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Half way through his Service Year, Tom Jenkins has a lot to say about what he has gained so far from his experience living in Thailand.
Coming into the second half of the year has been somewhat of a shock, not only because of the realisation of the limited time I have left but also because of the speed at which this point has arrived. The past six months have been nothing less than amazing, the experiences are ones I will cherish for the rest of my life and the friendships forged will be ones that will remain strong as the years pass. Teaching has been extremely rewarding, watching the kids develop their English ability as well as seeing them grow as young people truly makes the work worthwhile. Whilst amazing, teaching the students is a very tiring job, not only are you running classes and preparing lessons, you are also getting to know the students and teachers on an individual level day by day. It is the interactions with teachers though that is perhaps most astonishing. While most are kind and work hard enough for the students, it is the level of effort some teacher’s put in which is most disheartening. Arriving late to school and classes and continual absences from school are not uncommon among Thai teachers and allows greater insight into the attitudes of some Thai people towards the minority races, who call the mountains home. This rift, which exists between the Thai and Minority Karen, Hmong and Thai Yai people, often pushes individuals of these heritages to a degree of shame which pollutes their desire to be part of their culture, often avoiding interaction within their community and culture, out of embarrassment and fear of judgment by Thai people. While discussing this topic with a close friend of mine from a neighboring village, he told me that when children begin school in kindergarten, these students are told not to do, as their own culture would have it. While this behavior by teachers has decreased in recent years, I’ve heard stories in which Thai teachers refer to their students by the derogatory terms, which were created by Thai people to refer to these minorities.
It is my experience of the cultures I have been living with for the past six months, however, which have become my most rewarding experiences. Becoming one with the culture, assimilating into the community and learning about their ways of life have allowed me a greater understanding of my role here. Not only am I an English teacher, but also a student, learning about the ways of life, which are, in many ways, being quickly altered as a result of outside influences. To be able to become part of a society, which is so drastically different from my own, has been truly amazing. There is a level of community and hospitality, which does not exist within Australia that is so fulfilling to experience. What I have learnt from these people are lessons which one could never learn in school, lessons which I hope I will be able to replicate in my own life upon my return to Sydney.
As Harry Ryan reaches the halfway point in his service year, he looks back at the first six months fondly...
Looking back and realising that I have almost completed 6 of my 12 months in Thailand is very hard to believe. As many boys have said previously time is moves incredibly fast over here. I am extremely pleased that I embarked on this incredible journey for 12 months, as I would be thoroughly disappointed if my time in Thailand was to come to an end now.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be one of the three Riverview boys that have committed a year of service in Thailand, and to have the help from boys over here now, and previous service year boys, which has been incredibly beneficial.
There are currently 13 of us here in Thailand at the moment located in villages called Huay Tong, Bangkad, and Mae Pon. We regularly get together in Huay Tong and occasionally in Chiang Mai city to meet up and exchange stories and ideas on our service in our schools and communities, and to help each other learn the Thai language.
As cliché as it sounds, every day in Thailand presents something different however one thing that never changes is a constant generosity and good nature the people we work with. The teachers, and even students, at the school are more than willing to give up their time to help you either learn the language, or get to know the rich culture of Thailand.
One of the countless stories that show their endless generosity happened to me during the first month. The boys at Huay Tong were looking for one of the many waterfalls that surround us when my motorbike broke down.
After encouraging the boys to leave me behind to look for a mechanic I found myself at the bottom of hill and, after attempting to push to bike up the hill, a local boy, who knew very little English and I knew very little Thai at the time, arrived on the scene. Half an hour later he managed to somehow fix the bike and, before he sent me on my way, he told me that he went to school at Huay Tong and knew that we were the new boys working for the project, and was incredibly happy that he could help. This is but one of a many stories I could tell of problems we have had and the local people cheerfully helping us.
To finish this very brief reflection, I can’t begin to tell you how great it is to finish a day with a kindy student cheerfully yelling out “good morning teacher” at 3:30 pm while riding your bike home from school.
