2015 Challenge

Hello, my name is Camilla and I have recently started setting myself a personal challenge each year.

Last year my challenge was to do (at least) 100 altruistic/pro-active actions (https://camilla4peace.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/my-idea/ for the main page, or the ‘2014’ category for individual posts) and this year’s seemed to evolve naturally from that.

This year my challenge is to educate myself about a different topic each week, and either raise awareness about the topic to others or else contribute positively towards it.

I am not an experienced blogger; using my blog mainly as a diary to keep track of actions towards my challenges (rather that as a platform for literary masterpieces). However, I do value feedback and ideas, and if there is a cause, issue or topic you’d like me to raise awareness about, please do tell me! <3

Aroha nui – Camilla x

Topics so far

Week 1 – World Peace

Week 2 – Ingrained racism and microaggression

Week 3 – Overfishing

Week 4 – Holocaust and other genocides (Holocaust Memorial Day)

Week 5 – Cycling (Bike Month)

Week 6 – Epilepsy

Week 7 – Climate change refugees

Week 8 – Bullying (Anti-Bullying Day)

Week 8 – Bullying (Anti-Bullying Day)

I picked the topic of bullying because this Wednesday (25th of February) was Anti-Bullying Day.

What I discovered

The problem of bullying is often associated with young school-aged children (and I learnt that actually most people that bully or are bullied experience it around that time) but it can affect people of all ages. I decided to learn more about the effects on the adult that was a bully or was bullied as a child.

For many adults who were bullied, the associated feelings of unhappiness decrease with time, though people who remember the experience of being bullied as extremely painful, it can affect all parts of their adult life and lead to low self-esteem and mental illness. Often by the age of 23, bullying behaviour or experiencing bullying lessens, and victims of bullying are not as socially isolated.

Regarding experiences of bullying and being bullied during childhood, I learnt that research has found that when people are bullies or bullied, that role tends to stay with them even if they change schools. There are also bully-victims, who both bully and experience bullying. People in this category are more likely to suffer from depression that either bullies or victims.

Action

I have always aimed to teach my daughter acceptance of and compassion towards all people, regardless of their backgrounds, circumstances or characteristics. However since reading about bullying I have been more conscious about what I am teaching her (especially unintentionally, through how I talk and act). My action for this week is to continue being more conscious of the intentional and unintentional lessons I am teaching her, so that she grows up to be a loving and compassionate person.

I also made a donation to the ‘Pink Shirt Day’ anti-bullying appeal, which is part of the Mental Health Foundation. http://www.pinkshirtday.org.nz

Week 7 – Climate change refugees

‘Climate change refugees’ refers to people who must migrate to avoid severe livelihood disruption caused long-term changes to their environment due to climate change. Unless drastic changes happen with regard to mitigating and adapting to climate change, it is almost certain the number of climate change refugees will continue to grow. I chose this topic because although I am familiar with the phrase and concept, I had only a theoretical and ‘objective’ understanding of what it means to be a climate change refugee, and I wanted a more ‘human’ understanding.

What I discovered

I read a lot about different communities threatened by climate change and in particular followed the stories of the 3000 Carteret Islanders who must all leave their home islands as soon as possible, but have not received any government support to do this (they are mainly relocating to a larger island 86 km away, but there is no land or infrastructure ready for them).

I found out about a lady, Ursula, who created a charitable organisation to help the Carteret Islanders relocate and establish themselves in their new homes. She is an incredibly inspirational person who is working so hard for her community, and her story is so touching – http://www.tulele-peisa.org/#&panel1-1 (short video clip about her and the charity she set up).

Action

For several months now I have been volunteering with Oxfam New Zealand, creating environmental education materials for schools. For my action this week I created a series of lesson plans and activities about ‘Climate Change and the Pacific’, using Ursula’s story as a key example. The materials are aimed at engaging pupils with climate change, and promoting action and responsible citizenship. I will post a link here when they go online (in a week or so).

Week 6 – Epilepsy

I picked epilepsy for this week as last weekend my employer and friend (Julia) passed away. She experienced SUDEP – Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy. She was incredibly hard working and generous. She cared about the environment and people, and had ideas and plans that would change the world. She was only 32 and I feel a great loss: personally, and for the world.

