Sunday, 13 May 2018

Our SWY Stories (Ship for World Youth program by the Cabinet Office of Japan)

We embarked on a journey not knowing what we’d find. Like explorers, our expectations were challenged at every turn and we each faced personal and common battles. 
240 young leaders aged between 18-30 from 12 countries around the world

The first two weeks in Japan seemed comfortable, despite the cell-like accomodation in Tokyo and a rural home stay with friendly strangers who don’t speak English.

The four weeks that followed were spent on board a ship called the Nippon Maru. It had 8 floors, however two of which were strictly off limits. I harshly learned “rules are NOT made to be broken” and that the admin army on board rule with an iron fist. 

That however was not the greatest lesson, nor even mattered when I fell incredibly ill three weeks into the program. Being so sick with flu, infection and cough during the leg from Singapore to India, then Sri Lanka back to Singapore, I realised I took my health for granted. When I was finally well (a trip to Singapore hospital and over 15 prescribed medicines later) I tried to make up for lost time by spreading myself across all events and conversations. 

The ship became my mental playground, as I was able to strengthen my confidence and public speaking ability each time I grabbed a mic. There were countless opportunities to share ideas and network, which I am most grateful for. 

The one-on-ones, the group laughs and “in” jokes based on performances and personal traits did it for me. They, or should I say, the people who openly shared themselves with me were the champions of the program.

I love how humans have the ability to forget pain and negative emotion, or flip it around to create positive memories once all is said and done. I was frustrated. I was challenged and at times I felt defeated over the 6 weeks. But now, months later, I can smile, laugh even, about all of it. Because it’s totally me. We are all responsible for the journey, the expectations, the frustrations and the fun. 

This was my SWY story....But what about the other 240 participants? Here's a small selection of personal stories from some of the other inspirational souls who participated in the SWY30 program, funded and coordinated by the Japanese government annually.
Casey from Australia

Meet Buntu Majaja, age 25 (he thinks).

Buntu saw snow for the first time during his home stay in Japan, thanks to the Ship for World Youth program. During Port of Calls in India and Sri Lanka he created other memorable moments, such as visiting a “temple-business school” and observing thousands of youth engaged in community work.

As a result of the program, Buntu realised he must create his own life path, rather than let others determine what’s important. He believes accolades or possessions are just stepping stones to something greater. Buntu is thankful for what he’s learned in the past and looks forward to “designing the life [he] wants to live” from now into the future.

To be “fully blessed by the SWY experience,” Buntu felt he needed to let go of his expectations; that he had to forget the way he was used to doing things back home in South Africa. When he did, he learned new things about himself and deeply valued the genuine conversations and friendships he developed.

Buntu believes it's impossible to measure how the SWY program and people have impacted his life. He explained the “interconnectedness” of everything that occurred makes it too difficult to isolate one defining moment. However, he said when he thinks or speaks of the second last day on board the ship, he cries happy tears. Buntu said he “never valued every second of the day like I did that day.”

When Buntu joined the program his main aim was to explore new business opportunities. Upon returning to South Africa, he returned to the path he was on; only now he has the support of an ever-growing SWY family.

Buntu said he can only sum up the SWY program with "domo arigato gozaimasu".

This is a small part of Buntu’s SWY Story. 

Buntu from South Africa

Meet Noemi Del Castillo, age 26.
“I actually couldn't believe I'd been selected,” says Noemi, “I thought the program was meant for people involved in politics or international relations.” Noemi is an inspirational music teacher from Mexico. She describes her SWY experience as “surreal” right from the beginning.

One of Noemi’s biggest take-aways from the program was learning everyone can be a leader, and not all leaders are the same. She believes sometimes all it takes is one person to listen, care and truly believe in a person to unlock their potential. How great is it to think we can give someone that gift?!

Having the ability to overcome shyness and fear of rejection was one of Noemi’s greatest challenges. She explained over the course of the program, she “learned to stop hiding behind other people, and to believe [she] was able to manage a team or activity and make things work.” She also came to the stunning realisation that she “was able to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger and be OK if that person did or did not like [her].” Noemi says, “now, after so many beautiful friendships, and meaningful conversations, I know it´s worth the world to face your fears to find so much beauty inside of others.”