Josh Conlon is nearly halfway through his Service Year and realising how hard it is going to be to say goodbye to his second home, Chuuk.
This week brought back something the last month has been lacking, a purpose. The start of the local summer school has finally brought with it a return to the classroom. The return of purpose has meant the boredom that has plagued us for the last month has finally been alleviated, but somewhat unexpectedly it has also alleviated my desire to leave. It has been a hard few weeks, seeing many of the Americans leave. Colleagues and friends whose absence has already been distinctly felt. Students and teachers alike wept during goodbyes and final nights on the roof while filled with their usual laughter had a somber shadow looming over them. It is a testament to the magic of this place that despite the at times difficult living conditions and the unavoidable frustrations of life here, almost all were visibly reluctant to leave. I came in expecting this to be a great year, and sure I had high hopes. But I did not expect this, I did not expect to find a family in the repurposed husk of Imperial Japan's war effort, I did not expect to find contentment stranded in the middle of the pacific. I did not expect to fall in love with Chuuk. Chuukese is an odd language, it words have no consistent spelling, and many will get different definitions depending on who you ask. 'Waio' is the Chuukese equivalent of goodbye, but it meaning is so much greater than a simple goodbye. When I asked my host mother for a definition she said it was a word said in sad goodbyes meaning "in my heart forever". And soon it will come my turn to say waio, while only for a month, this last week is giving me a sense of what it will be like having to say "waio chuuk" for the final time. So while I still cannot wait to see my family once more, it is a bitter goodbye I must say to this place. The prospect of a new group of Americans and a second semester of teaching is exciting, but my heart is weighed by the knowledge that sooner than I'll know, I'll be doing all this once more, and then it really will be 'waio'.
The Cardoner Project would like to farewell Pauline Mueller and wish her the best for her upcoming travels. Pauline has been working as TCP General Manager since 2015 and will maintain her involvement with TCP upon her return from overseas. Have a read of what she has to say about working at the Cardoner Project:
What drew me to working with The Cardoner Project?
"What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his own soul."*
Exposure to Jesuit philosophy has come through my father, my son, my brother and my uncles, all of whom have had a Jesuit education. The last fifteen months has allowed me as a lay person to experience cura personalis.
I was drawn to the mission of The Cardoner Project by Fr David Braithwaite. Spiritual, intellectual and human transformation is important for us all but more so for our youth who live in a society that is global and inclusive and yet alienating all at the same time. Technology has been a major disrupter in ways we are only realising now - what are the real impacts of facebook? of the 30 minute grab? of the need to multi task? of the leaders we deserve?
Opportunity and choice abounds between the ages of 18-25, creating challenges and threats and I find parallels in that this stage of my life faces similar disruptions. Many term this" the third act" and for me it means pondering the above quote from the Bible. What am I living for? What is the purpose of my life? Focusing on things of value lead me to The Cardoner Project and a glimmer of understanding of Jesuit principles.
The experience has therefore been a two way street, imparting my knowledge and experience to develop the Project and gaining a stepping stone on my journey.
The Cardoner Project is now an integrated set of programmes - Bellarmine, The Two Wolves Community Cantina and Immersions and Service Year. Each programme offers our youth an opportunity to engage and be formed through an avenue that suits their needs, whether it is being part of a volunteer community (more than 150 strong), living in Bellarmine House and forming an important core of the Project with a long term commitment to the mission of the Project or being formed through an immersion or service year. Each Programme now has a Manager with accountability for strategy, finance, staff and risk. Finance, HR, IT systems are in place - but this is a start up and systems will change and improve. In particular, it has been a pleasure to work with our young staff and see them grow and develop. They have been responsible for many important aspects of the Project. All of them are our future and if so the future is bright.
What have I gained?
