ISSUE 2, 2016 $14.95
HEALING ORPHANS WITH LOVE
Love heals in Chinese orphanages
RESPECT TO HOMELESS
Lads do laundry to transform lives
Saving our stressed kids
THE COURAGE TO BE KIND
Ebola nurse risks life in Africa
SAVING THE ORANGUTAN
Battle to prevent extinction
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Issue 2, December 2016
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extraordinary people – game changers, ecowarriors,
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united in their belief in something better, their
courage to take action and their dreams of a better
We meet the gorgeous Jenny Bowen who virtually
singlehandedly transformed China’s orphanage
system after witnessing orphan girls tied to the
chairs in which they sat, motionless, vacant eyed.
She realised these forlorn babies needed one vital
thing – love.
We travel into the pulsing heart of the Asian jungle with Leif Cocks to save
the most endearing of creatures – the orangutan. We find out what drives
two young Aussie lads to dedicate their time to washing the clothes of the
homeless. We learn of the horrors of Nigeria’s witch child accusations, and
are left in awe at the work to rescue these outcast children. We see the magic
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6 12 20 28 36
Healing China’s orphans
Jenny Bowen’s charity
OneSky has transformed
the lives of more than
orphans by showering
these unwanted children
with the most important
ingredient missing from
their lives – love. How did
one woman make such a
difference to so many?
The courage to be kind
WA Australian of the
Year for 2016 Anne
Carey rose to fame for
having the courage to
volunteer to fight the
ravages of the Ebola
virus in Sierra Leone. She
is now embarking on a
new challenge – urging
Australians to have the
courage to be kind.
Battle to save the
Perth man Leif Cocks
has dedicated his life to
saving the orangutan
through his not-for-profit
charity The Orangutan
Project. The battle has
plunged him to the
depths of despair as he
has borne witness to the
face. But it has also
filled him with awe and
delight for a creature
with an enormous
capacity for love.
and Nic Marchesi
Laundry and chats
restore respect for the
Two 21-year-old mates
have launched a free
mobile laundry service
to wash clothes for the
homeless. In the process
they have captured
the imagination of
the public, not only for
washing clothes, but
for spending time with
people who are down on
Saving the lives of
Nigeria’s ‘witch children’
This young Danish
woman has dedicated
her life to saving
Nigeria’s ‘witch children’.
From one day to the
next these children are
branded witches, ousted
from their families, often
at the horrific practice,
Anja moved to Nigeria
to rescue accused
children. She then homes
those she saves in an
orphanage and seeks
to overcome the horrors
they’ve endured with the
healing power of love.
44 48 52 60 66
Easing the burden for
Syrian refugee families
Shocked at the horrors
of the Syrian refugee
crisis, a young American
mother is easing the
burden for scores of
refugee families by
donating thousands of
baby carriers to people
fleeing their war-ravaged
homes. Through her now
burgeoning charity Carry
the Future, Cristal has
not only helped refugees
but also been personally
transformed from a
cynic to someone who is
continually amazed by
people’s genuine desire
to do good in the world.
The Gangsta Gardener
Ron Finley is leading
a movement in which
people across the
globe are transforming
roadside verges and
unloved pieces of vacant
dirt into gardens and
The craze is not only
areas but bringing
providing fresh produce
in areas dominated by
fast food and reminding
people that they have
the power to shape their
A refugee’s tale of flight,
courage and triumph
Carina Hoang fled
South Vietnam in
the aftermath of the
Vietnam War, endured
a traumatic escape
from which she barely
survived, and now
returns to the Indonesian
isles to which she once
escaped on an annual
pilgrimage to uncover
the lost graves of other
Guided by faith, spiritual
belief and the knowledge
it was so nearly her
laying in an abandoned
grave, her efforts are
awaited relief to families
yearning to give a proper
burial to long-dead
Using photography to
save animal lives
Cearns travels the
rescued animals to raise
money for their care and
promote their protection.
She volunteers 40
percent of her time to
philanthropic causes and
relishes the chance to
present animals in their
Saving our stressedout
Parenting educator and
author Maggie Dent
has earned the love of
a nation’s parents for
her funny, practical and
insightful advice on how
to raise healthy and
resilient children. What
life path has Maggie
travelled to become
such an advocate for
saving our stressed-out
Jenny Bowen’s charity OneSky, formerly Half the Sky Foundation, has
transformed the lives of more than 130,000 Chinese orphans by showering
these unwanted children with the most important ingredient missing from
their lives – love. How did one woman make such a difference to so many?
Right Love and affection
heals China’s orphans.
Tears still spring to Jenny Bowen’s eyes as
she remembers walking into her first Chinese
orphanage. Row upon row of toddlers sat
motionless, their scrawny legs tied to their chairs
with rags that bit into their flesh. Silent babies were
tied to the railings in their cots, some desperately
trying to suckle from bottles that had fallen from
their reach. The older kids were not tied. But they
too sat still, silent, with dull eyes staring from
Jenny felt as though she’d been punched. Her
very being ached at the sight of these kids, all
girls, unwanted, unloved. And this was just one
orphanage among hundreds in China. Upon
returning to her hotel room she collapsed. “I
just completely fell apart,” Jenny recalls. “The
anger, the frustration, the helplessness. I had an
overwhelming urge to sweep them all up and take
them away from here.”
But Jenny realised this would be nothing but a
bandaid solution. What about the thousands of
other kids in orphanages across the country? She
needed to work with the Chinese to improve life’s
lot for its unwanted children.
And work with them she did. Through her charity
Half the Sky Foundation, recently renamed
OneSky, this once-Hollywood film director has led
a revolution in the Chinese child welfare system.
Over 18 years the charity has trained 14,000
caregivers in 700 orphanages across China to
help 130,000 orphans. Most significantly, it has
highlighted the importance of one single ingredient
to a child’s development – love.
SAVING ONE LIFE
Jenny would never have dreamed her life would
pan out this way. She lived a fast-paced life as a
Hollywood film director. Her two kids had grown up
and left home. Her husband Dick was just as busy
as a cinematographer. But a news item tore them
from their frenzied existence. A New York Times
article showed a photo of a dying Chinese orphan,
one of many of China’s children abandoned
simply because they were girls. “It just stopped us
Bottom Research has
proven that love and
affection aid brain
Below Jenny with
two orphans in their
cold,” Jenny says. “We had been so caught up in
our own little world but this just made us stop, and
feel compelled to do something. But what could
Their solution? Save one life by adopting a child.
What started as an altruistic notion morphed into
a deep personal desire for a Chinese child. So, by
the time they eventually travelled to China to meet
the 20-month-old girl selected for them, Jenny
and Dick were fully invested in the notion of a new
daughter. “It was so surreal,” Jenny recalls. “This
little girl was placed into my arms and we were
kind of in a stupor – and so was she. She was just
dazed. It was amazing holding her. I knew she was
my child but I knew this little girl was in a world of
trouble. She couldn’t walk, she was full of parasites,
she was covered with sores, thin as can be but with
a big pot belly. And the scariest thing was that she
was emotionally vacant. She was a little shell. She
didn’t know how to accept love.”
Determined to make up for the love she’d missed
out on, Jenny showered the young girl, Maya, with
love and affection. Slowly her sores healed, she put
on weight, she started to walk, to talk, to accept
But it wasn’t until Jenny watched her outside
their home window one day, a year after Maya’s
adoption, that she realised how far Maya had
come. “I just looked out and there was this little
child romping around in the garden so full of joy,”
Jenny says. “Looking through the frame of that
glass she looked like a child who’d been loved from
the very beginning. So I said to my husband ‘well,
that was easy, let’s do that for the rest’.”
IMPORTANCE OF LOVE
She wasn’t joking. As if preparing for a new film,
Jenny threw herself into researching ways of
ensuring Chinese orphans received the love and
affection so essential for their development. She
came to learn about the science behind how lack
of love at an early age can stifle a child’s growth.
She discovered that holding and stroking an infant
stimulates the brain to release growth hormones.
Without such interaction, a child will fail to thrive.
Jenny also came across an educational approach
called Reggio Emilia – a child-centred approach to
learning – which she believed would help nurture
China’s orphans. But how to bring such knowledge
to the Chinese, with no contacts, no Chinese
language skills and absolutely no understanding
of Chinese culture?
Doggedly determined, Jenny eventually wrangled
herself into a meeting with government officials in
China. She cajoled and pleaded and negotiated
to receive permission to develop a pilot program
in two Chinese orphanages which led, in the year
2000, to her visiting the orphanage with the
children tied to their chairs.
It was here she realised the importance of working
with the system, rather than fighting against it
– a realisation that has become the hallmark of
OneSky’s success. “I realised the only way I could
change a broken system would be to find a way to
work with the people, to be their partner and that
realisation has led me every step of the way since,”
Jenny says. “And I learned along the way that
they are just people – the government bureaucrats
were just people, the ladies that were treating the
orphans so badly were just people – no-one had
ever talked to them about this. No-one had ever
tried to find a solution.”
WINNING OVER GOVERNMENT
To win over the government and appeal to their
sense of pride, Jenny realised the importance
of creating beautiful spaces in the orphanages,
“As if preparing for a new film, Jenny threw herself into researching ways of ensuring Chinese
orphans received the love and affection so essential for their development. She came to learn
about the science behind how lack of love at an early age can stifle a child’s growth.”
filled with international-standard toys. “All I really
wanted to do was get caring people in to look after
these children but the government really wanted to
see international standards and state-of-the-art
facilities,” she says.
With a team of volunteers from America, most
of them fellow parents of adopted Chinese
children, Jenny set to work cleaning, painting and
refurnishing the pilot orphanages into swanky child
FORMING LOVING BONDS
Then came the most important part – recruiting
local women to come into the orphanages as
carers. At the time, many state-owned factories
had closed down, leaving many woman aged
around 40 deemed too old to work elsewhere.
Jenny started hiring these women, most illiterate
and untrained, and instructing them on the
importance of attachment and bonding to the
development of small children. These women
became nannies for the children, forming
individual bonds with the children in their care.
Jenny and her team also sought out teachers
from Chinese schools to work in the orphanages
and taught them a whole new way of teaching,
where children are encouraged to think for
themselves, to be creative, to share their own ideas
about the world.
Top Jenny delights in the children who have blossomed with more interaction and
Above Orphans enjoy playing dress-ups with a staff member – a far cry from the
once-bleak orphanages which discouraged movement, let alone play.
JENNY BOWEN 9
In Jenny’s words ...
Who inspires you
The children. I never fail to be moved by
their magical transformations – shattered,
emotionally vacant children become the
curious, smiling children they were meant
to be after they receive the simple gift of
nurturing that is taken for granted in loving
families. Those transformations keep me
fighting to improve the lives of the children we
haven’t yet reached.
Don’t be afraid to learn something new and
start something new. And when you do, don’t
be intimidated by the ‘experts’ or by people
telling you that what you’re trying to achieve
Jenny remembers watching the volunteers
on OneSky’s first trip to the orphanages. “As I
watched the volunteers, tears in their eyes, lifting
tots free, tickling and dancing and crooning, I
saw how it would work,” Jenny says. “Every day,
we would come back. We would come back with
reinforcements – nannies and teachers and foster
mamas and babas, and before long this would
become a place where babies were cuddled
instead of trapped and tied, and every single
vacant-eyed toddler and scrawny six-year-old
would know what it feels like to be the apple of
ANOTHER LIFE SAVED
Around this time Jenny also first set eyes on her
second daughter. Xinmei, now called Anya, was 28
months old, with a mass of blood vessels bulging
from her neck from a hemangioma. When she
eventually received permission to adopt Anya,
Jenny discovered that two years of wet nappies
tied tight with rope rags had caused bone-deep
scars on Anya’s hips. Her tiny feet were thick with
scars. And spite filled Anya’s eyes as she slapped
and spit her new mother like a wildcat. It would be
a long journey to transform Anya into the warm
and successful young woman she is today.
While Jenny embarked on the long process of
healing Anya with love, the kids in the orphanages
were also blossoming with the new affection and
attention. Light crept into their eyes, smiles spread
over faces, and individual personalities began to
Opposite page, top
Thanks to Jenny’s work,
orphans have transformed
from vacant eyed and
emotionless to playful.
Opposite page, middle
Carers shower the orphans
Opposite page, bottom
Love, play and education
Left Delight in education.
It wasn’t just the kids who transformed. Jenny
was amazed to witness the carers and teachers
come alive as they realised the power they had
to make a positive difference to a child’s life. “It
showed them that miracles can happen,” Jenny
says. “The transformation for young kids in the
first six months is miraculous. And these women
were witness to these miracles.”
Within a year, Jenny had permission to extend
the program to another two orphanages, then
more, and more. Amazed by the results, the
Chinese came to realise the importance of
providing such care to its children. And, when
Jenny heard the director general of the child
welfare agency give a speech using words she
herself had once spoken to him, she knew how far
they’d come. “I just thought, there’s no stopping us
now,” she says. “We can do anything. Now I knew
we could move the government; now we could
really transform the system.”
LOVE – A UNIVERSAL HEALER
It wasn’t until Jenny reflected on her journey
while writing her book Wish You Happy Forever
that she realised the universality of what she
was doing. People flocked to her book signings,
begging her to start such a program in their home
countries across the world, even in New York City.
Jenny realised the deep human need for love was
universal – no matter what a child’s nationality or
The realisation sparked a new movement
within OneSky, which is now transitioning its
management to the Chinese to run across their
entire child welfare system. It ignited a move
outside of the orphanages to also help young
children left behind in rural Chinese villages when
their parents leave to find work. OneSky is now
training grandparents, the children’s primary
caregivers, in the art of valuing young children, it
is launching village child care centres operated by
loving carers like the ones within the orphanages
and it is training local mothers so they can stay in
their home villages and become early childhood
educators under the OneSky model.
Next year OneSky will also start operating
in Vietnam for the children of migrant factory
workers. Jenny dreams of such a model one
day taking over the globe. “It’s all about taking
children, these poor little victims and burdens
to society, and starting to value them for their
potential, and planning for their futures,” Jenny
says. “These young kids who’ve overcome
adversity have access to something the rest of
us don’t have – that depth of character, spirit,
resilience and inner strength. They have a quality
that kids born into privilege don’t have. Imagine
what they could go on to do in the world if they’re
just given the chance.”
