – they love dancing, singing and lots of cuddles! We spent a couple of hours singing songs such as Give Me a Home Among the Gum Trees and Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes which was a lot of fun! Unfortunately these children can often be ostracised from society but in the few hours we had with them they showed me that they have so much to offer if they’re given a chance! (Not to mention their impressive dance moves!) We enjoyed a birthday celebration with the kids for all the August birthdays, and shared cake and lunch as we chatted to them about things they learnt at school.

After leaving the centre, we had a refreshing hour back at the hotel (spent in the pool for me!) before we headed out into Melaka for a heritage walk. We learnt about this historic town which has been occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, Japanese and the Chinese & Malay. The town is very beautiful and has many Portuguese influences in the buildings (beautiful coloured buildings and shutter windows!) The sun was SCORCHING though, with many of us retiring for the night with heat stroke (which called for another swim in the pool later!)

So far, it’s been a fantastic experience meeting people from so many different countries, hearing ideas and stories from those countries and witnessing the same passion which exists in all delegates here no matter what country we’re from! I look forward to more networking and hearing how each delegate will act upon what they’ve heard here when they arrive home.

Today we’ll be focusing on Show Buzz – our performance show which is apparently being filmed by SBS (?!) and then we’ll spend Friday discussing ways that we can start sustainable and worthwhile projects of our own when we return home.

Stay tuned for more Melaka updates soon!

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