Then I decided to follow up on a then new passion of mine: climbing mountains. So I chose a small country with big mountains to go to named Kyrgyzstan (also the world’s most difficult country to spell). I was instantly mesmerised by the 7000m mountains that filled my horizons and the beauty of the culture and people. While I was getting my Kyrgyz visa in London, one of the consulate staff said they had a friend who I should visit while there, a professor at a university in the east of the country. I was a newly graduated teacher myself so I thought this would be a good idea to go and visit and maybe volunteer for a week before I took off to the mountains.
That week has more or less lasted for the past 15 years and now in over 80 countries.
I completely fell in love with volunteering, cultural immersion and working with people to address issues of equality and justice. In my first month of volunteering in beautiful Karakol, in eastern Kyrgyzstan, I worked with an incredible group of women my own age and learnt more from them that I had learnt from anyone else in my life to that point. While I got a degree from a university in Australia, it was really the university in Kyrgyzstan that gave me an education in life.
A few months after my volunteering in Kyrgyzstan and then Mongolia I did some paid teaching in South Korea. There was a moment in South Korea that it hit me:. Why…? Why me…? Why was the world so unequal? That moment was when the paper money of Korean Won hit my hand after my first week of teaching. I had just been paid more money per hour than my friends and colleagues in Kyrgyzstan earned in a month, but here’s the thing - I didn’t worker harder than my friends, I wasn’t smarter, I didn’t work longer hours. The only difference between us was where we were born. Having been born in Australia, I had access and opportunity to do what I wanted in the world.
When I felt the world shift as the cold facts of reality and injustice dawned on me, it struck me that I had to do more to find out answers and work on solutions. My journey since Kyrgyzstan 15 years ago has taken me into two definite strands of life:
What Giving What We Can has added to my life is not only a framework to have my financial justice house in order by giving at least 10% of any money I earn (since I don’t earn a salary from any one organisation and mostly still volunteer). It has also given me an opportunity to advocate on why overseas aid is important, how effective it is, and why I care and contribute not only in donations but also in time, effort, energy and passion towards making sure we all have access and opportunity no matter where we are born.
In September this year I visited Kyrgyzstan once again for the first time in 15 years. I no longer saw the same level of extreme poverty. It seemed people no longer had to make terrible choices between less food per day or to buy the medicines they needed. That is the basic kind of choice and opportunity I hope to see for everyone, everywhere and forever.
Giving What We Can is not only about getting our finances in order. It is also about engaging us with great people doing great things. So be sure to not just give your money but also lend your voice as to why giving is important to you. I strongly encourage everyone to share with others - especially your local MP - why you care about making a difference in the world and be a part of the solution for a better world for everyone, everywhere and forever.
Your voice is just as important as your donation. It is up to us to create a community and culture of being generous to others, so that our community, business and political leaders can also follow our lead or make good decisions on our behalf. We are lucky to be able to be part of the movement that can end extreme poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet. Make sure others know about it and the positive impact Giving What We Can is having on the global community, contributing to opportunity for all.