Get involved ...
You can support OneSky’s work by making a
donation. Visit the website at www.halfthesky.org
to find out more. In Australia, you can receive an
Australian tax receipt by donating to Half the Sky
Foundation Australia’s Orphanage Projects at
JENNY BOWEN 11
WA Australian of the Year for 2016
Anne Carey rose to fame for having the
courage to volunteer to fight the ravages
of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. She
is now embarking on a new challenge –
urging Australians to have the courage
to be kind. She says it was courage that
helped overcome Ebola, and it’s courage
that can help stamp out two threats
she sees facing Australia – the insidious
culture of workplace bullying and
discrimination against refugees.
Western Australian Australian of the Year
Anne Carey will never forget her first day
in the Ebola treatment centre in Sierra
Leone. She was cradling an Ebola-affected baby
in her arms. She gazed through the protective
mask covering her face into the baby’s eyes.
And she watched the baby bleed to death while
she held him. The virus had ravaged the infant’s
insides causing him to haemorrhage. Horrified,
Anne looked up at the baby’s mother. The mother
had now lost all seven of her children to the virus.
Almost cruelly, the mother survived.
From that moment Anne changed. For Anne
knew this family was far from alone. The virus
was racing through West Africa. Thousands were
dying horrific deaths. The makeshift cemetery by
the treatment centre was ever-swelling with newly
dead. Anne’s life was no longer about her. It was
about fighting to beat a disease that could inflict
such devastation, a disease that would go on to
infect more than 28,000 people in West Africa and
kill more than 11,500.
LOOKING FOR AN OUT
The Kenema Ebola Treatment Centre, about a
five-hour drive from Sierra Leone’s capital city
Freetown, was a far cry from Anne’s country
Western Australian home. Anne was a nurse in
Esperance – a remote township embraced by
stunningly beautiful coast. But she’d come to fear
her hospital workplace.
Incessant workplace bullying had broken out over
a coroner’s inquiry into the death of an elderly
man in the hospital’s care. Though Anne hadn’t
been involved in the man’s care, she was somehow
caught up in a tangle of finger-pointing, belittling
and bullying that left her scared to go to work.
She filed a grievance case for workplace bullying
with the WA Country Health Service, which an
independent investigator upheld. But the decision
was a long time coming, so she took leave while
the bureaucrats considered the case.
ANNE CAREY 13
EBOLA – A WORLD PROBLEM
Meanwhile, across a great swathe of Indian
Ocean, the horrors of the Ebola virus were playing
out. The Red Cross was desperate for workers to
help stem the tide of death rolling across West
Africa. Having already volunteered as a nurse
in Papua New Guinea and as an aid worker in
Sudan, and killing time while the grievance case
was considered, Anne decided to put up her hand
Unlike others, she didn’t see Ebola as an African
problem – it was a world problem. “To me this
was just a response to an impoverished, war-torn
people facing an uneven battle with a disease they
were fairly powerless to contain,” Anne says. “Not
to respond would be like not going to the aid of
a victim being beaten up in the school yard.” She
couldn’t understand how others didn’t see it that
And yet she was realistic. She and her partner,
doctor Donald Howarth, knew there was a chance
Anne would not return. But if people like Anne -
people with the skills to help - let fear stop them,
what hope was there of overcoming Ebola’s perils?
Anne would do what she could to help.
Anne flew to Melbourne for a Red Cross
debriefing where she learned that, at that time, if
she did contract Ebola, the Australian government
would not intervene. There would be no option of
coming home for treatment. But, after a few days
in Geneva learning how to fight the virus, Anne
felt better about going. She knew anyone who
was infected had three days before they became
contagious. And, with early intervention, the
survival rate was much higher.
But in Africa, where such information was not
common knowledge, it was taking days for
patients to seek treatment. They were scared to
approach treatment centres staffed by medical
staff who looked robot-like in their bulky white
protective suits. And by then it was too late. By
then they’d infected their loved ones, by then
they’d missed their chance for lifesaving treatment.
At this stage the death rate was around 80
DAILY DUTIES IN DEATH ZONE
Anne entered into this whirling mass of death
and confusion in December 2014. While reeling
from the horrors, she somehow fell into the daily
routine of treating its sufferers. Those presenting at
the centre were divided – suspected infections this
way, probable this way, and confirmed over there.
Under tin roofs and canvas walls, Anne and the
team would do what they could to save lives.
First, they’d dress in layer upon layer of protective
clothing until not an inch of their flesh remained
exposed. They’d scrawl their names across the
top of their protective eye masks so they could be
identified under the body-concealing outfits. While
the protective gear did the job of safeguarding
its wearers from Ebola, it ran the risk of harming
them through heat. The temperature would soar
to 46 degrees inside the suits, worn in nearly 100
percent humidity. So health workers were restricted
to dealing with patients for one-hour stints four
times a day.
Each time she came out of the high-risk area
Anne would begin the task of undressing – peeling
off layer by layer, and being sprayed with chlorine
with every layer removed. Everything she wore
would be contaminated with Ebola. So a mistake
here could have fatal consequences.
COMFORTING THE DYING
While in the high-risk area Anne would treat
patients with intravenous and oral fluids. She’d
provide medication and clean up diarrhoea and
vomit. She’d also try, as much as possible, to
simply sit with the dying. “You could pick some
people who were dying and get to them to sit with
them and just hold their hand,” Anne says. “But
there were others who’d be sitting up eating and
talking and then an hour later they were dead. I
always felt that was the hardest – not being there
for those people.”
There were some cases that Anne took harder
than others. Like the baby who died on Anne’s first
Previous page Anne
kitted up to enter the
high-risk Ebola area.
Opposite page, top
Anne overseeing the
graves in the everexpanding
Opposite page, bottom
A boy awaits diagnosis,
suspected of possible
Above left, top Anne
with a local medical
staffer. Anne says the
local healthcare workers
were the true heroes of
the Ebola crisis.
Above left, bottom
characterised the Ebola
Above Anne cradling an
Ebola-affected baby. This
ANNE CAREY 15
day at the treatment centre. Or the 16-year-old
boy who came in with his mother, grandmother
and brother – his father was already dead. The boy
was terrified, his big brown eyes awash with fear.
So Anne sat with him, she attempted to calm him,
she urged him to be strong. He died the next day.
His brother died the day after. The boy’s mother
and grandmother survived.
In Anne’s words ...
What inspires me
Seeing everyday people having the courage and belief in themselves
to work for a kinder world.
Have the courage to be kind.
RETURN TO FEAR
After a month of such work Anne had reached
the end of her stay – it was deemed too much
to expect health workers to cope with such
trauma for longer. But for Anne the trauma was
just beginning. For Anne returned to Western
Australia to face some sadly ill-informed criticism
from a public scared of contracting the virus.
She remained holed up in an apartment on the
outskirts of Perth for 21 days with no-one but her
partner Donald in physical contact, testing her
temperature twice a day, ever on the alert for
symptoms, and safe in the knowledge that, even
if she had contracted Ebola, she had three days to
get herself to treatment and quarantine before it
But the general public didn’t know about the
three-day period. They didn’t realise she’d have
the chance to isolate herself should even the
mildest of symptoms appear. People were scared,
and with fear came cruelty. Nasty comments
spewed forth on social media, and left Anne
terribly saddened. “It was horrible,” she recalls. “It
was a massive thing that was so uncalled for. I
found that really sad.”
The criticism she’d returned to seemed
particularly petty when compared to the
devastation she’d witnessed in Africa. So Anne
made up her mind. She’d return. The Red Cross
was cautious about accepting someone back
– surely it would be too traumatic. But Anne
countered that the bigger trauma was dealing with
the backlash she’d faced at home.
With another Ebola outbreak having unleashed
its fury closer to the Ebola treatment centre where
Anne had worked, they were desperate for staff.
The death rate was escalating once more. So Anne
returned to the fight.
FROM VILLAIN TO HEROINE
Anne remained three months this time, with
a week break in the midst of it. Eventually, as
education about Ebola spread through the country,
the health workers began to earn the upper hand.
People started presenting earlier with symptoms.
They learned how to prevent the virus’s spread. And
slowly they moved into the recovery phase.
By March Anne was due to come home. But
this time she returned via Europe, where a more
informed public and health system meant she
faced none of the experiences of her previous
eturn. And by now the Australian media had
picked up Anne’s story. She was being lauded
a heroine rather than a public risk. How quickly
COURAGE TO BE KIND
Having seen Ebola dealt with, Anne returned
home with a renewed determination to fight two
new bullies – that seen in the workplace, especially
the healthcare system, and that presented to
refugees seeking asylum on Australian shores.
She came to realise that she could fight workplace
bullying and discrimination towards refugees with
the same weapon used to fight Ebola – kindness.
And she determined to use the platform of WA
Australian of the Year to urge Australians to have
the courage to be kind.
“Ebola was dealt with by individuals who had
the courage to be kind to those in need, despite
physical and psychological risks to themselves,”
Anne says. “Changing the culture of bullying in
the workforce will require the courage of many
and the need to introduce a kinder culture to the
Anne likens the fear surrounding refugees to
that she faced on her return from Africa – a fear
borne from misinformation, from the unknown.
“The politicians are very good at scaring everyone
about refugees – and when people get scared
they don’t reach for the truth,” she says. “I don’t
understand why so many Australians see refugees
as criminals instead of people running away from
horrible things. I call on Australia to stand up to
bullies, to have the courage to stand with people
who are being bullied and in doing that we will
become a kinder nation. For me Ebola was just
another bully that needed to be dealt with. In
the end the courage to act conquered Ebola, and
likewise courage to act can transform this great
peace of mind...
Opposite page, top Anne with her WA Australian of the
Opposite page, bottom Anne with local healthcare
Anne is fundraising to supply computer
equipment to the local healthcare workers
who risked their lives fighting Ebola. Anne
says these people are the true heroes of
the Ebola crisis. You can contribute to the
campaign at www.makingadifference.
If people have purpose
and connect to others
they are going to be ok.
It wasn’t long ago that Fleur Porter found herself among
a group of women, in front of video and stills cameras,
modelling her 42-year-old body in her underwear. The women
– of different backgrounds, ages and varied body types – had
shed their clothes, and an avalanche of nerves, to confront their
fears and raise awareness of body image. With no airbrushing,
no intense fitness routines, strict diets, or even a spray tan, here
was a group of ordinary women embracing their own beauty.
The experience was intensely moving – there were tears,
laughter and a whole lot of nerves. Brimming with emotion, the
women gathered around Fleur and thanked her for bringing
them together. At first Fleur was confused at their thanks –
she had not organised the photo shoot. But she realised she
had played a role in creating a community of people, mostly
women, who had found the courage to overcome fear, step up
and live life as they dreamed it could be.
Out of the nine women participating in the photo shoot
and video campaign, six are graduates of Fleur’s Incubator
coaching program. Through the program, the women had each
shed some baggage or embraced some new spirit that allowed
them to get down to their undies on a cold winter’s day in front
of the cameras.
Fleur had given them the chance to see the world through
new eyes and have a red hot go at being influencers, accepting
challenges and inspiring those around them. She had guided
them to find their life purpose.
YEARNING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
In helping these women, Fleur realised she’d also found her
own purpose. Just two years ago, Fleur was a successful life,
relationship and business coach. But she still had a sense that
she could make a bigger difference.
Fleur also realised that, among the diverse people she
coached, she saw the most progress when she helped her
clients discover a sense of purpose. When they had purpose,
other aspects of their life – relationships, parenting, work –
seemed to fall into place. “Purpose is the centre of everything,”
Fleur says. “If people have purpose
and connect to others they are
going to be ok.”
Convinced of the power of
purpose, Fleur created and
launched an eight-week group
coaching program called
Incubators. Initially scared whether
anyone would sign up for this
high-value offering, she has been
overwhelmed at the program’s popularity
and success. And even Fleur has been
amazed at the transformations. “It was really incredible
to watch people work through this beautiful process and they got
even more out of it than I’d imagined,” she says.
One woman was diagnosed with severe chronic depression
when she signed up. And just half way through the program she
rid herself of the label. Others found the courage and guidance
to launch and grow their dream projects (Inspired magazine
is among them). And still others flourished by uncovering the
narratives that had held them back and rewriting the stories of
“They are such intangible outcomes but when women live life on
purpose there’s this flow-on effect to their partners and their kids
and their friends,” Fleur says. “There’s this beautiful ripple effect
that flows out from these purposeful women. And this is the kind
of effect that can change the world. That’s the power of purpose.”
Find out more about Fleur
and her Incubators program
Photo by Emma Hutton Photography.
“If people have
connect to others
they are going
to be ok.”
Perth man Leif Cocks has dedicated his life to saving the orangutan through
his not-for-profit charity The Orangutan Project. The battle has plunged him
to the depths of despair as he has borne witness to the atrocities orangutans
face. But it has also filled him with awe and delight for a creature with an
enormous capacity for love.
Previous page A baby
orangutan clings to its
of habitat is pushing
orangutans to the brink
captured Leif’s heart
with their big
Leif Cocks scanned the gloom of the rainforest,
a tangle of trees casting a green glow through
the undergrowth, when he discerned a flash
of orange in the tree tops far above. He called
out, hoping the form may be the orangutan he
yearned to see. The creature swung through the
canopy towards him. A smile spread across Leif’s
face. He’d recognise this orangutan anywhere.
For here before him was Temara, the zoo-bred
orangutan he’d organised to be released into the
wild two years before.
Here they were meeting as equals for the first
time. While they’d enjoyed an excellent relationship
while Temara was in captivity, she was now here
on her own terms – a wild animal free to go where
she wished. And this creature was choosing to see
her former keeper. She not only approached Leif
but swung down through the trees to greet him,
extending out her arm, grasping Leif’s hand and
looking him in the eye.
For Leif, it was an emotionally charged moment –
a reward for the years of anguish he’d experienced
in his long fight to save a fast-shrinking orangutan
population from extinction. For this was a good
news story amid a horrendous chapter in this great
ape’s fight for survival, a win among incidents so
appalling they sound like atrocities from a genocide.
BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL
While most of us realise that orangutans are at
risk from deforestation for logging and palm oil
plantations, fewer people understand just how
terrible their fate. For those animals not killed
along with the destruction of their habitat begin to
starve, forcing them to seek out food from nearby
farms. Angered at the damage to their livelihoods,
the farmers retaliate. They take machetes and
slash down mother orangutans, tearing their
babies from their dying grasp to sell as pets. They
douse them in petrol and set them alight. They
crush their skulls with blunt weapons. They shoot
out their eyes with low-powered guns.
Despite such atrocities, Leif knows of not a single
incident in which an orangutan, a powerful beast,
has killed a human. Leif says these animals possess
a sense of empathy, of altruism, not usually
associated with animals. He says their destruction
is as horrific as the loss of a human child.
Their future continues to look bleak. Some of the
richest and most biodiverse forests in Indonesia
are earmarked for commercial exploitation under
a plan drafted by the government of Aceh. This
area in Indonesia is home to some of the 14,000
remaining Sumatran orangutans. Should the plans
go ahead, Leif believes the Sumatran orangutan
will slip into extinction within a few years. While
the Bornean orangutan population is bigger, at
about 60,000, they too face extinction without
Leif is in a desperate battle to save them. But
what compelled Leif to dedicate his life to saving
these magnificent creatures?
Rewind 30 years and Leif was a young zoo
keeper at Perth Zoo in Western Australia, when he
was offered the job of orangutan keeper. Things
were different back then, safety standards laxer.
So Leif had no idea that some people regarded
these human-like apes as dangerous. He thought
nothing of entering their enclosure to have lunch
with them. And it didn’t take long for a mutual
admiration to emerge. For Leif quickly came to
realise orangutans weren’t like other animals. Here
was a highly intelligent, emotionally and culturally
complex creature, with DNA that is 97 percent
identical to humans.
Not only did he come to love the orangutans, it
appeared they felt the same way about Leif. “We
really got along,” Leif says. “What I discovered
is that orangutans are people – they are as
intelligent as a five or six year old [human]. They
are self-aware. I realised they didn’t belong in
captivity. They needed to be free in the wild.” And
so began Leif’s quest to save them.
Leif’s fascination with orangutans grew the more
time he spent with them. He recounts the story
of one female orangutan at the zoo who seemed
intent on escaping. She’d remove every third
brick from the wall to create a ladder which would
enable her to climb the wall to freedom. However,
she had enough guile to know Leif’s job was to foil
her bids for freedom. So, this wily orangutan would
keep a look out for Leif and rush to replace the
bricks she had prised lose whenever she saw Leif
Another orangutan did manage to escape from
its enclosure into the halls of Perth Zoo. The first
thing this orangutan did with a taste of freedom?
Rush through the halls and attempt to unlock the
cages of his fellow orangutans so they too could
be free. These were no ordinary animals.
Around the same time Leif started visiting the
jungles of Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo
to see orangutans in the wild. Here he came to
realise that different orangutan populations have
their own unique societies and cultures. Unlike
other animals that are born with instinct and
quickly leave their mothers to fend for themselves,
orangutans must learn the tools of survival from
their parents. A mother orangutan will nurse her
offspring for six years, a time in which she also
instructs them on which plants to eat, what tools
to use – a cultural toolset for living.
The problem with this lengthy maturation is that
orangutans are the slowest reproducing species in
the world. Combine this trait with the fact that 80
percent of their habitat has been decimated in the
past 20 years and you have a creature destined
Smitten with the wild orangutans, Leif began
making more trips to Indonesia to study them.
He realised that big corporations were destroying
the rainforest for short-term profits. He came to
learn of the horrific fate that awaited many of the
So he launched The
(TOP) to fund efforts
to save the baby
orphaned. It’s no small
task – more than 2000
orphaned orangutans live
in care centres in Borneo
and Sumatra today.
Aside from rescuing orphans,
Leif started working with the
Indonesian Ministry of Forestry,
the police and the army to rescue and
rehabilitate captured orangutans.
He remembers one incident in which he got wind
of a young orangutan kept in a cage at a bitumen
factory, destined for sale on the black market. Leif
attended the site with local police in an attempt
to rescue the hapless creature. Leif’s job was to
guard the orangutan to prevent its capturers killing
it before release – a spiteful yet common move
often involving poison. At this particular rescue
the offenders refused to hand over the key to the
orangutan’s cage. So, while the police grilled the
offenders, Leif snapped the lock and freed the
creature. He took him back to the TOP-funded care
centre where he was released into a safer area for
Like all male orangutans, this one wandered,
eventually roaming out of the safety zone into
an illegal logging company camp. Here the
“While most of us
realise that orangutans are
at risk from deforestation
for logging and palm oil
plantations, fewer people
understand just how
terrible their fate.”
LEIF COCKS 23
loggers took to the orangutan with machetes,
slashing great wounds into his flesh. He managed
to escape, crawling back to safety. While his
physical wounds recovered, it took much longer
to heal his mind. Like human refugees exposed
to trauma, orangutans need rehabilitation to
recover both mentally and physically. Again TOP
helps. But how to provide psychological help to an
The answer is simple – shower it with love. “They
need touch, love and affection for their mental
wellbeing,” Leif says. Human carers provide this
love to the infant orangutans – with plenty of
cuddles and affection. Older orangutans are paired
with compatible groups where friendships develop
and love heals mental wounds.
Leif quickly came to realise TOP’s main aim
should not be simply to rescue orphaned
orangutans but to prevent their becoming orphans
in the first place. And the only way to do this is to
protect their habitat. With this in mind, TOP is now
leasing vast swathes of rainforest in Sumatra to
protect orangutan homes. It already protects some
2900 orangutans in 150,000 hectares of forest.
But just leasing the land is not enough –
orangutans also face the menace of poachers
seeking orangutan infants for the pet trade and
of illegal loggers slashing down the leased land.
In Leif’s words ...
What inspires me
Compassion for all living beings.
Compassion, protection, freedom.
To safeguard the areas it leases, TOP also funds
wildlife protection units to patrol the rainforest.
Last year alone the organisation rescued
65 orangutans, cared for 157 orangutans in
rehabilitation centres and released 26 orangutans
back into the wild. It helped launch 10 legal cases
against deforestation and funded 20 community
development projects to help save the land
through organic farming practices, and more
sustainable agriculture. And it reached 100 schools
and community groups in a bid to educate locals
about these magnificent creatures and the need to
STRIVING FOR A BETTER WORLD
As TOP grew, Leif was able to resign from his
position at Perth Zoo and work with TOP fulltime.
He soon found himself not only rescuing
orangutans but other creatures as well.
“With deforestation you might have 120
elephants who’ve got nowhere to go and so they
start raiding crops so the people start shooting
and poisoning elephants and the elephants start
killing people,” Leif says. “And while we’re here
to save the orangutan you can’t do this while
elephants are killing people so all of a sudden we’re
in the rescuing elephant business as well.”
The case was the same with tigers, silver gibbons,
bears and the Asian rhino. It wasn’t long before
Leif was supporting aid agencies for each of
these creatures, all operating under the umbrella
organisation Wildlife Asia.
“We’re about trying to make a better world for all
living things,” Leif says. And those ‘living things’
include people. Leif says it’s the subsistence
farmers who often suffer the most when big
corporations swoop in, clear the forest and replace
it with palm oil plantations. The destruction of
native habitat causes floods, drought and erosion.
and damages food production for millions.
Leif is dumbfounded at how people can cause
such destruction to people and animals. “The
suffering is beyond our comprehension,” Leif
says. “This is my gripe with humanity – that
seemingly normal and decent people are causing
unimaginable suffering in the world. Our capacity
to be wilfully blind to our effects on other living
things is unbelievable. It’s not a case of wildlife
versus people or environment versus economy, it’s
about letting a few greedy people get richer at the
expense of all other living beings.”
Leif dreams of gaining enough funding to
purchase 1800 square kilometres of land as safe
orangutan habitat. This would be sufficient to
protect 8000 orangutans with enough genetic
diversity to protect them from extinction. It would
also require the employment of 180 wildlife
We take care
of your finances
so you can look
up and grow.
THAT FOCUS ON THE
To do this he needs money, and a continuing flow
of it – some $20 million a year. For this he relies
on people making regular donations to fund TOP’s
work, people ‘adopting’ orphaned orangutans, and
guests on eco-tours who raise money to fund TOP
and travel to see its efforts firsthand.
Leif says people get swept up in the high of
helping to save a species. “Happiness is only
achieved with selflessness,” he says. “When people
see how their money is affecting the change they
want to see in the world they feel happy, they are
making a difference. This is what it’s all about.
Without wanting to sound like an old hippy, it
really is all about love.”
You can support The Orangutan Project’s
work in several ways, including ‘adopting’
an orangutan orphan, providing regular
donations or participating in an eco-tour to
see these magnificent creatures firsthand.
Find out more by visiting the website
right Leif’s love for
bottom An adult
Opposite page, top An
orphaned orangutan in
The Orangutan Project’s
LEIF COCKS 25
Give it a crack!
LUCAS PATCHETT AND NIC MARCHESI
Orange Sky Laundry founders
It was nearly six years ago
that a then 38-year-old Melissa
Simpson walked into her
bedroom and discovered her
husband dead on the bed. He’d been
sick for some time, but they’d never
regarded it as terminal. At first, Melissa
ceased to function. She’d spend whole days on
the couch, not moving, numb. But she eventually
pulled herself together. She had to. She had three
young daughters to bring up.
Melissa also looked to her own mother, who’d taken
anti-depressants since her mum had died – a move that deadened
the severity of emotion, but meant she never quite dealt with her
mother’s death and instead went through life burdened by a
sadness she couldn’t shake. Melissa did not want that for herself
and her own daughters. She was determined to shun the Western
tendency to avoid grief, to hide it, to pretend it didn’t exist. Melissa
believed there was real power in grieving properly and healing
well. She would feel her pain, accept it, and move forward.
So powerfully healing was the experience that Melissa dreamt of
helping others to grapple with grief in healthier ways. The result of
that dream is Give Grief Words.
Give Grief Words is an online platform where people can learn
how to grieve healthily, a haven to turn to when seeking resources
for help, a loving community in which people share their grief
stories and support each other in their own grief journeys.
Give Grief Words encourages people to share their grief, to
acknowledge it, and to experience the healing and growth that
results when we free ourselves from the urge to run from the pain.
Lucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi
LAUNDRY AND CHATS
RESTORING RESPECT FOR THE HOMELESS
Two 21-year-old mates have launched a free mobile laundry
service to wash clothes for the homeless. In the process they have
captured the imagination of the public, not only for washing
clothes, but for spending time with people who are down on their
luck. Their efforts saw them win the 2016 Young Australian of
the Year Award. But they say their biggest success is helping the
homeless regain two things they crave most – dignity and respect.
It’s 6.30am as the bright orange van pulls up
by a park in inner-city Brisbane, Australia. Two
21-year-old lads bound out. They stride over to
the homeless people who’ve slept in the park last
night. “How ya going mate?” they ask one man.
“Got any clothes you need washed?”
Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi have
launched Orange Sky Laundry – a free mobile
laundry service – to help people sleeping rough.
They welcome people to their van, wash and dry
their clothes for free and, while they are waiting,
spend the hour chatting with the person who’s
down on their luck.
This simple formula – cleaning clothes and
chatting with the homeless – has proven a winning
recipe. Since launching last year with a single van,
Orange Sky Laundry now has 10 mobile laundry
vans and a mobile shower van for the homeless.
They’ve rallied together a team of 622 volunteers
who have together washed 215,000 kilograms
of clothes and spent 54,000 hours washing and
chatting with the homeless. In the process the duo
has helped return dignity to the lives of people
doing it tough.
What drives these two best mates to spend their
free time doing laundry and hanging out with
people that most prefer to ignore, rushing by with
DESIRE TO HELP
As youngsters growing up in privileged homes,
Lucas and Nic knew they were lucky. But it wasn’t
until they started volunteering with the food
vans through their high school that they realised
just how fortunate they were. For here they met
homeless people face to face and, for the first time,
realised they were no different from anyone else,
except for a series of misfortunes. So, when they
left school, they were keen to continue helping.
But without the school organising the logistics, it
became more difficult to volunteer.
Their solution? Come up with their own plan to
help. At first they considered starting their own
food van. But there were already lots of food vans
doing a good job of feeding Brisbane’s homeless.
What else could help these people? “We just
thought ‘the first thing we do in the morning is get
up and put on a fresh set of clothes – imagine if
you didn’t have the option of doing that’,” Lucas
says. “So we thought, ‘imagine if we could bring a
mobile laundry to these people’.”
IDEA IN ACTION
They jumped online and started Googling
commercial-grade washers and dryers. But the
prices were much higher than they anticipated,
and the service schedules put them off. The
idea stalled. Lucas went travelling overseas, Nic
continued to work full-time. But when Lucas
returned home with a month to spare before
starting university, the idea surfaced once more.
“We just thought ‘if it doesn’t happen now it
will never happen’,” Lucas recalls. So, again they
researched commercial laundry equipment and
this time they met with a supplier, Richard Jay
from Laundry Matters. Within 45 minutes they’d
sold their idea and Richard offered them a free
washer and dryer to equip their van. “We couldn’t
believe it,” Lucas says. “They were the first people
to believe in it.”
Bottom Lucas and Nic in
the doorway of an Orange
Sky Laundry van.
Below Kitting out a van
with washing machines
to wash clothes for the
LUCAS PATCHETT AND NIC MARCHESI 29
“Fired up about
making a difference,
they bounded into the van,
drove to a local park and
pulled up ready to change
Now, to install a
washer and dryer
into the back of Nic’s
old van. They were
advised it “should”
fit, but it was going
to be close. The duo
spent their weekends
doing trips to the local
hardware store, cutting
wood and painting to build
a platform that would hold the
laundry equipment, all the while
desperately hoping it would work
out. And it fitted. Just.
Next, getting power to the equipment.