What I discovered

Over the last week I have researched the condition and feel I have come to understand it better. I read about the symptoms, possible causes and other ‘medical information’, but also personal accounts and experiences.

I learned about the isolation that many sufferers experience, for example by being overwhelmed in certain group settings (due to multiple conversations being difficult to follow), or losing their jobs because employers have not taken the time to listen to their work environment needs (e.g. flexible hours, to allow for recovery from seizures). I also learned that up to 55% of people with epilepsy suffer from depression.

Coming to better understand what Julia and other people with epilepsy experience has made me more aware of their differing needs. I better understand the importance of listening to their experience of the condition and what they require to manage it effectively. I feel I’d be able to offer better support to someone with epilepsy, should I work or befriend someone with the condition in the future.

Action

I gave a donation to the Epilepsy Society www.epilepsy.org.nz.

Week 5 – Cycling (Bike Month)

February is ‘Bike Month’ so I decided to pick cycling as the first post of this month. I grew up in Cologne, Germany where cycling is a common and safe mode of transport. Here in New Zealand there are fewer facilities and less infrastructure designed for cyclists, and generally fewer cyclists on the road.

What I discovered

I try to cycle instead of drive as much as possible because of it’s lower environmental impacts and as a source of exercise. Upon looking in to the other benefits of cycling I found a website that listed another 59 benefits: http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/benefits.htm. Beyond my personal fitness and the fact that it is an ‘environmentally-friendly’ transport option, I had not thought about why cycling is positive. But as the webpage points out there are many personal, community and wider environmental advantages – which is super!

What I also read about was the difference a bicycle can make to people in less economically developed countries. For people with no means of transport other than their feet, a bicycle offers mobility on a whole new level. They allow people to travel further and faster, meaning tasks that were previously time-consuming (walking hours to collect water or firewood) or physically taxing (carrying produce to markets) are made easier. The increased mobility and time also sometimes means being able to access school and other education institutions, healthcare providers or employment opportunities – leading to lives and livelihoods being transformed.

5 ways bicycles change the world: http://www.care2.com/causes/5-reasons-bicycles-can-change-the-world.html

Action

I cycle to my daughter’s daycare (with her in a child seat on the back) and all the staff at the daycare and in the nearby buildings and facilities recognise us. Every so often, someone makes a comment about our cycling (that they think it is a good idea, that my daughter looks so happy when sh’es on the bike, that it is great to stay in shape, etc) and usually I just smile or say thanks, but from now I am going to agree, and perhaps nurture the idea that it is fun and something they could do too.

For this week’s action I also made a donation to Bicycles for Humanity, a grassroots movement where bicycles are sent to communities in developing countries – http://bicycles-for-humanity.org.

Week 4 – Holocaust and other genocides (Holocaust Memorial Day)

Today -the 27th of January- is a Holocaust Memorial Day, which is why I decided for ‘Holocaust and other genocides’ to be my topic of the week.

What I have discovered

Genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people from a particular nation, race, culture or religion. It was only in 1948 (three years after the end of the holocaust) that international laws against committing genocide were created.
Yet genocide has not been eradicated, and I read not only about the holocaust but also more recent cases of genocide, e.g in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur (through the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust – http://hmd.org.uk/).

My reading also led me to read about conflict materials in the Congo; where armed groups terrorise and violently abuse communities while they compete for access to minerals needed to make almost all electronics – http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/initiatives/conflict-minerals.

Action

I discovered a not for profit organisation called ‘World Without Genocide’. Their mission is to

protect innocent people around the world; prevent genocide by combating racism and prejudice; advocate for the prosecution of perpetrators; and remember those whose lives and cultures have been destroyed by violence.

http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/about-us

They run education programmes and offer educational materials to those sharing their vision of a future without genocide and violence against innocent people.

My action for this week was to make a donation to World Without Genocide. Also, I found information about which companies avoid using conflict materials (http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/advocacy/conflict-free-campus-initiative). I was sad to learn several of our electronic possessions were made by companies who fare poorly on the ‘conflict-free supply chain’ scale but have made a commitment to seek out conflict-free options in the future.

