Footpath philosopher

Isn’t it funny how words can sometimes have new meaning based on your own recent experiences?

Yesterday, while enjoying the springtime sunshine in Melbourne, I came across some graffiti. I know – not that uncommon. However, I realised as I walked past the series of words left strategically positioned along the footpath that each word resonated differently with me that day than they would have previously.

The first words I came across were these:

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Now, this could mean many different things for different people. However, for me, it was reinforcing the change that has occurred in my own thought patterns. Over the past year, I have spent many hours having my interpretations and perceptions of things challenged, enhanced and transformed. Without this change, my preconceived “understandings” would have continued to limit the choices I felt I was capable of making, particularly in regards to what I could offer as an educator. I have learned to embrace the wonder in the unknown, the beauty in taking risks and the enormous benefits of making mistakes and reflecting on these for an enhanced learning experience.

It also seemed relevant due to my recently broadened perspective on what one person’s role as an educator may be able to contribute on a scale much bigger than a classroom teacher. Investigating the Syrian refugee crisis highlighted to me the importance of education on a global scale, but it also freed my thinking beyond that of purely academic learning for any student, whether they be in a refugee camp in Za’atari or in a classroom in suburban Australia. For me, “Free Your Mind” was reinforcing that sometimes we need to let go of old beliefs in order to experience insights into ourselves that we never knew we could. As a teacher, I believe this is invaluable, as we have to remember to role model that we never stop learning either.

The next words I came across were:

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These two words – Freedom and Unity – written parallel, yet upside down from one another, seemed particularly relevant when considering my new understanding of the situation facing the world regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. In Australia, as with many non-European countries, it is easy to distract and distance ourselves from the issue as we largely don’t have to see or experience the desperation or distraught families trying to find their way amidst chaos and uncertainty. We see snippets of it on our morning or evening news, but we can then redirect our attention to our own busy lives. However, it struck me that the author of these words chose to put these two together in this fashion, for the more I have come to consider the plight of the largest crisis of displaced people since WWII, the more I see that “unity” can lead to “freedom”.

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When people unite, they can contribute and collaborate to become a stronger force in the effort to making positive change in all of their lives. When countries unite, we spread the load and try and avoid potential “burn out” (for want of a better term) on only neighbouring countries bearing the load of the 4 million refugees trying to escape Syria. When teachers unite, they can share their knowledge, skills and experiences in an effort to embrace a better educational program for our students. Through unity, we can work together towards establishing freedom, whether that be for the refugees or for the students within our classrooms.

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Perhaps freedom really comes from having unity to begin with, for if you are not restricted by having to challenge for your position in the world (or the classroom?), then perhaps you have freedom already?

The final word I came across was this:

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I like that this was posed as a question. After all, it is such a personal question that requires intimate reflection to try to respond. However, in light of the train-of-thought that I found myself on during my sunny midday walk, I felt that this word was asking me to consider what “life” would mean without those things? What sort of life am I expecting others to live if I am unable to free my mind beyond my own relatively narrow firsthand experiences of the world; if I am unable to practice unity within my classroom and as a citizen of the world; and if I am not able to recognise a person’s right to the basic freedoms of humanity that so many billions around the world are privileged to take for granted daily?

At the end of my walk, I finished feeling relieved. A strange response, perhaps, given the enormity of challenges that face the world today. However, I was relieved that I had had the experiences over the past year that have given me new perspectives and further insight into what I might be able to contribute as a teacher. Change often begins with one person. I may not be that person that will instigate the huge changes that are needed to fix anything, but what if one of my students are? If I can demonstrate and instil these understandings with my students as their teacher, then I believe I am giving them the opportunity to contribute to more than just their own futures, but perhaps to “the future” on a much broader scale.

Happy teaching.

ps – I should probably put this as a disclaimer in that I don’t support or condone graffiti. (However, I certainly am thankful for the timely appearance of these words).

Photographic beauty capturing lost innocence in Za’atari

This is a tragically beautiful set of photographs taken in Za’atari. They show an up close and very personal insight into one’s life who is existing whilst in the confines of the camp. They demonstrate hope, loss, fear, despair, anger, distrust and sadness. But, these are all of the things that we as global citizens should be fighting to rectify.

These images have no place being in the memories of any child when they think about their childhood. How is it then that they are there already, and more memories just like these are being formed every day with no end in sight?

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Nowhere Boy. The illusion is of a young man going somewhere when, of course, he is going nowhere. His ambitions are those of most young men his age, but his horizon stretches no further than the tent city he surveys. There is nothing in the box.”

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“Mother Courage. This young mother is in the waiting room of the French Hospital. She has just handed over her sick child to a French nurse who has walked back into the darkness of the operating theatres. She is not looking at the camera; she is looking somewhere beyond, perhaps to where her child is going. It is the look of fifty thousand women in Zaatari.

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“One Thousand Miles. There is nothing so un-nerving to the photographer as light bouncing back to his camera. It is a symbolic failure. Even if all the layers of fencing were cut away and the young man was able to stand there clearly lit, he is still a thousand miles away from you and I.”

However, there is still hope. 