They approached Kennards Hire and were again
gobsmacked by the support when Kennards
donated a free generator.
Fired up about making a difference, they
bounded into the van, drove to a local park and
pulled up ready to change the world. “When we
rocked up it was a bit late and most people had
dispersed but there were these two guys there,”
Lucas says. “Nic went and said g’day while I fired
up the machines. But the guys just said nah and it
was all a bit strange and they didn’t want to do it.
And in the meantime I’d managed to fry both the
circuit boards in the machines.”
HELPING THE HOMELESS
But they’d come this far, they had to give it
another shot. With the power supply now worked
out and the machines repaired they again set out,
earlier this time, to the park they’d visited with the
school food van. Again they approached some of
the homeless. Again they were met with confusion.
What? You want to wash our clothes? Why, the
homeless people asked. But one fellow took them
up on their offer.
They got to chatting with him. Again Nic and
Lucas were astounded at how easily life can
change. “He’d been to a private school in Brisbane,
he’d studied a similar subject to me at university
and then there were a few life turns that didn’t
go his way and he found himself living in a park,”
“I just thought that could be me in 10 years’
time. Sometimes it can only take two or three
little things to go wrong – a medical bill, or a car
to break down or losing one or two pay cheques –
and you could find yourself homeless. Every night
in Australia there are 105,000 people sleeping on
The first couple of washes made them realise
this service wasn’t just about washing clothes. It
was more about spending time with people – an
antidote to the averted eyes that the homeless
“We thought we might really be onto something
– it was a really unique opportunity to have this
conversation space,” Lucas says. “I’d say it’s 90
percent about the talking and 10 percent about
the washing. Some of the volunteers say they feel
lazy just sitting around talking but we think it’s
the most important part – that’s where the impact
LUCAS PATCHETT AND NIC MARCHESI
Buoyed by their first day’s success, they returned
the next day and washed a couple more people’s
clothes. They started visiting different places,
testing to see where the service was most needed.
They got a list of all the service centres catering to
the homeless in Brisbane and parked beside them
– food vans, outreach teams, welfare agencies.
Along the way their three main goals crystallised.
They made Orange Sky Laundry about three
things – restoring respect, raising health standards
and reducing strain on resources.
Opposite page A couple
makes use of Orange Sky
Above left Fitting out a
Above and left The
service’s strength lies not
just in washing clothes, but
in talking to the homeless
and showing them respect.
While parked outside a Salvation Army outreach
centre, Nic and Lucas got to talking to a staff
member who was impressed by their efforts. She
wondered if they’d be keen on parking the van at
the centre for the day, after they’d completed their
morning rounds of the parks? That way people
could bring their washing to the centre, a move
that would make them more inclined to access
the services on offer for the homeless. The van
now operates from 9am to 3pm at the Salvation
Army centre, doing 10 to 20 loads a day, on top
of the morning rounds. “While they are there they
can grab a feed and have a chat about things like
housing solutions,” Lucas says.
CAPTURING PUBLIC INTEREST
In the meantime Nic and Lucas began posting
their efforts on Facebook – mostly silly shots of
themselves fitting out the van. But their wild idea
caught the public imagination. Someone shared
it on social news website Reddit. And before they
knew it one post had more than one million likes.
People across the globe started offering money.
Emails poured in. Others wanted to sign up as
volunteers. A social investor approached them.
They bought another van and kitted it out for
work in Cairns. “There were all these people who
believed in us – that was the first time we thought
‘shit, we’re really onto something’,” Lucas says.
HELPING THE UNEXPECTEDLY HOMELESS
Then, in early 2015, cyclone Marcia smashed
Queensland. Again Nic and Lucas saw an
opportunity to help. They drove the Cairns van to
Rockhampton and began washing the clothes of
people left homeless by the storm. “We went to
this house in Yeppoon that had been really badly
damaged and said, ‘let us wash your clothes’,”
Lucas says. “The whole roof had ripped off and the
external walls were torn apart. All their clothes were
LUCAS PATCHETT AND NIC MARCHESI 31
In Lucas and
Nic’s words ...
Who inspires us
People who find simple and
creative solutions to problems
and people who are constantly
challenging the way in which
things are done.
Give it a crack! We all have
ideas, it’s about getting that
idea into action – that’s the
difficult thing, so just get in
there and do it.
Above Lucas and Nic
atop an Orange Sky
wet and they knew they wouldn’t be able to wash
them anytime soon, so they’d all be ruined. They
had three kids under 10.”
So they washed the family’s clothes. Word
spread. Interest soared. Nic and Lucas worked
relentless hours to wash 1000 kilograms of clothes
in four days.
Media began to take an interest in the duo and
their unlikely service. Who were these lads from
Brisbane with this madcap idea that was making
such a difference? They featured in newspapers, on
radio and TV. They were in demand to give talks
It wasn’t long and they’d launched another
Orange Sky Laundry van on the Gold Coast, fitted
with two washers and dryers. Then came another
van in Melbourne, one in south-east Victoria and
one in Sydney. Soon they had 300 volunteers a
fortnight on the books.
You can support Orange Sky Laundry’s efforts by making
a donation, or volunteering. Find out more via the website
All the while Lucas continued his university
studies and part-time job while Nic worked fulltime.
They still pinch themselves at the realisation
of how it has grown. “I remember when we were
driving into Melbourne, into this community where
we knew no-one, and being able to wash these
people’s clothes in early July – when it was really
cold and these fellows were doing it really tough,”
Lucas recalls. “And we thought ‘we’re just two
blokes from Brisbane who had a crazy idea and a
few people believed in us’.”
So do they ever have doubts? Do they ever wish
they were spending their weekends at the beach
and bars like their mates? “There have been a few
nights when we’ve had no sleep when it gets hard,”
Lucas says. “And we can feel a bit uncomfortable
when we’re interviewing people for volunteer roles
like service managers – some of these guys have
resumes twice as long as me and I’m interviewing
them! It’s scary but it’s also exciting – no-one is
doing this anywhere else in the world so it has
Nic and Lucas have also started hiring the
homeless to help operate the vans – a move they
hope to expand so that, eventually, at least 70
percent of their staff are people who once slept
rough. And they’re constantly inspired by the
people they meet, whether it’s a homeless person
or the CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation. But
for them the main reward is helping give homeless
people two simple things that they all crave –
dignity and respect.
LUCAS PATCHETT AND NIC MARCHESI
We don’t need to
resist the suffering,
we have the ability to
cope with the big shit.
Parenting educator and author
Spread the love ...
At Inspired, we’re all about feeling good. And we believe it feels good to do
good. You don’t necessarily have to launch a charity to fight world poverty
(though that would be seriously awesome). Sometimes it’s the sharing of
sincere compliments, warm smiles and random acts of kindness that can
make others feel great and, in the process, fill us with that wonderful glow of
To help you spread the love, and enjoy the warm and fuzzies that result,
we dare you to drop an Inspired Love Bomb.
Simply remove the card from the page opposite, fill it in, and spread
the love. You may choose to post it in the mail, put it under someone’s
car windscreen wiper or pop it on their keyboard. Just think of the smiles,
warmth and love that will result. Makes us feel all mushy just at the thought.
Take a photo of you gifting your Inspired Love Bomb, or your
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www.facebook.com/InspiredMagazine1 for a chance to win a free
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Order more Inspired Love Bombs to spread the love. Visit
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Love bomb 4.pdf 1 15/11/2016 9:35 pm
I am sending you an Inspired Love Bomb because:
I think you’re amazing and that you should
hear it all the time.
I’m sorry you’re having a rough time but want
you to know that I’m here for you if you need a
chat / coffee / drink (CIRCLE APPLICABLE)
I’d like to thank you for
I’m grateful for you being in my life.
With love from
You can order
Love Bombs from
Anja Ringgren Loven
This young Danish woman has dedicated her life to saving
Nigeria’s ‘witch children’. From one day to the next these
children are branded witches, ousted from their families,
often tortured, sometimes murdered. Outraged at the
horrific practice, Anja moved to Nigeria to rescue accused
children. She then homes those she saves in an orphanage
and seeks to overcome the horrors they’ve endured with
the healing power of love.
Anja Ringgren Loven was slumped in the
back of the car on the way home from an
aborted ‘witch-child’ rescue mission in
Nigeria when she received the phone call. Already
distraught with the disappointment of having
failed to rescue the child, Anja could scarcely
believe what she was now hearing.
There was a boy, maybe two or three years old,
who was near dead, said the voice on the phone.
He’d been branded a witch, abandoned by his
family, and left to die in the streets.
Every year Anja and her team at African
Children’s Aid Education and Development
Foundation rescued dozens of Nigeria’s ‘witch
children’ – children whose families turned on them
overnight, and tried to murder or torture them
because of superstitious beliefs that their child had
suddenly become evil. But never before had Anja
heard of someone so young being outcast.
Anja and her team normally took days to plan
such rescues – careful to protect the lives of the
rescue team as well as those they were saving
from fanatics hell-bent on purging ‘evil’ from their
lives. But there was no time to plan the rescue
of this child. Anja instructed the driver to divert
course. She wasn’t going to let another child fall
victim to this terrible curse, not today, not after
the failed rescue, which she’d called off to save her
rescue team’s lives.
Left Anja Ringgren Loven with a group of the
children once outcast as ‘witches’.
Above Anja provides a near-dead ‘Hope’ a drink.
Top Anja cradles Hope
in a blanket before fleeing
with him to aid.
Top right Slowly, Hope
Right Anja helps scores
of children abandoned or
tortured in Nigeria.
Below right Anja with
her husband David
and son Junior.
OUTRAGE SPARKS QUEST TO HELP
Of course today wasn’t their first failure. In 3.5
years at this game, Anja had experienced her
share of devastation: times when they’d arrived
too late, the accused children already dead from
starvation, from exposure, or burnt alive, drowned
in rivers, hung in trees, hacked with axes. It was
her desire to stem such horror that brought Anja to
Nigeria. She’d been sitting in her home in Denmark
– one of the most peaceful countries in the world –
when she saw a documentary about the plight of
Nigerian children who’d been branded witches.
Appalled at what she saw assaulting her TV
screen, Anja knew she had to do something. She’d
already gained aid experience living in Malawi
for three months, and helping to rennovate a
village school in Tanzania. So she sold her every
possession to fund a trip to Nigeria where she’d
work at an orphanage for children accused of
It was here she’d meet David Emmanuel Umem
who would go on to be her husband. David was
a Nigerian law student who’d been fighting for
human rights in his country since he was 15.
Burning with a desire to do more, and avoid the
corruption they’d witnessed at this orphanage, the
duo determined to open their own orphanage to
help the shunned witch-accused kids.
They eventually fundraised enough money to
buy a plot of land in 2014 that today houses 50
abandoned children in a hostel, with room for up
to 200. The orphanage, called Land of Hope, also
houses 10 staff and Anja, David and their son
Junior. Most of the orphanage kids are aged from
six to 18 years old.
ANJA RINGGREN LOVEN
In Anja’s words ...
Who inspires me
My [late] mum. She showed
compassion and love to everyone.
She taught me the value of being
thankful for what you have got
instead of complaining of what you
don’t have. She always told me to
work hard and be strong.
Work hard, show love and think
David was at Anja’s side as they averted their
course from the failed rescue mission with hope of
rescuing the abandoned toddler. They knew they
couldn’t just swoop in and pluck the boy from the
streets without reprisal. They’d need to be smarter
Normally Anja’s staff handled the rescues as
Anja, a white woman with striking blonde hair,
tattoos and long pale limbs, attracted too much
attention. But perhaps this time it could work in
their favour. They decided to pose as missionaries
and visited a man selling dog meat, close to
where the boy was last sighted. While speaking to
the dog-meat seller, one of the team spotted the
forlorn figure of what could only be the abandoned
toddler. Anja risked a furtive glance and felt her
body freeze in shock at the sight of him.
Used to playing this game by now, Anja
composed her face into a mask and feigned
interest in the plants and trees, asking the dogmeat
seller to walk down the street to explain the
plants they passed by. She guided him towards
the boy until his emancipated figure was directly in
front of her.
Anja commented that the boy looked like he
needed some food and she knelt down in front of
him. “By now there were lots of people who’d come
out to see the white people,” Anja recalls. “We
were surrounded and the tension was really high. I
kneeled down to give him some water and biscuits
and he smelt so bad – he was more dead than
alive. I said ‘I think this child needs medical help’
and asked if I could have a blanket to wrap him in
and take him to a health clinic.”
Relieved at the man’s affirmative response, Anja
gathered the tiny body in her arms and ventured
back to their van. But at the last minute the dogmeat
seller changed his mind. No they couldn’t
take the child, he yelled. “I just thought we have to
get the hell out of here,” Anja says. “This could not
go wrong now.”
David ran down the street, flinging his arms in
outrage and demanding to know how the man
could be so selfish as to deny the medical care.
Amid the confusion Anja, David and the camera
crew travelling with them piled into the van and
fled, a rescue worker cradling the boy’s near-lifeless
But it seemed the rescue was too late. The boy
was too weak to suck juice from a straw. His body
was covered in hair – a sign his insides were dying.
Anja considered where to bury him. She didn’t
want the child to be buried nameless so, when it
came to registering his name at the hospital, she
came up with a name that epitomised their desires
for him – Hope.
Looking back, hope had driven Anja’s work in
Nigeria from the start. Hope of rescuing children,
hope of preventing others being branded witches.
Hope of educating the superstitious to show them
Anja does not blame the families for ousting their
children. She says they are innocent, uneducated,
and superstitious, brought up to fear a world
seething with the terrors of evil. Like those in the
Western world in medieval times, these people
blame witches for any manner of ills – from poor
harvests to sickness – and witchdoctors and
Above Anja’s work is
based on providing hope
ANJA RINGGREN LOVEN 39
Top Victims often need
support to overcome
their physical and
Above Hope is now a
thriving, cheeky toddler.
Above right Anja and
her team work to
raise awareness and
advocacy, rather than
pastors often profit from attempts to exorcise the
‘demons’ from those they’ve branded.
It’s these people, those who profit from the
exercise and promote its belief, with whom Anja
takes issue. But she must not risk deriding them
in Nigeria – not if she cares for the safety of her
family, her staff and the children in her orphanage.