Noemi speaks fondly of the ever-changing landscape she witnessed during the program. Arriving in Japan, she enjoyed a colourful welcome from the 243 fellow participants. Shortly after she noticed the soft winter hues outside the window, recalling she “couldn´t decide which was more beautiful.” She admired the changing colours of the sea while on board the Nippon Maru. She watched a storm in the middle of the sea and gazed up at the stars. She recalls watching the sun set in India, “seeing how the colours in the foam from the waves created a thousand kinds of blue!!”
In the future Noemi wants to create an association that provides free medical services to children with disabilities, while also promoting different cultures through free music lessons. She’s equality interested in studying and teaching music therapy. She hopes to gain government support and recruit volunteers with an interest in music and/or working with children who have special needs. Noemi will continue to share her moving personal story and musical talent throughout the world; no doubt spreading happiness and joy to other people, and inspiring children and youth to go for their dreams and fight for what they believe in.

This is a small part of Noemi’s SWY Story.

Noemi from Mexico

Meet Marcos Sozinho Nicangala, 25 years old.

Marcos wrote himself a clear set of goals before he left his home country, Mozambique, to join the SWY program; he wanted to learn about the culture of other global participants and build everlasting friendships; to develop a deep understanding of how to make the world a better place; and to inspire others by sharing his unique life experience and dreams.

One of Marcos’ greatest realisations during SWY was that the world is no one’s property, and we are all so fortunate to lend the land for a short period of time. He also came to the conclusion, “we don’t just live for ourselves, but we also live to serve others.”

Marcos recalls spending two nights with his host family in Japan as a remarkable experience. “I felt so loved and respected by them,” he explains, “they looked after me as their own family. They showed me love, care and consideration. It was awesomely awesome.”

Marcos celebrated his 25th birthday on board the Nippon Maru. That morning during assembly over 240 participants sung him Happy Birthday. The surprise arranged by his letter group made him so happy, he says his eyes welled up with tears of joy. “They spoiled me all day long and wrote me touching messages,” recalls Marcos, “I really loved it.” He attributes his increased self-confidence to the unconditional love and respect everyone in his letter group showed. Marcos says hearing words of encouragement helped him believe in himself and realise he is a skilled presenter.

“I have a dream...,” says Marcos, “...a dream to build schools so that orphans and vulnerable children have access to a good education.” He explains many children in rural areas cannot go to school. “In most cases, these children don’t go to school because their caregivers cannot afford to buy uniforms, bags and other school materials.” Marcos dreams of building schools with dormitories so students can receive the food and sleep they need to concentrate in class.

This is a small part of Marcos’ SWY Story.

Marcos from Mozambique

Meet Haru Okaniwa.

She’s an inspirational 23-year-old Japanese woman. She participated in the SWY30 program because she wanted to network with young professionals who “aspire to create a better world”.

One of her favourite moments during the program was giving “one of the best speeches in [her] life” in front of the 244 participants on board the ship. She explained whilst in the moment she trusted the words she spoke, rather than what she’d prepared on paper. The experience helped her become more sure of herself and her vision for the future.

Haru plans to enrol in a Master’s program to study Entrepreneurship so she can create innovative services that grow and circulate compassion throughout the world.

This is a small part of Haru’s SWY Story. 

Haru from Japan

Meet Beatriz Jiménez López, age 21.

"I could only be certain of three things when I signed up to participate in the SWY program; it would be a cultural exchange; we would be at sea; and the goal was to create a new generation of leaders.

I never expected it to impact me the way it did.

The people I met reminded me there’s a whole world of other thoughts and opinions out there, which is something I think we often forget; it’s easy to get caught up thinking your way is the right way; despite differences of opinion, background and birthplace, we all managed to find commonalities between us and offer something to each other. We shared our skills, compassion and goals to make the experience enjoyable and meaningful for all.

As I’m in the process of completing a degree in Translation and Interpreting, I’m still trying to figure out my role in the world and how I can develop into the leader I want to become. I think I'd like to provide translation/interpretation services for disadvantaged groups within society, such as people being trialled in the criminal court. This service would ensure they can clearly express themselves using their native language and fully understand what’s happening.

