Link list 24/7/17: Refugee Week

I was re-watching Downton Abbey recently (thank you Netflix) and apart from wishing we had fashion like they did back then (and ignoring the fact that I would likely have been downstairs, not showing off my suffragette trousers upstairs) I do appreciate that the women on that show get involved in social issues, albeit in the most glamorous way possible. So when I realised that this week is refugee week (what a segue) I thought I’d take a leaf from Lady Rose’s book and share some resources, although perhaps more practical than her buying cake for the refugees.

On a serious note, this is a complicated topic that causes a lot of debate here in Australia, while people’s lives are being affected. I’d planned to regularly share links I’d found interesting, so thought I’d start here with a roundup of some articles and websites I’ve found interesting and enlightening on what can be a controversial topic.

This site has more information about refugees in Australia, and refugee week specifically.

Common Grace has several articles and I like the call in this one to do our part, especially in living your belief, if you are also Christian.

Another from Common Grace, from someone who has experienced attacks on their own homeland.

This was from a couple of years ago but still relevant, from Tim Winton.

I enjoyed reading this article a few weeks ago, about doing something practical. The comments were a mix of positive reactions and the opinion that the writer took in a refugee to get an article out of it, so with the knowledge that young adults actually can care about social issues without doing it for fame, I’m sharing this from the Guardian UK.

Still in the UK, I don’t pretend to be on top of all the politics there, but I thought this talk was relevant for multiple countries.

Lastly, teaching poetry has given me an appreciation of spoken word poems and this is a powerful piece about the stigma refugees can face.

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I realise that acting on our values is easier said than done, something I wrestled with during the busyness of first year teaching, after I’d gone from tutoring refugee students to zero community work. If you are in a position to volunteer, the program I tutored through was Live and Learn and there are other opportunities through Save the Children and other organisations throughout Australia.

Responsible travel and suggestions for Siem Reap

I visited Siem Reap in Cambodia with my family in December last year, which makes this post a little overdue (as with my blogging in general), but the experience made me think more about the way I consume products, something I’d like to consider regularly on this blog. As such, I thought I’d start with looking at responsible tourism in light of my trip to Cambodia.

Responsible tourism means tourism that, ideally, benefits the environment, economy and people of the place you are visiting, as well as raises awareness of local issues and improves the quality of travel for those visiting, such as through engaging with local cultures or providing better access to services, for example wheelchair accessibility. Thus, there are a lot of different components to responsible tourism. (Read the definition created during the World Summit on Sustainable Development here.) A community might focus on sustaining the local ecosystems, creating jobs for local artists, or it might not be a focus at all. Travelling responsibly can be complex and depends on your destination and, as is too common with ethical consumerism, finances, but there are things you can do as a traveller to reduce your footprint and improve your appreciation of your destination, wherever that may be.

Most people I know go to Cambodia for mission or volunteer trips, but my family had chosen it as a holiday destination as my parents had long wanted to have a family Christmas overseas but, on a budget and all having been to Bali (except me), we decided to explore other locations. My sister took on the travel planning and eventually settled on Cambodia after finding a good deal on accommodation. Aware of the significant number of people I knew who went there to help with teaching, building and other projects, but wanting to spend the time holidaying with my family, I decided to pay attention to being a responsible traveller.

Tourism is an increasing contributor to income in Cambodia, particularly in Siem Reap and other major cities, and I would recommend a holiday there. Siem Reap is also a busy city full of tourists and locals zigzagging through the markets and the streets, so while there were opportunities for responsible tourism, in the moment it could be overwhelming to stop and think about how you were affecting the local economy, a characteristic shared by many a city. Therefore, I’m going to give you a few suggestions for how to tackle what can be a daunting prospect when you just want to hit your holiday town and relax, or have a million things planned already.

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Above: Pub Street in Siem Reap decorated for Christmas

5 tips for responsible tourism:

1- Don’t assume that being a tourist will do more harm than good.

If you’re planning to four wheel drive through protected rainforest and dump the left over petrol then, yeah, probably, but if you’re questioning whether tourists might be more of a burden on a developing country, have a look into the local tourism opportunities. As with Siem Reap, tourism is important to many local economies and a bit of forethought could mean you put you support a developing economy and learn about the local culture.

2- Do your research.