Instead of condemning witchery, Anja and her
team work on advocacy – on letting people in the
villages know to contact them if a child is accused.
On giving them an alternative for the child who
was often a beloved family member just days
before the branding.
Anja will never forget the first boy she helped
rescue. The boy had been hiding in the forest for a
month, too scared to venture out to anyone. But
eventually Anja and her team found him, standing
alone, his t-shirt torn with holes, his body caked
with dirt. “There was no blood, no sign of torture,
but he looked so, so scared,” Anja recalls. “That
look of fear, of absolute loneliness, it was like a
knife went through my heart. I just thought how
can someone abandon a nine year old?”
While the physical and emotional healing takes
time, Anja is amazed at the children’s strength
ANJA RINGGREN LOVEN
of character and ability to recover from such
treatment. She cites the case of an 18-year-old
boy in the orphanage’s care whom they found
three years ago. His uncles had held him down
and hacked at his body with an axe, eventually
slicing through his head to within millimetres of his
The boy’s broken body mended with time but
his mental wounds proved much harder to heal.
Like everyone at the orphanage, this boy received
love and encouragement and slowly he started to
recover. Today that boy is top of his class at school
and plans to study law at university. “If you could
have seen him when we rescued him to what he is
today, you’d be so amazed,” Anja says. “He makes
me so proud.”
NEW CHANCE AT LIFE
With the orphanage’s emphasis on education, the
boy is one of several kids at Land of Hope who are
excelling at school. Their bright eyes and wide smiles
continue to astonish Anja. “When we rescue them
they are like wild animals,” she says. “But we take
them in, they go to school, they become happy and
they smile every day. When I feel down they say
‘are you ok?’, I just think I’m not even entitled to
feel this sad – I’ve not gone through what they’ve
gone through, and look at their smiles.”
Watching Hope’s emancipated body in the
hospital, Anja doubted he’d live, let alone come
to smile. With her own similar-aged son to care
for, plus an orphanage full of other children, she
left Hope at the hospital in the care of one of the
orphanage’s rescue workers, Rose.
Rose stayed with Hope 24 hours a day for a
month. She lay beside him, sung to him, prayed
for him. Two weeks into his hospital stay his heart
faltered and they feared the worst. But, remarkably,
Hope lived up to his name. Anja’s face warms into
a smile at the thought of him. He’s unrecognisable
from the waif she swept into her arms 18 months
ago. He is now a chubby toddler, his face full of
cheeky smiles, at home at the orphanage.
Thanks to a photo taken at his rescue, shown
alongside a photo of him today, which went viral
across the internet, Hope has come to stand
for everything Anja hopes to achieve. For if one
so young, so fragile, so vulnerable, can recover,
surely there’s hope for the others still to endure
the accusation of witchcraft. Surely there’s hope
that such horror can be overcome with education,
understanding and love.
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Have the courage
to be kind.
WA Australian of the Year
Rebel Black sat in the GP’s consultation room, yet again
discussing the stomach pains that knifed through her core,
the complex dietary requirements her body seemed to
demand, the exhaustion and the depression.
Few people knew she was here. On the surface she had it
all – a gorgeous husband, a series of business successes, close
friends. Rebel was the kind of high achiever others looked up to
in the small New South Wales community of Lightning Ridge.
She’d moved there as a 21-year-old editor of the local paper
and gone on to establish award-winning and six-figure-earning
businesses, launching one after another as her whims changed
and she looked for a new challenge.
But Rebel’s body was screaming its protest. She was fed up
with searching for a way to fix herself. Now, sitting in front of a
visiting GP, she yearned for a solution. But, instead of prescribing
medication, the doctor posed a question. “What if you stop
looking for what’s wrong with you?” the GP offered. “And instead
start looking for what’s right.”
The simple suggestion sparked a personal revelation. “I thought
I was a problem to be fixed,” Rebel says. “But when I considered
mind, body and spirit together I realised I’m perfect just as I am,
and my whole world changed.”
Rebel became so invigorated by the physical and mental
changes that she couldn’t help but share what she was learning in
her already-burgeoning life coaching business. She discovered the
power in recognising the patterns that held her back, and releasing
them. She realised she had everything she needed inside.
THRIVE, HEAL, EVOLVE
Rebel yearned to help still more people, particularly women
like her living in rural Australia. Her clients were experiencing real
transformations, but Rebel didn’t want to be the one with all the
answers. She dreamt of creating a space where these amazing
women could meet to support each other, to thrive, heal and
evolve. The result of this dream was the launch of The Rural
“I’d met all these really
amazing rural women doing
incredible things but they
just lacked confidence,”
Rebel says. “They are so
smart, and have so much to
offer that I felt a real calling
to help them.” The Rural
Woman brings these women
together in an online world
in which they share learnings,
encouragement, and impart
As The Rural Woman membership grew, Rebel decided to
create a nurturing yet intensive program for women who are
ready to get serious about living life to their full potential. The
result is the mastermind course Full Bloom. This nine-month
program delivered by nine coaches takes women on a journey
of personal, health, spiritual and business growth. Rebel is awed
by the transformations.
“At the core of this program is the wisdom that ‘all answers
lie within’ and that we are the experts of our own lives,” Rebel
says. “The transformations are amazing; seeing women
overcome their fears to expand businesses, to take risks in their
lives that pay dividends in their health and finances, to speak
up when normally they would have been quiet – to ask for
help and to receive it. These small shifts by degrees make a
massive difference in the long term. The impact of the women’s
participation in this program will be rippling for generations.”
Learn more about
The Rural Woman at
“At the core of
this program is
the wisdom that ‘all
answers lie within’
and that we are
the experts of
our own lives.”
Shocked at the horrors of the Syrian
refugee crisis, a young American mother
is easing the burden for scores of
refugee families by donating thousands
of baby carriers to people fleeing their
war-ravaged homes. Through her now
burgeoning charity Carry the Future,
Cristal has not only helped refugees but
also been personally transformed from
a cynic to someone who is continually
amazed by people’s genuine desire to
do good in the world.
Cristal Logothetis was a young mum, happy
but somewhat cynical about the world, when
the now infamous image of the drowned
three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi flashed
up on her Facebook feed. Alan and his family had
been fleeing Syria in search of refuge in Greece
when their boat overturned.
At first Cristal felt angry at having witnessed the
picture of the tiny body lying face down in the
sand. She went out of her way to avoid depressing
news reports – after all, it seemed hopeless, there
was nothing she do. Yet here before her was news
of the most depressing sort. Not only did she feel
betrayed personally at having to view the photo,
she felt outraged on behalf of the boy whose
terrible death was being flashed across screens
around the world.
Cristal tried to push the image aside. Yet it
occupied her every thought. She was the mother
of a nearly two-year-old boy. Her husband came
from the tiny Greek island of Kos, to which Alan
Kurdi’s family was fleeing in search of refuge.
But what could she or anyone else do? And
suddenly it occurred to her – baby carriers. Surely
refugees could only benefit from this device she
relied on daily with her own son. The idea captured
the public imagination and took Cristal on a
journey which has not only eased the journey for
thousands of refugees carrying children but also
restored Cristal’s faith in humanity.
It just so happened that Cristal had recently
returned from a trip to Europe in which she’d
travelled alone with her toddler son. Her friends
had been impressed by the adventurous
undertaking but Cristal knew she’d only been
able to manoeuvre through airports with luggage
thanks to the baby carrier with which she’d
transported her son.
Navigating airports was one thing, but fleeing
a war-ravaged country was quite another. Would
the Syrians respond to the offer of donated baby
carriers? Cristal first shared the idea with Facebook
groups formed around baby carriers. “And man
did they shoot me down,” Cristal recalls. “They
said I should help the veterans first, that middle
easterners were not a baby-wearing culture, to try
to keep your privilege in check. I warred with this
for a few days because I thought ‘what if they were
right?’ but a little part of me said ‘listen you can
barely carry your son for 15 minutes in the store if
you don’t bring your baby carrier’. I thought these
women can’t be that different from me. I knew if I
was in their shoes and fleeing my country and had
miles to go I would want a baby carrier.”
GRATITUDE AND GRIEF
Cristal decided to go ahead and launch a
crowdfunding campaign that soon went viral.
CRISTAL LOGOTHETIS 45
Donations of baby carriers and funds poured in.
While Cristal initially planned to mail the baby
carriers, such was the level of support that she
embarked on a trip to Greece in September last
year to distribute the baby carriers to refugees
arriving by the hundreds aboard ferries in Kos.
She travelled to the tiny isle to hand out the
first of the 500 donated carriers. “By then my
campaign had gone viral – I had raised $7000
overnight and thousands of people were sending
me their baby carriers,” she says. “Everything was
riding on my idea that these refugees would want
my baby carriers.”
Wearing a baby carrier with a doll inside to
model how it worked, Cristal approached the first
family – would they like a baby carrier? No, came
the confused reply. Worried, Cristal approached
another family – a man who spoke excellent
English, who was travelling with several women
and children – and offered him the free carrier. “I’ll
never forget his face,” she says. “He just said ‘really
it’s for us, why?’ I said ‘it’s from America, a mother
donated it to you so your wife and your child can
be comfortable’ and his face kind of froze with
this look of gratitude that you just can’t explain,
mixed with grief – that’s when I knew I was onto
something.” She went on to distribute all 500 of
the baby carriers.
In Cristal’s words ...
Who inspires me
[The drowned three-year-old] Alan Kurdi. To me he wasn’t just a Syrian
refugee; he could have very well been my own son.
Solidarity work is only tough at first. Once you get to work your mind
settles whatever disputes it may initially have on the issues of morality,
pros and cons, good and evil and the merits of what you are doing. And
when the mental dust settles, your reward is the tremendous and unique
satisfaction that can only be obtained by helping a fellow human being.
PEOPLE BEHIND THE HEADLINES
In the meantime, donations of baby carriers and
funds continued to flood in at home in America.
It became obvious Cristal would need to form a
public charity – and Carry the Future was born.
With the carriers and money came pleas from
other mothers desperate to help. Cristal gathered a
team of 10 volunteers and they returned to Greece
several months later with 2500 baby carriers to
On this trip Cristal met one family with two mums
– an older woman with three teenage daughters
and a younger mother with a baby son and two
young girls. Cristal saw the young mother as she
entered the heaving Athens port and watched
panic cloud her eyes. The woman met Cristal’s
gaze and, in limited English, she pleaded for help.
“Something snapped inside me and I just said ‘yes
let’s do this,” Cristal says. “I stuck the family in two
taxies, took them to my hotel and paid five nights’
accommodation with money someone donated to
While Cristal had met hundreds of refugee
families by now, she’d never spent time with any of
them. These women were her first real experience
in getting to know the people behind the headlines.
While their own houses had not been bombed,
their kids hadn’t gone to school for months, their
friends had been kidnapped, their country was in
chaos, and their husbands had fled ahead of them
to set up new lives for their families in Germany.
“Your house doesn’t have to be bombed to want to
flee,” Cristal says. “But if you look out your window
and your country’s in a state of chaos and there’s
no hospitals and no schools you’re going to want
to get out of there.”
These women and others like them shattered
Cristal’s preconceptions of refugees. “We assumed
because they are refugees they would be sad but
it’s just not the case – a lot of these people are
very, very grateful to be alive,” she says. “Maybe
they’re sleeping in deplorable conditions but at
least they’re safe and don’t have the threat of a
bomb being thrown on their head at any minute.
So there’s a lot of cheerfulness. The refugee camps
are kind of chaotic – from the outside it’s horrible –
no three meals a day, people haven’t bathed in a
month – but it’s better than where they’ve been.”
FAITH IN HUMANITY
All the while Carry the Future continued to
grow. Women who had volunteered to help
have transformed from fearful and hesitant
to empowered in their ability to make change.
Several have gone on to launch their own offshoot
charities to help the refugees in other ways.
But perhaps the biggest transformation has been
Cristal’s own. Just eight months ago she could
never had dreamed what she’d be doing today. “I
used to be a very, very cynical person,” she says.
“I didn’t think I could make a change in the world.
Whenever I saw anything bad in the world I’d think
I can’t fix it, no-one else can fix it, humanity kind
of stinks. But doing this work and constantly have
people reach out to me desperate to help has
shown me that humankind is, at its core, good. It’s
really changed my outlook on life. I feel like I live in
a much better world.”
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
Presented by Clara Harris
Previous page A Carry the Future volunteer fits a Syrian
refugee with a baby carrier.
Above right A refugee shows off her new baby carrier.
Opposite page, top Cristal (centre) with her team.
Opposite page, bottom A Syrian family are all smiles
with their new baby carrier.
You can support Carry the Future by
making a donation and volunteering –
visit the website www.carrythefuture.org.
Clara Harris shares her family’s heart-warming
tale of life with their son Sam, who is 18 years
old and has autism.
Clara takes listeners on an emotional
journey from diagnosis to near death,
from medication to mental health, and
from disability to ability.
This presentation NEEDS to be seen in
your school, in your workplace, and in
your family home.
“I would urge anyone who is able to get there to
attend this talk; not just to be inspired and
humbled by what is a story of a family’s love for
their amazing son, but also to gain an insight
into autism.” - Sue Gliddon McColl, Geraldton
for a special
‘Gangsta Gardener’ Ron Finley is leading a movement
in which people across the globe are transforming
abandoned blocks, roadside verges and unloved pieces
of vacant dirt into gardens and vegetable patches.
The craze is not only beautifying forgotten areas but
bringing people together, providing fresh produce in areas
dominated by fast food and reminding people that they
have the power to shape their own future.
Travel across the skyline of Los Angeles,
beyond the glitz of Hollywood, over the
ghettos patrolled by hunch-shouldered
youths, not far from the shopping strips jammed
with fast food outlets where people groan with
the weight of their own obesity, and descend into
South Central LA.
Here sits an unassuming house, amid a street
of modest homes. Out the front, tending to the
garden on his verge and chatting to his neighbour,
is Ron Finley – an artist and fashion designer who
has risen to fame as the ‘Gangsta Gardener’.