At times during SWY I would judge myself harshly, using others as a way to compare my accomplishments. I had to remind myself to use others’ successes as a source of inspiration, rather than an opportunity to put myself down. I learned it’s best to just start “doing,” rather than talking about it. So now that I’m back home in Spain, that’s what I plan to do."

This is a small part of Beatriz’s SWY Story.
Beatriz from Spain

Meet Keith Honwin, age 20.
During the SWY program Keith learned a lot about himself and developed a love for writing poetry. He took great pride in sharing his work with others to help them learn and grow.
Keith acknowledged he had difficulty adapting to new processes and ways of thinking during the program, describing the experience as confusing at first. But he persisted and as a result now believes “everything is possible.” He explained, “we all have capabilities. There’sno need to be or feel small in the world.”

During the program Keith met Akino Sakina, a Japanese participant, who had a profound impact on his life. He said she changed his mind on many “things that define [him].” Keith “never expected that to happen in such a small amount of time.”

While living in Mozambique, Keith will create a language program called YEP; an idea he and peers came up with during the program. Overall, he aims to empower young people to make their dreams come true and achieve global unity.

This is a small part of Keith’s SWY Story.

Keith from Mozambique

Visit the official SWY page for more info about the program and how to become involved

Friday, 24 November 2017

Why I Like Kids More Than Adults: A great little read if you've had a crap day.

I went for a run-quickly-turned-walk along Sunrise/Sunshine beach this afternoon to skip around in the waves and do other child-like movements that might make others question my sanity.

I came across a long stick as I was heading back; at the time I was digging my big toes into the sand to create lines, but this looked like a much better option. I picked it up and began leaving a trail of squiggles behind me. The lines were so crisp, I couldn’t help but stop and draw a face by the water’s edge.

The face looked weird without hair, then a head with no body looked even weirder. After about 45 minutes, I’d drawn a mermaid with long wavy hair reaching into the white wash. The final addition was a speech bubble saying, “Smile, we are in paradise!” I ran over to the nearest sand dune to admire my work.

While trying to capture a photo of my masterpiece, despite the awkward light and angle, a mother and her young children stopped as they reached the mermaid's body. I walked over to the boy who was trying to read what it said in the speech bubble. As I helped him read the word “paradise,” his mum approached and asked if I drew it. They looked so delighted to meet the artist. I picked up the stick I’d placed in the mermaid’s hand and offered it to the boy. I told him he could add to my picture if he'd like. He told me it was already good, so instead he’d draw a smiley face beside it.

As the family walked away, the boy kept turned back and waving with a huge grin. I placed the stick back in the mermaid’s hand and continued to walk home, which happened to be in the same direction they were going. The boy stopped briefly ahead of me; his mother turned back, still smiling, and waved him along.

I was yet to put my earphones back in before I reached the spot where he'd been crouching down. I’m so glad I didn’t miss the special message he wrote in the sand for me; it read “Than you.”

Only two days ago I wrote a blog about how important it is to take time out to just “be,” to do things for ourselves and others. This fleeting exchange on the beach serves as a perfect example that. Each little heart-warming moment reminds that good things often come from being present and kind.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Life Update

Friends and family more commonly ask, “Where are you?” than “How are you?” these days, based on my Instagram posts. I thought maybe it’s time I share what I’ve been up to over the past few months, as well as what’s ahead.

Where am I?

I arrived back in Noosa two days ago, after spending four days in Canberra and three in Melbourne. I didn’t know how far south I was going to be when I booked my flights; I booked the Gold Coast which meant I had to drive 3.5 hours prior to departure, then back again afterwards. Before my trip to Melbourne, I felt foot-loose and fancy free, so I gave myself a day to explore a few spots along the coast. I stopped in at King’s Beach and South Bank in Brissy for a little looky loo and sight-seeing.

Inside Yayoi Kusama's installation at GOMA, Brisbane

At this very moment I’m laying down on my king-single size bed (except it’s a little shorter in length) in the van, my laptop screen surrounded by darkness. I would usually have dewy fairy lights on for ambiance, but one wire snapped last week, causing mayhem across the circuit. My left foot is itchy because a mozzie bit me while I was packing clean dinnerware into the back slide-out cupboard.   