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“Future Zatari 2. It is impossible, even in the Zaatari camp, to be depressed all the time. There is usually a courtesy, a kindness, a genuine interest in visitors, and an old-fashioned Syrian hospitality that still prevails. And there are the children who are the light and hope of the camp – with the proviso, of course, that they are fit and well. Here I have three candidates for future Syria. They are happy and smiling. There is hope.”

Please follow this link look through the entire catalogue of 40 photographs at Hotel Zatari –


Have “we” lost sight of the bigger picture?

It occurred to me a day or so ago that as a young teenager growing up decades ago, we had limited immediate access to issues around the world beyond the daily newspapers or news reports. However, I remember the impact that many of these messages carried, perhaps because we weren’t used to seeing them constantly hour after hour in various news feeds on social media?

One example that came to mind was Bob Geldof’s Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” song that was created by the top musicians of that time and the ability to film them all in one place singing to raise awareness and money to help the crisis occurring throughout Ethiopia in the early 1980’s. One way that I felt I could contribute was doing the World Vision 40 Hour Famine. I gathered sponsors and a friend or two who would do it with me. We sat in the luxury of my comfortable home and passed the time playing games or watching tv. Not exactly a mirror image of who we were raising money for, but we were involved. However, the whole idea of the 40 Hour Famine was to go without food for 40 hours. The only thing you could have was water and barley sugar. That was it. And it was hard. It was not pleasant towards the end of the 40 hours, even though I knew that my short period without eating would come to an end at a definite time and food would be in abundance for me again. Even still, the experience has stuck with me some 20+ years later.

Efforts such as these continue today with superstars donating their name, time and money to continue to raise awareness for global issues. And the 40 Hour Famine continues as well. However, I am somewhat disheartened that now you are able to give up anything of meaning to you for 40 hours – food, furniture, technology, talking are some of the examples given.

Really? Furniture?

This made me wonder – when did we lose sight of the fact that people around the world suffering at the hands of Mother Nature or from atrocities committed by other people do not have a choice of what they give up? These choices are made for them, and they are forced to try and survive anyway.

Have “we” become so shallow that the only way that charitable organisations can tempt us to be involved in campaigns such as this is to allow us to give up whatever we choose for 40 hours, without actually genuinely engaging with the experience to gain empathy for those people we are trying to assist?

All I know is that had I given up furniture for 40 hours instead of food, I would not have gained as much from my short experience. I also doubt that I would remember it as vividly some 20+ years later, and I am confident that it would not have become one of the lenses that I use when I look at the world today.




Putting things in perspective

As Australia heads towards the start of warmer weather and into another summer season in a few months time, we begin to brace ourselves for the seemingly inevitable “bushfire” season. In fact, in parts around the country we have already seen bushfires blazing out of control, threatening communities with Mother Nature’s wrath.

I am reminded of one of Australia’s worst fires in recent years known as “Black Saturday” in 2009. With a combination of some of the worst weather conditions ever recorded for bushfire season, approximately 400 fires started on Saturday 7th February 2009. Over 1 million acres were burnt and the toll on human lives and communities was devastating. 173 people were killed by the Black Saturday fires, another 414 people were injured and over 2,100 homes were destroyed. A total of 7,562 people were displaced with entire communities having to be rebuilt.


In typical Aussie fashion, people stepped up. Volunteers appeared from all parts of the country ready to donate their time, energy, expertise, compassion and materials. It took considerable time, but with the dedication of many, communities and lives began to be rebuilt. The physical and psychological scars will remain with many from the events of Black Saturday, but when the crisis erupted, Australia essentially stopped in its’ tracks and did whatever was needed to help. And I’m sure the response would be similar in many other parts of the world when Mother Nature unleashes her force on humanity.

So, I now question why we seem to not be compelled to respond with as much determination or sense of urgency to the Syrian refugee crisis?

The number of people needing assistance inside Syria is estimated to be 12.2 million. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin needing assistance. The number of refugees who have fled Syria is estimated at 4.08 million, and literally rising by the day. That almost the same as Melbourne’s entire population. The Za’atari camp is now Jordan’s fourth largest city and “home” to over 80,000 refugees currently. That is over half of Darwin’s population. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Syrian crisis in four and a half years. That’s the almost the same as all of Hobart.

The numbers of people directly affected are enormous. The destruction and humanitarian cost is the worst since World War II. Yet, why don’t we respond to this crisis in direct proportion to its scale when you consider our ability to respond to the devastation caused by disasters such as Black Saturday? Black Saturday was a day that scarred many Australians, figuratively and literally. However, when you consider that the number of Syrian who are displaced from their country and now living as refugees is 539 times larger than those displaced by Black Saturday, why is taking us as a global society so long to respond appropriately to their plight?


Is it because mankind has created this destruction? Or is it perhaps because we cannot imagine this being our own reality as it is so far removed from what many Australians know? Most Australians who have lived through one summer here know all too well the threat of Mother Nature during bushfire season, and when She strikes, we move in and do our best to protect one another.

Perhaps its time that we absorb the full intensity of the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis in order to better understand the humanitarian void that is desperately waiting to be filled. And it us as a global society who are going to have to fill it.