Ron has led a movement in which people across
the world are transforming abandoned areas into
gardens. With shovel in hand they are turning
forgotten blocks into vegetable patches and
roadside verges into flowerbeds.
But this movement is about more than gardens
– it’s about bucking the system, empowering
people to design life in the way they want it, about
helping them to realise they don’t have to do
things the way they’ve always been done.
Ron says drive-through fast food outlets are
killing more people than the drive-by shootings
that dominate media headlines in his LA home. It’s
the preventable diseases caused by poor diets that
are bringing down the people of his neighbourhood.
Imagine, he thought, if residents could take
matters into their own hands. If they could plant
their own food on forgotten patches of dirt?
Left Ron has earned a name for himself as a ‘gangsta
gardener’ after transforming abandoned pieces of dirt
into vegetable gardens and colourful flowerbeds.
In Ron’s words ...
What inspires me
Air inspires me every day. It’s the most important thing in life and
it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
Use the garden as your canvas, to tell the story you want to tell.
BUCKING THE SYSTEM
It was 2010 and Ron Finley was sick of the sight
of the lawn on the verge in front of his home. He
was sick of mowing it. Sick of picking up rubbish.
Ron wanted to create something beautiful,
somewhere he could seek refuge, that pleased
the eye. So he ripped up the grass and planted a
garden. “It became a meditation,” he recalls. “It
became my solace. I was seduced by it.”
But the LA authorities were not so smitten. They
demanded he remove the garden, claiming the
sidewalk was not his to beautify. Ron refused. They
insisted. He ignored them. They issued a warrant
for his arrest.
“I just said ‘bring it’,” Ron recalls. “This was the
second time it had happened – I’d taken it out before
and I was not taking it out again. It was ridiculous –
what was wrong with beautifying the verge?”
Supporters rallied to Ron’s side, gathering 900
signatures on a petition. But it was the media
interest that sparked change. Ron’s bid to beautify
his verge and bring the community together
through gardens stirred public interest. The
bureaucrats buckled. Ok, they said, but you need
to buy a $400 permit.
“I just said ‘I want to beautify it and now I have
to pay you?’” Ron says. “I didn’t have to pay them
when there was trash there and I picked it up, I
didn’t have to pay them to mow it. I just said, ‘no
I’m not subscribing to that’.”
POWER OF A MOVEMENT
Ron’s stubbornness prevailed and he eventually
received permission to continue his garden.
But the public stand-off led to far more than a
pretty verge. For Ron had realised the power of a
He began planting gardens – particularly
vegetable patches – in unloved pieces of dirt
across the neighbourhood. Other people joined
in. This was an area where you had to travel half
an hour to buy a piece of fresh fruit. No wonder
the kids were fat, the adults were sick. Why not
surpass the obstacles to healthy living by taking it
into your own hands and planting your own food,
Ron questioned? Why not help kids understand
what real food is? Why not eat food that’s not
made up of ingredients so complicated they are
near impossible to pronounce? “If kids grow kale,
they eat kale, if they grow tomatoes they eat
tomatoes,” Ron says.
A VISION SPREADS
Ron dreamed of a world where everyone planted
foods and started sharing their produce – I’ll give
you a lettuce in return for your carrots. He dreamed
of people taking their health into their own hands,
and at the same time saving money, meeting
neighbours and forging a sense of community.
“I want to open people’s eyes,” he says. “I want
kids to know that a lettuce doesn’t come out of
the stores. I want them to have the opportunity
to make the choices they want to make. I want
people to realise they don’t need meds, they need
Ron’s vision spread. Others started to plant veggie
patches in median strips, along sidewalks, in vacant
blocks. Soon dozens, then hundreds of gardens and
veggie patches had sprung up across LA.
Ron gave a TED Talk on the Gangsta Gardening
movement and his vision spread still further. Soon
people in other American states caught on. Before
long people in the UK, Africa and Korea were
LIFE IS A CANVAS
So what next? “World domination,” Ron quips.
“This is not about food. It’s about people. Soil is
the catalyst to get people together, to change
them, to let them see another way. It’s a way of
getting them to see that life is a canvas and they
can paint it in any way they want.”
Opposite and this page, all The Gangsta Gardening
movement is not only beautifying areas, but forging a
new sense of community.
Find out more at the Ron Finley Project
Carina Hoang fled South Vietnam in the
aftermath of the Vietnam War, endured a
traumatic escape from which she barely
survived, and now returns to the Indonesian
isles to which she once escaped on an annual
pilgrimage to uncover the lost graves of
other Vietnamese refugees. Guided by faith,
spiritual belief and the knowledge it was so
nearly her laying in an abandoned grave,
her efforts are bringing desperately awaited
relief to families yearning to give a proper
burial to long-dead loved ones.
It’s 1998 and Carina Hoang has returned to the
place of her nightmares. She thrashes through
the jungle, the guide hacking through the fortress
of trees with a machete to reveal long-forgotten
graves. These overgrown tombs mark the bodies
of Vietnamese refugees who fled in their hundreds
of thousands after the Vietnam War. Eventually
she finds it – the grave of her cousin who died here
nearly 20 years before.
News of the find spreads. Pleas from other
Vietnamese families trickle in. Can Carina help find
the graves of their loved ones?
Now, each year, Carina returns to tiny, remote
and little-known Indonesian isles to search for
more graves. She’s made seven trips, discovered
more than 100 graves and taken 20 families to the
final resting place of their loved ones. She does it
out of her own pocket, in her own time. Why does
she return to this place of the dead? Because she
was very nearly one of them.
Rewind to 1975 and 12-year-old Carina’s life had
turned upside down. Her dad, a former police chief
in South Vietnam, had disappeared. Some people
whispered that he’d killed himself. Others said the
communists had captured or killed him. Still others
said he’d escaped. His military involvement during
the war meant he was a wanted man by the
Panicked, Carina’s mum destroyed all evidence
of their former lives. She amassed everything –
marriage and birth certificates, photos, papers
and burned them. She gathered all her treasures,
all the gold this once-comfortable family had
accumulated, and hid it in jars and toys.
They lived in fear that each knock on the door
was a communist coming to take them to a South
Vietnamese ‘re-education camp’ for political
prisoners. They knew there’d be no trial, no
They were forbidden from working or passing
their school tests, yet selling on the black market
was illegal. They knew hundreds of thousands
of city people were being rounded up by the
truckload and dumped in ‘new economic zones’ –
uncultivated fields with no shelter, no food – and
told to forge a life for themselves.
Then, in 1978, the war with Cambodia broke out.
Carina’s mum knew her children would be drafted
as soon as they reached 16 years. Carina’s mum
first organised for Carina’s older sister and younger
brother to escape – they fled for safety in Malaysia
aboard a small fishing boat where they hid in a
hull packed with ice.
Several months later it was Carina’s turn. She was
15 years old and would have to take her 11-year-old
brother and 10-year-old sister with her. Carina’s
mum would remain behind with her two youngest
First, Carina attempted to flee on the same
boat on which her siblings had escaped earlier,
but someone tipped off the police and the boat
left without Carina. Next Carina and her younger
siblings joined a group of escapees who fled via
train, on foot and in a truck, dodging military
checkpoints, to a secret beach where they waited
for small taxi boats to ferry them to a bigger
vessel. But when the taxi boat did not return after
a second group had been transported they knew
something had gone wrong. They fled into the
forest but police caught most of them. Carina and
her siblings were among the few who escaped.
By January 1979, they were ready to try again.
But they’d been lied to – after handing over her
mother’s gold to the people smugglers, Carina
discovered the boat was being rebuilt and not
ready for the journey. Carina was stuck hiding in
the country, hundreds of kilometres away from her
“I could not contact my mum, I could not go
home, could not leave the house, and my mum
did not know where to find me,” she says. “Almost
daily, I saw lines of escapees who were led by
policemen, walked by the house with their hands
tied behind their back. I remembered thinking it
would only be a matter of time [before I was] one
A month later, Carina was returned to her
mother, the gold replaced with nothing but a set of
Ever resourceful, Carina’s increasingly desperate
mother wrangled another escape opportunity.
Carina and her siblings would pose as Chinese
Vietnamese who were being exiled from the
country. In May 1979, a by then 16-year-old Carina
and her younger brother and sister boarded a
25-by-five-metre wooden boat, along with 373
others, including 75 children. The boat operators
forced the refugees into the bowels of the boat
where they’d remain for seven days.
The first night a storm struck and the terrified
passengers became violently ill. With no room to
lie down, it wasn’t long before they were covered in
vomit, urine and faeces.
After recovering from the storm they were
attacked by Thai pirates. They’d heard stories
of such attacks – babies thrown overboard,
men murdered, women raped – so the women
and children rushed to cover themselves with
excrement in a bid to deter would-be attackers
from approaching them.
By the third day the boat approached Malaysia
and spirits soared – it seemed freedom was in
sight. But Malaysia had just introduced a ‘push
back policy’ towards boat people. They’d been
instructed to shoot to kill to deter the refugee
Opposite page, top
Carina at a grave of a
Vietnamese refugee on
Kuku Island, Indonesia
refugee ID photo on
Kuku Island in 1979.
Above Carina has gone
searching for clues on
Kuku Island, 2009.
Right Indonesian islands
are home to many stories
of tragedy and triumph.
thinking it would
be best if my
brother and sister
died first and
then I could kill
boats. Carina says the Malaysian police boarded
her boat, towed it back out to sea, stole the
refugees’ valuables, then cut the rope and warned
them never to return.
At one point a soldier aimed an M16 at Carina’s
brother’s head. “I can’t get that image out of my
head,” Carina says. “The solider put the M16 to
my brother’s head because he wanted his gold
necklace. I just said ‘don’t shoot, don’t shoot’ – I
was so fearful he’d shoot my brother.”
DEATH ON BOARD
The boat operators decided to try for
Indonesia. But by the sixth day they’d run
out of food and water and people started
to die, their bodies tossed overboard.
“I watched this woman’s body being
tossed into the ocean and her family was
screaming and begging them not to,”
Carina recalls. “They were hanging onto
her feet screaming that they wanted to
After seven days at sea, the boat reached
a small island fishing village in remote
Indonesia. The boat operators sank the boat
so they could not be returned to the ocean. Ten
days later the local government put them aboard
another wooden boat and said they’d be taken to
a refugee camp. Instead they were dropped off on
a remote island beach and left to survive in the
At first they refused to believe it. Surely the
boat had gone to get fuel before returning to
take them to the ‘real’ refugee camp. They sat
on the beach and waited – a great ocean spread
out before them and dense jungle behind them.
Afraid of encountering wild animals in the jungle,
they remained on the beach, shivering through a
monsoon storm that night. By day they’d keep
their eyes glued on the ocean, looking for signs of
a returning boat.
After several days braver folks started venturing
into the jungle. It turned out two other boatloads
of refugees had already been dumped there.
Eventually villagers arrived, offering shellfish, fruit
and vegetables to the starving refugees in return
for their valuables.
Then another boatload of people was abandoned
there, and soon another. Food became scarce.
Malaria and diarrhoea broke out. People began
Carina and her siblings sat alongside a 21 and
23-year-old couple with an eight-month-old baby.
It wasn’t long before the baby died. “I remember
holding this dead baby in my arms. I washed
her and changed her. Every day someone died,”
“We just laid out in the sand in the open – really
hot and really cold with malaria, and I’d take
my siblings’ stuff to the ocean to wash out the
diarrhoea. It was more than a nightmare. I knew
our lives were being counted by the day – I didn’t
think we’d survive.”
Carina remembers sitting there the night after
they’d buried the baby, imagining the scene of
her own death. “I remember thinking it would be
best if my brother and sister died first and then I
could kill myself,” she says. “I was so desperate
and scared. I just wanted them to die first – if I died
and they lived who was going to look after them?
The thought of those little kids having to bury their
sister was unbearable. In retrospect I think it was
them that kept me alive.”
After three months on the island a Red Cross
helicopter arrived, distributing medicine, food
and plastic sheeting for shelter. But the trio would
endure another seven months on this forgotten isle
before they were processed as refugees and flown
to Philadelphia to forge a new life.
While elated at their survival and at being
eunited with their brother and sister who’d
escaped before them, Carina remembers their
struggle with the language barrier and culture
shock. “I felt destitute, inferior, I had no confidence,”
she remembers. “I was struggling with all the usual
stuff of being a teenager as well as this massive
culture shock. I missed my mum and dad very
much and worried about them a lot. But survival is
an amazing thing. When you have to do it you do
– I knew I had to do well so I could help my family.
I had to see them again. I didn’t want my parents’
sacrifice to be in vain.”
A FAMILY LEFT BEHIND
Carina threw herself into her studies and excelled.
She earned a scholarship to university. She found
work. Yet images of the family left behind haunted
her. By this stage she knew her dad was alive, but
in prison, and her mother had been imprisoned
for helping her children escape. Her grandma had
cancer – if she died, what would happen to her two
youngest siblings left behind?
“I worked really hard, saved my money and sent
it home for my sisters,” she says. “And my brothers
and sisters did the same.”
Eventually both Carina’s mother and father
were released from prison and Carina flew back to
Vietnam to sponsor their move to America. It was
12 years since Carina had fled – yet now the entire
family was reunited. “It was so overwhelming to be
together again,” Carina says. “We were so happy,
so relieved. I don’t think any words can describe it.
We finally felt safe.”
As Carina forged a career for herself, she was
invited to return to Vietnam for a research project
– a trip during which she’d meet her Italian-born
husband, who had grown up in Australia. The duo
married and returned to the US before moving to
Here Carina published her award-winning book
Boat People: Personal stories from the Vietnamese
Exodus 1975 –1996, published books for others,
won a scholarship to study a PhD at Curtin
University on the history of refugees in Hong Kong
and was inducted into the WA Women’s Hall of
Fame as one of the state’s most inspiring women.
And it was from here that she has made her return
trips to the desolate isles that haunted her dreams,
to search for Vietnamese refugees’ graves.
Together with her brother and cousin, Carina
began planning her return to Indonesia to find her
dead cousin. She knew he had died on an island
called Terampa. But in a country with around
18,000 islands, only a third of them named, it
seemed impossible they’d locate this one. It
didn’t appear on maps, no-one they questioned
had heard of it. No matter, they’d make the trip
Who inspires me
My mother, she is the
most courageous person
I’ve ever known.