The confirmation and articulation of principles by which to live and lead -
* principles and virtues which may not be absolutely applicable in all circumstances, but must stand at the ground of all ethical questioning and thinking, and which, therefore, cannot, without trepidation, be compromised
*Agape -The God-given, human capacity to see the intrinsic dignity of another person irrespective of affection, friendship, or romantic feelings. This vision of the dignity, goodness, and mystery of the other gives rise to benevolent intention, compassion and forgiveness. We want the other to prosper even if we do not directly benefit. We want to prevent the other from suffering even at the cost of our time and energy. We want the human community to be better off for our time and effort because we know that this is the one purpose of life that is truly lasting and worthy of us
* The heart directs the mind to meaning and purpose in life. It orients the mind toward the highest possible aspirations, to living life to the fullest, to the highest human emotions, and to our most creative expression. The mind, in its turn, guides the heart to what is reasonable and responsible..... the mind's guidance of the heart depends on knowing where one stands and where one wants to be amid the panoply of possibilities that the culture has to offer.
And finally, it is having a better understanding of the Magis.
When I want to see evidence of the impact ofThe Cardoner Project I only have to walk past the kitchen with it's dirty dishes piled high and a volunteer happily scrubbing away with a smile, or watch our young stafflead the discussion at a Board meeting on ways of helping others find their way or our apprentice chef asking if she can work more days, then I know we are moving to furthering the mission as it moves from outputs to outcomes - formation and service for the poor, and I hope to return later this year to help develop the latter.
*Spitzer, S.J., Robert J. "Educating in the Jesuit Tradition." Gonzaga University President's Message (2000).
Every Wednesday, the Two Wolves Cantina Kitchen prepares 20 meals for the CANA Communities organisation. Starting in 1975, CANA Communities is an organisation that sets up overnight shelters and homes in inner Sydney. The organisation is mostly run by volunteers and is solely reliant on donations from the community.
The Two Wolves Cantina provides partly prepared nourishing meals including curries, stews, and pasta dishes which the men at the Garden Shelter behind the Uniting church in Waterloo finish preparing themselves. In preparing the meals, sharing the meal and then cleaning up after the meal a sense of purpose and a sense community is fostered at the Garden Shelter.
"We would like to thank the Two Wolves Cantina and we really appreciate their continuous donations. It is through their generosity and the meals they provide that the men at the shelter can feel empowered" (Regina- CANA organisation).
Closing the Gap- The Challenges of Indigenous Exclusion: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda
The third instalment of the Contemplative Leadership Series on Wednesday 11th of May has continued the success of the series brilliantly. We were lucky enough to host Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr. Mick Gooda. His relatable and easy-going personality made the Two Wolves Basement an inviting and comfortable space from the start. He effortlessly eased into the topic – Closing the Gap: The Challenges of Indigenous Exclusion and through his storytelling was able to communicate the main concerns of Aboriginal Affairs.
Mr. Gooda identified his role as Commissioner, primarily as a promoter of human rights, especially representing Aboriginal communities, culture and interests. He spoke of some successful public policy interventions that underline Australia as a safe and successful society, praising the success of speeding and seat belt restrictions and more recently the smoking laws. He found the success of these policies in the stringent and thorough process of debate and consultation with the community.
However, through his experience, he found that Indigenous affairs has not been treated the same. Historically, there has been a lack of comprehensive debate and discussion with the communities that the policy was meant to assist, without grounds for consideration and understanding, Mr. Gooda revealed the ongoing challenges of implementation. Closing the Gap, for him, wasn’t about a certain statistic or blanket responses to reach health and education levels. Closing the Gap starts from the recognition of indigenous culture and practices and integrating them to policy design. His approach to the promotion of human rights isn’t about treating people the same; rather it was crucial that policy is underpinned by understanding, in order to create an environment conducive to equal opportunity.
Mr. Gooda had time to answer questions from the audience who had engaged throughout the speech. Most notably, he was asked to speak about his leadership approach towards his role as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. He elaborated on his previous commentary by prioritising communication, personalisation and understanding as the basis for the relationship between communities, policy makers and other representatives. It was easy to see how his disposition encouraged conversation and consideration of his views, whilst demanding recognition and respect for Indigenous affairs.