My van is parked in the yard of a family I now consider myself part of. We live two streets back from Sunrise Beach in Noosa. I still can’t believe how I met them and how things have worked out so perfectly. Prior to my arrival, I joined a Facebook group called Noosa Community Notices or something like that. I posted an ad, I guess you’d call it, asking whether anyone would let me park my van in their yard and use their bathroom for a small amount of rent. My new family offered within a few hours, and have since invited me into their home and lives with open arms. Last night I took the 12-year-old to her dance rehearsals, and the night before that, taught the 7-year-old how to play scrabble.

Teaching the young chap how to play scrabble on the old board I brought up from Melbourne

What am I doing?

It’s as though I haven’t been working for a while now, given I only commit time to things that I really enjoy doing. If that’s too abstract for some people to comprehend, let’s say I “work” about 15 hours a week, if money is your preferred measuring stick. The rest of my time gets divvyed up into helping others and doing things that make me happy; sometimes the line between those things blur.

I usually write poems, songs or nonsense, or produce some sort of art daily; most of which I erase or store away. I talk to people in passing without worrying about where else I could or should be. I only skip the beach on days when the rain is heavy; most times I take a dip and get my hair wet and sandy. Lately I’ve been parking the van in public places while I make lunch, which tends to intrigue those passing by. I have given countless “tours” of my van to young and old couples who are keen to begin their own on-road adventure. I’m getting used to hearing how “unusual” it is for a girl to travel the country on her own.

Inside my van, taken from the rear

Feeling sun-kissed and fabulous on Sunshine Beach 

Majority of those 15 hours of “work” I mentioned are contracted out to me, based on my experience as an educator and writer. Over the past few months, I’ve worked on projects such as developing e-learning modules and units for schools and global online communities, facilitating workshops to educate teachers and students, working with young people to understand their needs and acting as an education consultant for various organisations and departments. When I know I’m going to stay put for a while I approach local schools to work as a casual teacher, or offer to run my creative writing workshop with primary students. I really mean it when I say no two days are the same; one day I’m designing the graphics for a community garden’s road sign, and the next I’m reading words off a Teleprompter for an educational video.

Filming inside Stupid Old Studios in Brunswick, Melbourne

How am I doing?

I’m happy and healthy. I’m slowly learning how to be less critical of myself and others. I see the value in reserving lots of time to let my instinctive creativity leak out. Without needing to tend to house cleaning, gardening, sorting mail and bills, and all those other mundane tasks that come with permanent residency, I have a lot of spare time to just “be,” and base my decisions on how I feel in the moment. “Oh, how lucky you are,” I can imagine some of you saying right now. What you probably don’t realise is you can have a similar life if you’re prepared to give up most of the things you currently have; secure housing, a sense of belonging, things, so many things, community groups, a regular income…the list goes on. I’ve worked out how to live without those things for now, but it’s certainly not a life for everyone.  

View from inside my van, parked at Noosa Main Beach

What’s Next?

I was recently in Canberra to meet a group of “youth leaders” like myself who were selected to participate in an intensive cross-cultural program funded by the Japanese government, starting January 2018. We will arrive in Tokyo on the 17th and board an ocean liner sailing to Sri Lanka, making brief stops in Singapore and India. There will be 240 participants between ages 18-30 from countries such as Peru, Mexico, Mozambique, Poland and South Africa. Over 6-weeks we will learn about each other’s culture and perspectives on global issues.

When I return to Australia at the beginning of March, I plan to pick up where I left off with the van, which will be awaiting my return in Melbourne. I’ve learned not to plan too far ahead because I’m forever changing my mind, but I’d really like to spend the remainder of the year driving through the centre of Australia and back down the west coast, to arrive back in Melbourne for Christmas 2018.
Next week I’ll be back in Melbourne for another short stint of “work.” Come mid-December I’d say I’ll be lingering around Byron. On December 30th I will be clinking glasses with the fam in Coffs Harbour, as my big bro will be marrying his girlfriend of 12 years (or some other big number that makes people question why they’re not already married).

SWY30 Delegation with the Japanese Ambassador in Canberra

PS. I know lots of you read this because I see the stats. Don’t go through the whole rigmarole asking the questions I’ve just answered next time me meet because you don’t want to admit you read my posts. Be real. Let’s get deep and talk about how you’d answer these same questions if you were given 1000 words.

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