Don’t ever give up. We
all have incredible inner
strength: until you are
tested, you will never
know how strong you
Left Carina has written a
book about her incredible
journey and tales of other
Vietnamese boat people.
Someone overhead them talking at the
Indonesian consulate in Singapore and thought
the island may be part of the Anambas
archipelago. So they flew to one of the biggest
islands in the group. Based on rumours and vague
directions, they caught a ferry that would bring
them closer to their intended destination.
Next they found two pilots who agreed to fly
them still closer to Terampa, but the pilots would
only take money for a one-way ticket as they
couldn’t be sure they’d be returning. After landing,
the captain of a navy boat heard of their quest
and offered to take them direct to Terampa.
Finally there, the trio hiked into the jungle and
began their search. The first day they found many
graves, but they all appeared to be Indonesian.
The next day a local farmer offered to help. He
knew of eight graves that could be Vietnamese.
With hundreds of graves strewn across the island,
they decided to start with these eight. But they
only had permission to excavate one grave – and
if it wasn’t their cousin they’d still have to take the
remains back with them. It seemed impossible
they’d find him.
After hacking through the jungle to reveal the
abandoned gravesites, the farmer asked which one
they’d like to excavate. Carina, her brother and her
cousin each privately considered which grave to try
– by chance they’d all picked the same one. Here
was their one chance to find their lost cousin.
They knew they’d be able to identify their cousin
because he was buried in a wooden coffin – his
mother had been gifted wood by fellow refugees
who no longer needed it as they knew they were
evacuating the island the day after Carina’s cousin
had died. They didn’t believe anyone else would
have been buried in a coffin. Her cousin had also
been wrapped in a military blanket before burial.
After digging for some time the shovel suddenly
struck wood. Their hearts leapt. Surely they
couldn’t be this lucky. Further excavation revealed
a body wrapped in a military blanket. “It was
amazing, we just had this sense of absolute
disbelief – not only that we’d found him but that
we’d done it so quickly. I have to believe we were
guided by spirits.”
Right Carina helped
a family find the grave
of their 14-year-old
sister who died two
days after she arrived
on Kuku Island.
Below The remains
of Carina’s cousin.
GUIDED BY GHOSTS
The find made Carina think of those she’d
come to know on the island on which she’d been
stranded – those like the eight-month-old baby
she’d cradled and helped bury all those years ago.
But she had no idea where that island would be
amidst Indonesia’s island-studded seas.
It just so happened that the captain of the ship
that had transported them to Terampa knew of the
island where Carina had nearly died – Kuku Island
– and it wasn’t far away. He offered to take her
there the next day.
She raced to the markets to buy incense and food
to offer the dead. And as she set foot on the beach,
images of the dead and dying swirled through her
brain. Her heart became heavy with sadness. She
felt the spirits of the dead all around her. “I sensed
that the spirits of the island were there,” she says.
“They helped me find my cousin, and they’ve
helped me to find so many others.”
Guided by the spirits of the refugees who died in
their desperate bid to escape, Carina is determined
to continue her annual pilgrimage to these remote
Indonesian isles to reunite Vietnamese families
with their long-dead loved ones.
For more information and to order Carina’s book
visit the website www.carinahoang.com.
Don’t just believe in
miracles, expect them.
MAGIC LESSONS PODCAST
A follow-on from Elizabeth Gilbert’s
amazing book Big Magic: Creative living
beyond fear, this podcast is part of Gilbert’s
quest to help more people do the stuff that
makes them feel good, that lights the fire in
their belly. It’s about conquering fears – fears
that you’re not good enough, that someone else
already did it better, that you won’t be respected.
Gilbert invites people struggling to live
creative lives to share their pain, then provides
advice on overcoming their obstacles through
offering her own wisdom and that of big-name
In Gilbert’s words: “The universe buries strange
jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to
see if we can find them. The hunt to discover those
jewels – that’s creative living. The courage to go on
that hunt in the first place – that’s what separates
a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.
The often surprising results of that hunt – that’s
what I call Big Magic.”
“It is what
what you will
be when you
can’t help it.”
WILD – A JOURNEY FROM LOST TO FOUND
Wild recounts the personal and physical
journey of Cheryl Strayed as she trekked the
Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast of America.
She started the 1800-kilometre hike as a battered
26-year-old, struggling with personal demons
– the loss of her mother to cancer, the break up
of her marriage, sexual promiscuity and drugs.
She had no experience of hiking, or wilderness
survival, and the trek would test her physical and
emotional strength in ways she could never have
But as Strayed walked – and battled weather,
physical strain, loneliness and her inner self – she
found hope. She discovered that she could put
her life back together. She realised she had it in
her to be the promising girl she once was. She
found the strength to give up the cycle of selfdestruction.
Strayed portrays her journey with
searing honesty, recounting scenes so anguished
you want to cry and others laugh-out-loud funny.
This book is based on the notion that there are
all these amazing, talented, wondrous women out
there who don’t live their full potential because
they don’t consider themselves worthy, or an
expert, or capable enough. They are too ‘nice’ to
strive for their dreams, too concerned with pleasing
others to unleash their magic on the world.
Tara Mohr aims to give readers the tools to step
up and be their best selves. She says “this book
was born out of a frustration and a hope. The
frustration? Brilliant women are playing small. The
hope? That the world could be changed – for the
much, much better – by our greater participation.”
Her advice ranges from tips to overcoming selfdoubt
and not listening to your inner critic to, my
favourite, listening to your ‘inner mentor’ – that
wise internal voice that’s unconstrained by fear.
I feel like Mohr wrote this book especially for me
and so many of my friends. I can’t recommend it
As a kid Katie O’Malley sat in front of the TV in her family
home watching the Australian TV drama A Country
Practice. Katie watched a woman on the show sit under
a triangle, her legs crossed, her eyes closed and her face a
picture of tranquillity. Intrigued, an 11-year-old Katie raced to her
bedroom and decided to give meditation a shot. Breathing in,
and out, she found the stillness she craved. The world seemed to
melt away. Her mind settled. She felt peaceful. It was welcome
relief for a girl often overwhelmed by an avalanche of thought
Fast forward nearly 30 years and Katie has built a career for
herself as a mindfulness practitioner. Today Katie helps women
find that same sense of peace she gained an inkling of as an
11 year old. But the path to finding her calling wasn’t easy.
Despite the positive meditation experience, Katie spent years
seeking to distract herself from the feelings of inadequacy
that threatened to swamp her. She sought escape in dance, in
partying, in busyness.
By the time she was 30, Katie was married with four beautiful
girls, investments, great friends – a picture-perfect life. Yet
one day she found herself in the bathroom of her lovely home
considering all she had, and feeling that she was dying inside. “I
felt like I was living from behind a masked face,” she says. “I had
everything I wanted, but nothing I needed.”
ACCESSING INNER WISDOM
Through meditation and mindfulness, Katie came to
understand that, despite a loving upbringing, she’d always felt
she wasn’t enough – not a good enough wife, a good enough
mother, a good enough friend. But now she simply became
mindful of the realisations, instead of distracting herself from
them. She made the space and the time for stillness – and she
allowed her own inner wisdom to arise from the space she’d
created. By allowing her wisdom to speak to her, Katie began not
only to heal but also to bloom.
Later, after working with thousands of women as a
mindfulness practitioner, Katie realised most women struggle
with some kind of notion they are not enough.
And she came to understand that all
women have the power to overcome
such beliefs by accessing their
internal world and listening to
their innate inner wisdom, if
they can only create the time
and the space to listen.
LIT UP IN POTENTIAL
Today Katie helps other
women to discover their own
inner beauty, wisdom and
strength. Through one-on-one
sessions, group mindfulness
programs and retreats, and
transformation workshops, Katie
helps women become the grounded,
connected, purposeful humans they were meant to be. And she
is in awe of their transformations.
“It’s just amazing to see another human being lit up in
their potential,” Katie says. “I watch them go on to enjoy
more fulfilled, deeper relationships, to find the clarity of who
they really are. They realise everything they need is inside of
themselves. It’s beautiful to witness.”
Katie helps women
become the grounded,
humans they were
meant to be.
Learn how you can use mindfulness to access your inner
wisdom and transform your life by contacting Katie at
Photo by Celia Galpin Photography
Pet portrait photographer
Alex Cearns travels the globe
photographing rescued animals
to raise money for their care and
promote their protection. She
volunteers 40 percent of her
time to philanthropic causes and
relishes the chance to present
animals in their best light.
Alex Cearns had recently started volunteering
to photograph abused RSPCA animals
when she realised her life calling. She’d been
asked to photograph a severely neglected dog,
found with one of her starving puppies dead in the
food bowl beside her, to help with the prosecution
of the dog’s owners. But where others saw horror,
Alex looked past the protruding ribs and the sad
eyes and saw beauty. Instead of highlighting the
dog’s desperate state, Alex sought to portray her
loveliness. “I didn’t want people to look at her and
not see her as beautiful,” she says. “She was so
kind. It just broke my heart that she’d been treated
so terribly but she was still so trusting.”
While she would never have dreamed it at the
time, the job of photographing the abused dog
ignited a flame that would eventually see Alex
leave her long-standing police and government
jobs for a career as a professional animal
portrait photographer. It would spark a volunteer
arrangement with RSPCA and other charities that
sees Alex donate 40 percent of her time to animal
charities, rescue and welfare organisations. And
it would launch a globally recognised role as an
animal photographer who has now published
several coffee-table photography books. A
photographer who travels the world promoting
and photographing rescued animals and raising
thousands of dollars for animal shelters. A
photographer who uses her growing recognition to
speak out for animal rights, to advocate for animal
rescue, to urge others to follow their passions to
create meaningful and fulfilling lives.
In Alex’s words ...
Who inspires me
Those who work tirelessly in animal rescue organisations – the selfless
people who devote their lives to making a difference to animals. It can be
a thankless task, a hard, relentless slog, but they persist. Their generosity
towards, kindness to, and endless tenacity for creatures in need makes them
living angels. They are people I respect immensely and aspire to be like.
A quote by Ellen DeGeneres along the lines of “Ignore the lovers, ignore
the haters – just do what you do”. To me it means just get on with it and
get on with it well and don’t let your ego overtake you.
Not that Alex would have guessed what life
had in store for her when she was a teenage only
child growing up in the remote Western Australian
mining town of Tom Price. While she’d long
been an animal lover – one of her first memories
is of dressing up Chirpy the pet chicken and
pushing him in a pram – she’d never considered
She received her first camera at age 16 and took a
couple of bad photos and forgot all about it. After
finishing school she entered the police service. But,
after a good friend and fellow police officer died on
the job Alex needed a career change. She became
a crime analyst, helping source information to aid
homicide, armed robbery, child abuse and major
fraud squad investigations. While she loved the
challenge, after working in the child abuse unit
and witnessing its horrors, she again sought out
a career change. So, in 2005 she started working
with the federal government, auditing airports for
their counter terrorist security measures.
In the meantime, Alex had also started searching
for an interest outside work. She tried writing a
book, thought about playing soccer, and then
considered photography. “A friend invited me
along to take family photos at a local park and
when I was meant to be taking a photo of the
child doing a ballet pirouette I was trying to take
photos of a bird flying past,” she says. “I realised,
as soon as a creature walked into my space, that
what I was pointing my camera at and gravitating
towards. They became the focus of my lens.”
So it seemed animal photography was her thing.
But where to find more animals? Alex looked up
RSPCA and Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
in Perth and began photographing their animals,
especially those that could become rescue pets.
In the meantime she also started photographing
people’s pets. Her weekends became jammed
with pet photo shoots at parks, backyards, the
beach. Then, while auditing an airport at the
Cocos Islands, she took a shot of some stunning
blue clams in a rustic breeding facility. The photo
ended up winning several photographic awards,
prompted two gallery owners to ask to represent
Alex’s work and sparked a line-up of people
wanting to buy a limited edition print for $1000
each. “That was a big turning point – it was the
first time anyone really wanted to pay money for
what I did,” Alex says.
By this time Alex had started photographing
RSPCA animals in a studio set up for the
organisation’s marketing and promotional
material. This was more like it. She loved
that she could control the environment,
the lighting, even the subjects to a
certain extent. So she set up a tiny
room in the bottom of her garden as a
pet photography studio. At the time she
dreamed of spending two or three days a
week at her government job, and another
two or three days doing pet photography.
But the demand for her pet photography
became so high that something had to give.
Alex loved her jobs, but the stress of working
long hours was too much.
Terrified, Alex decided to resign from her
government job and launch what has become
Houndstooth Studio. “I’d spent 19 years in
government, had superannuation and sick
leave and a fall back,” she says. “But to be
honest I should have done it a year earlier.
I think, as soon as we create space for
something it gets filled. If something is only
part-time or a hobby you can only ever treat
it as that. If you’re only giving 50 percent of
your time to something, you’re only getting
50 percent back.”
Alex gave 110 percent and the demand for
her studio pet photography skyrocketed.
“I can’t believe how lucky I am that I get
to do this,” she says. “Yesterday I had a
gorgeous 16-year-old bull terrier with a
sulphur-crested cockatoo come in for photos. What
a dream shoot. To capture them together for that
client was just so special.”
On holiday in Bali, Alex approached Bali Animal
Welfare Association (BAWA) about photographing
their animals. She wanted to take the rescue pets
from their chaotic surrounds and photograph
them individually against a bright, white studio
backdrop, in the way she did for RSPCA at home.
“I wanted to show that Bali animals were as valid
and worthy as our pets back at home, and how
they deserved the same things our animals need
to live a safe and happy life – food, shelter, vet
care, a soft bed and a kind hand,” she says. She
set up makeshift studios in the BAWA clinic and
BAWA founder Janice Girardi’s jewellery shop in
central Ubud and photographed so many animals
at such a rate that one of her large studio lights
caught on fire!