Everyone present was impressed with his depth of experience. His invaluable commitment to his work was inspiring to say the least. Mr. Gooda made the evening insightful on all fronts, through openness and integrity. There is no doubt that he helped engage the students in deeper questions by confronting real and relevant issues facing Australia.
I would like to thank everyone that came, and Theo doing a fantastic job at hosting the event.
A special thank you to Mr. Gooda for his generosity of time and knowledge, and for inspiring the students of The Cardoner Project through his own leadership and amazing work.
The Fourth instalment of the Contemplative Leadership Series will be held June 22nd at 5.45pm. We are very honoured to be hosting Fr. Aloysious Mowe SJ to speak on ‘Asylum in Australia’. Fr. Mowe SJ as the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, has worked to meet the urgent needs of refugees and asylum seekers.
Geraldo, a mechatronics and robotics engineer from Mexico works as the assistant chef in the Two Wolves Cantina Kitchen. Here he shares his inspiring story and goals for the future:
My name is Gerardo Alan Montoya Gurrola, I'm from Gómez Palacio Durango, Mexico, a small town in North México and I am a Mechatronics Engineer. When I was 23 years old, I finished school and like every other young professional in their 20's would, I wanted to "eat the world with a single bite".
I took my guitar and all the money I had in my pocket and began travelling throughout Mexico. Through busking on the street I met friends and they helped me to find a job as an Automation and Robotics teacher at the Technological University of Cancún. I was given the opportunity to form a robotics team with exceptional students that came from a very poor sector of the population. I taught them about robotics, electronics, and mechanics and in 2010 we participated in our first National Contest, winning first place in Robotics Design. In 2011 we travelled to the USA to compete in the international robotics design and programming competition and won again. In 2013 we again travelled to the USA and were crowned champions in the programming skills tournament defeating the USA, Japan, New Zealand, China, Brazil, Canada and other countries.
I started up a small company ‘called Sekai Tech' with my robotics team and we
designed a program to teach children maths, physics and science using robotics
to make learning fun and engaging. For example, we teach the concept of velocity by building a robotic car and then interacting with it and timing it over certain distances. My team and I also began a project called ‘Give us a hand' to help disabled people through technological assistance. Using a 3D printer designed by myself, my team and I make prosthetic hands and fingers for disabled individuals to help them perform everyday functions like holding objects.
While my team in Mexico continued to work on the ‘Give us a Hand' project, I came over to Australia to complete an English course and loved it. I began busking on the streets with my guitar again and started washing dishes in a restaurant. The head chef learnt that I love to cook and asked me to be his prep chef and so began my career as a chef. I returned to Mexico with the hope of furthering my two passions in life; Robotics and helping people, however, I decided there were more opportunities in Australia to achieve this, so I sold all of my belongings, applied for a student Visa and moved to Australia.
I have come to Australia to continue developing technology that assists disabled
people in their daily lives. My overall goals are to grow my organisation, build a workshop, start a non-for-profit organisation, develop new technological systems to aid people with disabilities and make technological assistance affordable. At the moment, my team and I are only printing fingers and hands, however, we are currently developing a model for a whole prosthetic arm. I am hoping to find potential sponsors to continue this project and form partnerships with institutions dedicated to assisting people with disabilities.
If you have any ideas or would like to support Geraldo in his mission to help the disabled community through technological assistance, please contact Pauline Mueller at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alexander Armistead reflects on becoming a better man for himself and for others:
The new school year has started and everyone is settling back into the routine of teaching. Most of us are unusually greeted at the gate by teachers shouting “Gin kaao riiang?” or “have you eaten yet” which is emblematic of the Karen and Thai people’s affectionate and caring nature, which they show towards us. This affection is shown throughout our travels and was perfectly summed up two weeks ago when we went to a Karen village outside of Mae Sot to visit a Karen wedding. Without previously meeting the couple or their family we were asked to join in on the ceremony and were supplied with an ample amount of rice, pork, chicken and of course plenty of beer. For most of the time I was at odds. Why were we treated with such generosity despite being strangers to them? Their hospitality and warmth was both welcoming and friendly but in some ways overwhelming as you came to odds with why so much was given to strangers.