Not a glamorous part of holidaying, but if you’re looking up hotel prices, why not also check out how eco friendly they are? If you want to do some shopping, find out where the local markets are. I know it’s not always possible to choose the best, most ethically responsible organisations, especially on a budget, but a few choices ahead of time could make a difference. Look up travel blogs and local organisations to get recommendations. For instance, Grantourismo’s guide to ethical travel in Cambodia.

3- Ask for recommendations.

You might not be going to a well-travelled location, but there’s a chance someone you know went there, so it’s worth asking around for ideas. Most of the suggestions I got were from people who had visited Siem Reap, plus the hotel reception had recommended companies.

4- Engage with the local culture.

I find small tour companies best for that. Travelling Europe with a large tour company meant I got to experience the local culture in terms of popular food and tourist sights, but not what life was actually like for locals, an aim of responsible tourism. Likewise, it can be hard to know where to start on your own, so a bit of guidance is always helpful.

5- Don’t stress.

It can be hard to find the balance between having your dream holiday and travelling ethically. While I like to think I could do both completely, responsible travel does involve a lot of choices, so do what you can and consider how to be respectful of the local culture; that will influence your decision making and at least show consideration for the people you interact with.

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Above: Angkor Wat at sunrise

Some Siem Reap suggestions:

  • Use a local guide for Angkor Wat- it’s a beautiful place you could just wander around, but there’s so much history it would be a shame to miss out.
  • Don’t try elephant riding, unless maybe you are at a zoo or somewhere you are assured that the animals are well treated (even then, there is a question of whether they should be ridden).
  • Visit the local markets. For a less hectic version of the markets in the centre of Siem Reap, I recommend the Art Centre Night Markets.
  • Don’t visit an orphanage. Again, up for debate, but I agree with the opinion that you shouldn’t volunteer for only a day or two, as it’s pretty disruptive for children, especially if they get attached to you.
  • Do go to the circus- a somewhat unexpected activity in Siem Reap, but Phare Circus was fun and supports local youth.
  • Dine at ethical eateries- I liked Sister Srey for a café- good food and a nice vibe with expats visiting who all seemed to know each other; Marum for dinner- also good food, and if you can have a cocktail while dining responsibly, win-win; and a number of people recommended Blossom to me, which was closed for Christmas but based on reviews must be pretty good.
  • Find out about the local culture- take a Khmer cooking class (I recommend Champey Cooking Class) or go on a tour of Tonle Sap.

There you are, not comprehensive lists but hopefully some thoughts for your next adventure, in Siem Reap or elsewhere.

A re-introduction

Hi again,

After an extended absence while I completed my education diploma and started teaching, I finally made it back to blogging, with a rename and new design thrown in (because I realised the original name sounded like my name was Hope and I was calling myself plain; also, I got time to Google how to design a blog title). This blog will still be about good news and interesting stories, but with more time to focus on a plan behind the scenes, I hope to be more cohesive and, ahem, actually post regularly.

Whether you’re a brand new reader or began reading when I first started this blog, I hope you enjoy Hi Light- a blog that will highlight (see what I did there) positive stories, whether they are in response to a news article or a story you might not have heard before. It’s my way of using my love of writing to shine a light on certain topics, and hopefully reveal some of the good things happening in this world.

Please follow along; I hope you enjoy reading.

Equality, Education and Emma (Watson)

I have always had a love of reading. While new books have, at times, been something of a luxury item, depending on finances, the ability to read is something I tend to take for granted. Listening to actor Emma Watson’s recent speech to the UN reminded me that it is, in fact, a privilege.

Last week, it was announced that Watson would be playing the role of Belle in an upcoming version of Beauty and the Beast. Watson had quite the 2014, gaining praise for the speech given in her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.

It seems appropriate that the actor who rose to fame playing a highly regarded, young female role model of fiction, Hermione in Harry Potter, should take up the role of another heroine to book lovers around the world. (I’ve always admired Belle’s ability to walk and read at the same time, something I’ve never quite had the coordination for.)

In her speech, Watson launched the HeForShe campaign, focused on getting men and boys involved in the move toward gender equality. This encompasses many aspects of life- from equal pay to child marriage, but the statistic that stood out for me was, “It won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls can have a secondary education.” Without education, I would not be able to experience the joys of books and literature. As Watson, who has portrayed characters who have been influential in my own life, pointed this statistic out, it struck a chord.

Hermione and Belle aren’t the only two literary figures Watson has portrayed- she seems to have a penchant for book to movie adaptations, having also appeared in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but more importantly, in a version of that great work of literature: Ballet Shoes.