Among the pets was a puppy with severe mange
held in a big pen of about 60 dogs. Alex selected
the pitiful creature for a shot, removed her from
the chaos and noise, and placed her against the
white backdrop. Away from the pack of dogs,
with some attention lavished upon her, the puppy
All photos Alex
Cearns’ photos portray
animals of all types in
their most beautiful
transformed. It started ‘high fiving’ with Alex, and
captured her heart. With its protruding stomach,
near hairless body and adorable eyes, the puppy
became a pin-up for rescued animals. “The photo
of her was my first pic that went viral globally,”
Alex says. “She looks adorable but pitiful, you
want to hug her, and she had this look that just
drew people in.”
Alex conducted a fundraising exhibition to sell
copies of the photos she’d taken at the shelter.
Some 350 people crowded the exhibition, earning
$15,000 for BAWA – most of the funds raised from
selling prints of that one puppy.
The next year Alex tried something similar in
Cambodia. She photographed exotic rescue
animals such as tigers, elephants, otters and
bears at Wildlife Alliance’s Phnom Tamao Wildlife
Rescue Centre, which is also home to Free the
Bears Funds’ main south-east Asian bear rescue
sanctuary. This time the exhibition attracted 700
people who, in three hours, bought enough photos
to raise $25,000.
While happy at the money raised, Alex is
reluctant to bask in the success. There are always
more animals in need, there’s always more work
required. “I love that we’ve raised money and
appreciate that’s what we’re able to give, but
there’s always more that needs to done,” she says.
“Our exhibition donation to Free the Bears paid
for formula for all of their resident bear cubs for 12
months, and the annual salary of their keeper. But
what about the bear cubs in a year? When that
money runs out they’re going to need more.”
Through Free the Bears Fund, Alex met its
founder Mary Hutton who recommended Alex as
a photographer to World Expeditions, which runs
visits to Free the Bears sanctuaries on some of its
itineraries. Alex was excited to donate her time as
lead photographer on an animal photography trip
to India, which raised nearly $10,000 for Free the
Honoured to have been selected for the trip,
Alex was gobsmacked when World Expeditions
asked what other destinations she’d like to visit
as expedition photographer.
“Scott, the World Expeditions
representative, said ‘great, we’ll
do India and what about the
rest?’ I said ‘what do you mean?’
He said ‘let us know your top six places
you want to go and we’ll organise it.”
Alex couldn’t believe her luck. She’s since
led a trip to Antarctica for World Expeditions,
trips to Cambodia and Vietnam, and will take
photographers on a trip to Sri Lanka to see
bears and leopards, and visit a baby elephant
orphanage in 2017.
For Alex, the best part of the trips is spending
time with people who share her love of animals.
“I remember in India … we stopped in Jaipur and
there was a stunning palace built in the middle of
a lake,” she says. “My tour group was standing at
the railing on the edge of the water and I heard
them calling out to me. They were so excited and
I looked and they were pointing their lenses down
in the mud to rats – water rats had made tunnels
in the muddy embankment. They were so thrilled
to see the water rats poking their heads out of
their mud homes. And I thought ‘oh my goodness,
these are just the best bunch of animal people. I’m
definitely in the right company’.”
SAVING ANIMAL LIVES
While she relishes the chance to travel, Alex is
conscious it’s her paying pet portrait clients who
enable her to live the life she loves. She sees her
pet photography not just as her lifestyle, but as
a way of promoting the joy animals can bring to
people’s lives. This is also the ethos behind Alex’s
books – Mother Knows Best – Life Lessons from
the Animal World; Joy, A Celebration of the Animal
Kingdom’; and Zen Dogs.
“Whether they are local endangered wildlife,
abused farm animals, unwanted old pets in
shelters, malnourished Balinese street dogs or
Asian bears with missing paws, my intention is to
capture their faultless spirit in a fresh, new way,”
she says. “The right image viewed by the right
person can mean a dog is re-homed, a donation
is made, or that media will run a story to increase
awareness, which hopefully, ultimately, will inspire
For more information on Alex and her work visit
her website www.houndstoothstudio.com.au.
Parenting educator and author Maggie Dent has earned
the love of a nation’s parents for her funny, practical and
insightful advice on how to raise healthy and resilient
children. What life path has Maggie travelled to become such
an advocate for saving our stressed-out modern-day kids?
Maggie Dent has her audience in raptures as she
strides across the stage, recounting hilarious tales of
parenthood and sharing the practical, no-nonsense
parenting advice for which she has become so revered. Though
she loathes the title ‘parenting expert’, Maggie has captured the
hearts of parents and teachers across the nation for her focus
on building resilient kids – kids who spend their time outdoors,
who get dirty, who have been given the chance to fall, fail and
recover, and therefore build the confidence that comes from
learning for themselves.
Maggie’s wit and talent as a speaker, educator and author
make her appear a master of confidence. But she hasn’t always
been this way. For Maggie battled a self-esteem so low that
she once attempted to take her own life. How did she rise from
despair to eventually lead a movement that is guiding the
nation’s teachers and parents?
AN OUTDOORS KID
Growing up on a farm in country Western Australia, Maggie
spent her time outdoors, roaming the open spaces, or tagging
alongside her beloved father, enchanted by the stories he
shared and influenced by his strong sense of communitymindedness,
equality and social justice.
She developed her own sense of justice early. She remembers
standing up to her teacher as a seven year old, her fists scrunched
in anger as she berated the teacher for shouting at a fellow
student and making her cry. Maggie spent the rest of the class
sitting under the teacher’s desk as punishment.
She hung out with the Aboriginal kids whose parents worked
on her family farm. She argued with her mother. She played
with her five siblings. She did farm jobs. She helped her dad with
agricultural science – thinking nothing of helping with tasks like
measuring the scrotums of rams.
Despite this robust childhood, by the time Maggie reached her
teenage years she felt her self-esteem falter. Her bum was too
big. She wasn’t into partying. She’d prefer to stay at home than
She consoled herself that at least she was good at school. She
was smart, she earned good grades. “School was my mask that
I was ok,” Maggie says. She relied so heavily on this mask that,
when she failed a politics essay at university, she unravelled. “It
was like something shattered in my mind,” Maggie says. “I had
pegged my hat on this thing that I was going to be clever and
when that mask cracked I thought ‘oh my God I have nothing …
there’s no point living’,” Maggie says.
Previous page Maggie
is all about encouraging
kids to be kids – with
days filled with outdoor
freedom and fun.
Above A younger Maggie.
Above right Maggie
with three of her four sons
when they were young.
Opposite page, top
Maggie and her
Opposite page, bottom
Maggie is now a highly
educator and speaker.
Devastated at the fail and what she made that
mean for her self-worth, an 18-year-old Maggie
took a bottle of pills and downed pill after pill in a
suicide attempt. But one of the pills cracked in her
mouth and the foul taste caused her to vomit. “I
remember laying there in the foetal position, in this
really dark, low place, sobbing, snot everywhere,
completely alone and all of a sudden this light
shone into the window onto me and I felt that
happened for a purpose,” she says. “I sat up and
thought ‘well I’m not supposed to die’.”
SPARK OF POTENTIAL
The experience made Maggie realise the fragility
of the teenage mind – just one failure and a life
was at risk. It made her determined to do what she
could to prevent others from making the mistake
that had so nearly cost her life. So Maggie became
“Teaching was so much fun,” she recalls of her
time as a high school English teacher. “I couldn’t
believe I was having so much fun. I just got my
students, I could read their masks, I could make
learning fascinating and fun, and I really valued
each one of them.”
As a teacher, Maggie came to realise there’s a
‘spark’ inside everyone that needs nurturing. “It’s
a bit like the human spirit – it’s this pulsing place
within us that I could see in kids,” she says. “Inside
every single child there’s this pulsing place of
potential that I think we’re buggering up.”
Maggie sees the results of this spark being
quashed every day, particularly in the women she
encounters. “I’m often nudging women saying ‘is
there something in you, something that was shut
down as a kid or in your early teens and you need
to bring out because you’re going to be restless
until you have a look at it?’. I still think that’s some
of the best work that I do.”
DEEP PERSONAL INQUIRY
A few years into teaching, Maggie started
producing her own little sparks of human potential
– four boys of her own. While revered as a parenting
‘expert’ today, Maggie scoffs at the notion.
“Parenting is the hardest job on the planet,” she
says. “And a house without conflict does not exist.”
One day she found herself overwhelmed and fed
up, with her hand raised to smack her two-year-old
son. She stopped and realised she wasn’t being the
parent she wanted to be. She questioned where the
anger had come from. And she went on to launch
a deep and long-lasting personal inquiry into her
own childhood and why she’d become the person
she had become. This inquiry would help Maggie
realise she’d made up ‘stories’ about herself that
were not real. She realised she had the capacity to
design her character and her life in the way she’d
like – something she encouraged other women to
do by going on to lead women’s retreats.
GIVING UP THE MEANINGLESS
When Maggie’s third boy was 14 months old,
she had a near-death experience which would
shape the way she would go on to parent. It was
Christmas Day and her three boys were home with
chickenpox, or ‘chicken pops’ as they called it, and
Maggie was watering the lawn when she felt blood
trickling down her legs.
As the blood poured out of her, Maggie called
a friend who realised something was drastically
wrong. At hospital they thought she’d suffered
a miscarriage. But the bleeding wouldn’t stop.
Maggie began to vomit. Her blood pressure dived. “I
remember being so close to death – I saw a golden
tunnel and everything,” Maggie recalls. “I remember
in that moment thinking I can’t do this anymore
and giving up but then remembering the three
boys. If you have a near-death experience your
experience as a mother is transformed forever.”
In Maggie’s words ...
What inspires me
I get inspired by kindness – wherever I see it, hear about it
or sense it, it just makes my heart expand and I cry tears of
pure joy. I feel blessed to have been gifted my four sons … so
I am also always deeply grateful.
Well, I have two pieces of advice that I have come to live
by. Don’t just believe in miracles — expect them! Secondly,
never put anything off – do it now ‘just in case’. In my death
and dying work I have met so many people who thought
they had so much time – to play more, to have great
holidays, to work on a dream …
After recovering from what turned out to
be a hormonal dysfunction that mimicked
a miscarriage, Maggie began to regard the
experience as a blessing. “I was so grateful to
be alive,” she says. “I started to drop the little
meaningless stuff. There were days I’d leave the
washing and go to the beach or the park. I got
used to the noise, I got used to the chaos. I let the
kids put their own clothes on – I didn’t care if they
were dressed badly or I hadn’t wiped all the mess
off their faces. Who cares if they’ve got Vegemite
on them? I encouraged their own thinking. I
started letting them do more for themselves. And
I discovered that they were wiser than I thought.
They were more capable than I realised.”
POWER OF BEING REAL
No longer teaching full-time while she brought
up her boys, Maggie sought other ways to fill her
time and fulfil her search for a sense of purpose.
She came across a brochure calling for volunteers
at a palliative care hospice. “I just thought ‘who the
hell would do this’ and threw the letter in the bin,”
she says. “But about four nights later I woke up in
the night absolutely crystal clear and thought ‘you
need to do this’.”
She signed up, did the training and started the
volunteer role as a bereavement coordinator.
While she was uncomfortable with the physical
and medical care, she came to realise the role she
could play by simply being there, being honest,
accepting suffering, and avoiding the temptation
for false cheeriness. “I had a knack for making
people comfortable, but without the bullshit, not
sympathy but empathy,” she says. “I could sit with
people quite comfortably in complete silence.”
The role also taught her the value of honesty
and of people’s remarkable capacity to withstand
suffering. She remembers a 10-year-old boy with
a brain tumour who was nearing his final days – a
boy the same age as her oldest
son – who helped her learn the
power of being real. “He was the
most beautiful, bright, shining,
caring boy … and every day I’d
think ‘shit I’m having to put a
fake face on’,” she says. “Then one
day I just said to him ‘you know I’m
actually sad that you’re so sick. I don’t
want to pretend that I’m happy. I can still
laugh with you but I just want you to know
that I am sad’ and he turned to me and said
‘thanks for being honest’. He really appreciated
that. That’s where I started my resilience
understanding. I realised we don’t need to resist
the suffering, we have the ability to cope with the
single child there’s
this pulsing place
and her husband Steve.
Right Maggie considers
herself a messenger and
has penned six books.
BRANDING AND LOGOS
DEALING WITH THE BIG STUFF
Maggie cemented the realisation that suffering
is an important part of the rich tapestry of human
life in her work as a celebrant for funerals. Again
she saw the value in allowing people to feel their
pain, in being real, in holding a safe space for
people who are suffering.
And the skills she learned as a celebrant stood
her in good stead when she returned to teaching,
where kids sought her out when they wanted to
“talk about the big stuff”. “I realised anyone can
teach how to write paragraphs but no t everyone
can help a young teen w ho wants to die,” she says.
So Maggie embarked on a postgraduate diploma
in counselling and ended up leaving teaching to
counsel kids full-time.
As a counsellor Maggie started to notice a new
trend in children – stress. She held a seminar for
parents to help them guide their stressed-out kids.
The talk was a hit and almost accidently Maggie
fell into a role that would see her go on to deliver
parenting and teaching seminars across the nation
and author six parenting books.
Maggie does not consider herself an expert,
but rather a messenger. She loves studying the
research on child development and disseminating
it in a way others can understand. She says one of
her biggest jobs is challenging parents to ask “who
is the child who has turned up, and how can you
help them be the best expression of who they are,
rather than who you want them to be?”
She warns of the modern-day trend to ‘over
parent’. “Kids do need to experience life,” she says.
“We are over-parenting, we’re doing our kids’
homework for them, we’re dropping them off so
they’re on time.”
But she believes perhaps her greatest role is
helping parents realise they are normal. “I just
normalise what they thought was something
terrible in their house,” she says. “In nearly every
house it’s chaos getting ready for school, there’s
not something wrong with you, you’re not failing
as a parent, it’s just what childhood can be like.
I think that’s an important message for any
parent to hear – we’re all doing the best we can,
everyone’s doing it, so why not just sit on the
couch and have a cup of tea and lighten up a bit
and say ‘right, this is parenthood’.”
“Our kids are more capable than we give them
graphic designer of 0403 053 768
To find out more about Maggie and
order her books visit her website
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