Later in that day we visited a refugee camp near the boarder of Burma and Thailand, which was a completely different environment to where we had just been or ever been. In spite of never meeting these people before, being completely foreign and not being able to speak their language we were greeted with some of the warmest smiles and waves. In our small time there we learnt their names, smiled and left. I couldn’t help but feel helpless to their situation and I wanted to do more but there was nothing we could do at that moment and for a while I felt guilty for that.
It took me some time to realise, but that in that small moment at the refugee camp despite languages barriers and our current situations in life, we had this brief moment, which was genuine, a connection with the children and it was happy and heartfelt. In some ways we learnt about their current situation and even to a degree the world’s situation and to them, I hope we gave them a sense of optimism to show them that we care about the strange and absurd situation that they have been placed in.
This reminded me of a quote from John Donne, which I learnt in school; “No man is an island, entire of itself”. As fear and our differences get in they way we have formed an island or barrier between us and those seeking refuge but in the most gritty and down to earth way we are all human and desire happiness and love and sometimes in those sort of situations that’s all we can give.
Which brings us back to the first day of the school year. The connection between us teachers and kids which in some ways foggy due to language and cultural differences works because of our ability to smile, to be friendly to each other and the fact that our differences mutually enhance both of our experiences. I guess we are striving to give the kids confidence in English in general but so far we have all learnt and gained confidence and learnt more through teaching. I guess it is through the service of teaching and other experiences we are helping a good cause but we are also learning through these experiences to be better men for ourselves and for others.
Josh Conlon reflects on his role and impact as a teacher in Chuuk, Micronesia:
This year has been all about feeling, feeling 100 different things for a million different reasons. This year I've felt triumph, failure, boredom and stress. The combination of these and others has had me feel like a king, a dunce or just an ordinary guy. I've felt like the managers of the orphanage in Oliver twist, living a life of comparative luxury as everyone around me suffers and struggles. I've felt like 'dead poets society's' Mr Nolan frantically trying to wrestle control of a classroom without success or even acknowledgment. But this week, this week I feel the greater fool.
Feelings change at a breakneck pace, I can recall no occurrence where the feeling I woke up to was the one I fell asleep with. Teaching has given me many reasons to celebrate, with the semester over, seeing some of my students walk up to receive their awards for a perfect 4.0 GPA was good for my mind and my soul. But I refuse to congratulate myself for these small successes, I am happy for my students’ accomplishments, accolades they received this week they all fully deserve. But the idealism I entered this year with has finally been checked by reality.
I have been playing the part of the greater fool, he who has the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to believe he can succeed where others have failed. I am confounded, trying to place what exactly inspired the grandiose ideas in my head, and more so how they then stayed there. I was caught up believing I'd be creating the next freedom writers, or embody John Keating, my childhood hero and teach not only English and maths but freethinking and virtue. Instilling in these impressionable young kids grand Latin phrases like 'Carpe Diem', having my 7th grade class rushing forth to not only finish their homework but to seize the day.
My idealism had little place in a classroom where the basic rules of grammar are still being taught. There are not enough hours in our shortened days for maths class to be followed by morality. Fulfilling my fantasy should not come at the expense of the quality of my students’ education.
And yet, despite all of this, I do not feel ashamed to be the greater fool. The civilized world may have been built by logic and reason, but civilization was created by idealists. I need to do my job, that much I cannot and do not wish to avoid. I am here to teach English and maths to kids. My students need me to do that so they can go about living the amazing lives they dream of. But education will always be more than that, and I, as long as I call myself a teacher will try and teach as if that is the case. My fanciful ideals may need altering, but I refuse to abandon them entirely. If that leaves me ranking amongst the greater fools then so be it, I'm in fairly good company.