Never heard of it? Fair enough. Apart from 1975 and 2007 BBC versions, Ballet Shoes only really makes an appearance in popular culture when Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, says its her favourite of the ‘shoe books’. In contrast, Belle has merchandise and a hipster meme.

Ballet Shoes was written by Noel Streatfield, published in 1936 and following the lives of three orphan girls adopted by the same professor, who live in London with his niece Sylvia and her nurse, Nanna. They struggle to get by when the professor disappears for years at a time and the girls earn money by acting and dancing. I’ve never really been sure how popular it was with other kids- I discovered it because my mother was given a copy as a child and I found it on the bookshelf one day.

Watson played eldest child, Pauline, in the 2007 version. Pauline was always my favourite. I identified with her- the eldest of three, small, blonde, and with a habit of getting lost in the character she was reading. In the same way, I identified with Belle’s love of reading and Hermione’s love of learning, or for that matter any of the wonderful characters I grew up with- Jo from Little Women, Darrell from Malory Towers, Lucy from The Chronicles of Narnia. Without education I would not have had the joy of learning and feeling solidarity from such books, so for me, equal access to education for girls around the world is something I would like to see. Unfortunately I do not have an easy solution to fixing this issue, but educating ourselves and encouraging young people to do so too seems like a good place to start.

To read more about this issue, you can visit the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiativethis blog offers a first hand perspective.

 

 

Positive media 101: Communications

Have you ever had one of those moments when someone puts in to words something you’ve always felt but never really been able to explain? One of the most memorable for me was at the beginning of my final semester of university. I was in a room I’d sat in many times, listening to someone I’d heard many times, but this day they said something I realised was key to my choice of study:

“Communications is about love.”

That got my attention. I had studied Communications for three and a half years and heard everything from how writing began to the effects of Facebook on society, but nothing like that.

The point was that communication, at least, ideal communication, means sharing information with someone for their benefit. The communicator goes out of their way to tell them helpful information in a way that they will best understand.

As an everyday example, this is like telling someone you will be home at a certain time, so they don’t worry about you. In professional communications, this might include telling staff where to find certain information for a talk. It also involves providing the public with information about your services so they know where to go for help.

But, you may be thinking, so much of the media, marketing and communications seems to want to take something from me, rather than benefit me. That is because there is also persuasive communication, whereby one party communicates to the other with the intention of gaining something for themselves, most typically seen in advertising, where someone is trying to convince someone to buy something. I think the tutor may have compared this to the “Dark Arts” in Harry Potter- they avoid teaching it because it can be used for bad- a funny comparison, but when you think about it, persuasive communication does have the potential to majorly affect people’s lives.

Sometimes the lines can be blurry- when you work for say, a charity and are trying to convince the public that your company is a good place to give money to, but you are doing this because it is best for the people the charity helps. In that case, another important principle of communication comes into play, motivation, which needs its own post, but the main thing is that this case is also communication for the benefit of others.

For someone who had grown up wanting to help people, as well as work with words and writing, the statement “communications is about love” was the first time I realised exactly how these fit together. Not necessarily in a practical, that’s-my-career sorted sense (still figuring that one out), but it certainly helps drive me when it seems the rest of the world is using the media for their own gain. I think it is also an important concept to remember in any line of work and day to day conversations.

Introduction

Welcome to my new blog. This is a place to read about good news stories, and see the way media can make a positive difference to people and communities.

If you have read my work before and that sounds vaguely familiar, I did start writing along those lines here. I will still keep that blog going, so you can read it if you’re interested, but as that was a couple of years ago and a lot has changed since then, I thought a fresh start would be good.

While my background had been in journalism and researching the impact of media on body image, working in not-for-profit communications over the last year and half has shown me how important the media is in sharing information about every aspect of our lives, and how many projects and individuals there are with important stories to tell.

Plus, as much as I am interested in the news, my favourite articles to read are always the ones about how someone is doing something, no matter how small, to make the world a better place, whether they’ve won a peace prize or are fundraising for a neighbourhood event. That’s why I have called this Plain Hope- it is hope for a better world that moves people to make changes and I hope to see more information out there about good and important things, through sharing other people’s stories and writing my own.

Check back here often if you would like to see a little piece of the internet that cares about more than the latest gossip or piece of criticism and want to read about good things happening around the world and in communities, as well as some reviews and other lighthearted things.