Week 3 – Overfishing

For last week’s topic (ingrained racism & micro aggression) I wrote an article which resulted in quite a bit of attention from the New Zealand media. Interviews and responding to messages has taken a considerable amount of time and suddenly I found myself near the end of week 3 without having even decided which topic to explore. So I asked my partner to ‘quickly tell me a topic’ and he picked overfishing.

While worrying to me, I felt this topic did not affect me directly (I am a vegetarian and even though my partner eats fish occasionally, I am the one who buys it and makes sure it is ‘sustainably sourced’). But then I reflected that this does not mean it is not important I understand the issue. We studied overfishing during my degree (about 5 years ago) and I remember being shocked at what I learnt. For this week’s challenge I decided to make sure my information was up-to-date.

What I have discovered

Most scientific studies indicate the world’s supply of seafood will run out but around 2050, and already more than 70% of the world’s fish species have been fully exploited or depleted. This shocks me. Furthermore, it is still possible to purchase fish that are threatened on a local or international scale.

I read about different fishing techniques that lend themselves to overfishing (bottom trawling, and other unselective practices that result in large quantities of bycatch and discard), as well as more sustainable approaches that help protect marine ecosystems. There is a lot people can do, including decreasing the demand for fish by eating less, and by making informed purchasing decision (national guides available here: http://overfishing.org/pages/guide_to_good_fish.php?w=pages)

Action

I made sure I am aware of the types of fish to avoid purchasing here in New Zealand. I also signed petitions to end overfishing created by the Ocean Conservancy and Greenpeace, and made a donation to the UK Marine Conservation Society (http://www.mcsuk.org/).

Week 2 – Ingrained racism and microaggression

I picked this topic because I notice language and behaviours in society that I feel are racially discriminating, prejudiced and offensive, but seem to often goes unnoticed by others (or else I get told ‘it’s a joke and I should not take things so seriously). I suppose I am referring specifically to my recent experiences in New Zealand, though I have also noticed it in other countries I have visited or lived in, and can (sadly) imagine it to be present in many/most other societies around the world.

What I have discovered

I read different links and articles that came up when Googling ‘microaggression’ and ‘ingrained racism’. I had heard of the term microaggression before but have learnt more about the forms it can take. The term encompasses unintended discrimination towards any marginalised group in society, and while it may be unintentional (perhaps through thoughtlessness or ignorance), the effect is the same as intentional racism in that it perpetuates societal marginalisation of the receiver.

As for ingrained racism, I read of two different kinds: personal and political/institutional. In New Zealand, I see both present in our society; perhaps most obviously towards Maori people, but to people from other ethnicities as well (including Pakeha/white people).

Reading through the materials I found helped me better understand the theories and conceptualisation of microaggressions and ingrained racism. Overall, it has made me believe it is an issue worthy of consideration, and something worth fighting against (rather than it being me just ‘making a big deal about nothing’, as I have been told on occasion).

Action

Earlier this week, the topic of racism came up with my friends (as it often does). One of my friends asked me about why I find certain language offensive if it does not concern my race, and we then got in to a deeper discussion about societal prejudices and marginalisation. It was she that suggested I use ‘ingrained racism’ as my awareness topic this week, as she said I had helped her understand a concept she had never even considered before.

My other action for this topic is that I am going to send a short article to a local newspaper about racial separation in our community, drawing on my experiences since moving here.

Update: here is the link to the article I published. It made the front page of the NZ news website within 2 hours of publication! I was not expecting that. http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/11091816/Why-I-send-my-Pakeha-child-to-Kohanga-Reo

Update 2: the article kind of went viral! The news website it was published on disabled comments as there were so many coming in (hundreds and hundred and hundreds). I have been contacted by two TV stations, 2 radio stations & a magazine for interviews, plus got sent many messages to my Facebook. I never saw any of this coming, but it seems the article really stirred something within New Zealand.

Here is the first radio interview I did: http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/20164339. I got a call back from the station saying they had an overwhelming amount of feedback, which was almost exclusively positive (which was nice given that the article was met with mixed responses (more positive than negative, but the negative ones were sometimes hurtful. Total strangers came to my defense though, which was amazing).