Health, a Justice Issue

When it comes to health concerns, at present all attention is focused on the Corona Virus outbreak and efforts to contain it. Of the infections and diseases that afflict humankind, some are caused by viruses and others by bacteria. Bacteria can be combatted using antibiotics. These drugs have no effect on viruses. The best approach with dealing with viral infections is prevention – that is by developing a vaccine, whose effect is to trigger an immune response in the person vaccinated so that they develop an immunity to that particular viral strain.

The development of antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infections, when it first came, was a game changer and has allowed human life to successfully flourish. Prior to their advent, most people did not survive many curable infections, although the use of Sulpha drugs and alcohol disinfectants improved things compared to what had happened previously.

In recent times, though, overuse or incorrect use of antibiotics, as well as the natural processes of genetic mutations and natural selection, has seen the development of the ‘Super bugs,’ or antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacterial strains have developed a resistance to normal antibiotics and as a result Pharmaceutical companies have invested a lot of research money into developing new generations of antibiotics to combat these diseases. It is like a medical arms race. As new drugs are developed, it is only a matter of time before the bacteria develop resistance to them, and so the research must continue as to lose this arms race could plunge humanity back to the dark ages of pre-antibiotic levels of infection and death.

But today the world is at risk of losing effective antibiotics altogether. Big Pharmaceutical companies are now abandoning the expensive pursuit of developing new antibiotic strains, leaving the global population at the mercy of previously treatable diseases. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of declining private investment and lack of innovation in the development of new antibiotics that are undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections.

The perverse reason for this is that there is no real money in it. It costs billions to develop new strains of antibiotics, much of which is soaked up by repeated failures. As a result of such costly development, once a new drug hits the market, hospitals can’t afford to pay for them.

Antibiotics, which are ordinarily taken over a number of days, aren’t money-spinners for the Big Pharmaceuticals, unlike cancer drugs or the treatments for chronic ailments like arthritis. Smaller companies that have stepped into the breach are going bankrupt, discouraging further research and development. These smaller to medium sized companies are the primary drivers of research and development for new antibiotics while the Big Pharmaceuticals (like Novartis and Allergan) continue to exit the field. But because the costs are prohibitive for little financial reward, start up research projects fail to go the distance. Many of the remaining US antibiotic companies are teetering towards insolvency.

Two new reports by the WHO established that the 60 products in development bring little benefit over existing treatments and very few target the most critical resistant bacteria, while drugs currently in research will take years before they reach patients. But the grim financial outlook for the few companies that are still committed to antibiotic research is driving away investors and threatening to strangle the development of new lifesaving drugs at a time when they are urgently needed.

A UN report that came out in 2015 laid out that drug-resistant diseases already caused at least 700,000 deaths globally per year, including 230,000 deaths from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, a figure that could increase to 10 million deaths globally per year by 2050, under the most alarming scenario of no action being taken. About 2.4 million people could die in high-income countries (including the US, Canada and Australia) by 2050 without a sustained effort to contain antibiotic resistance. The economic damage of uncontrolled antibiotic resistance could be comparable to the shocks experienced during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis as a result of dramatically increased health care expenditures; impact on food and feed production, trade and livelihoods; and increased poverty and inequality.

What is the way out of this mess?

WHO noted that only government intervention might save the day. The UN report notes that the issues are complex but not insurmountable and perhaps not even that economically costly if a longer-term view was taken by government. Stronger political leadership, advocacy, coordination and accountability are needed at all levels to enable a sustained “One Health” response to antibiotic resistance. All stakeholders – including governments, civil society and the private sector – need to be engaged and to collaborate in an unprecedented effort across the human, animal, plant, food and feed production and environmental sectors, based on a shared vision and goals. If we address this issue, the results would pay for themselves due to costs averted.

Sadly, however, when the UN report was released, the ABC reported: “In Australia it’s taken the government 6 years to respond to a senate committee into the issue, and it’s acting on few of the recommendations.”

The prime unanimous recommendation was the establishment of an independent coordinating centre. The Federal Government rejected the recommendation. Professor Lindsay Grayson, Department of Medicine at the University of Melbourne, said that we’re not talking about spending a lot of money but rather about the coordination of the existing structures. It is this that has not been implemented nor supported by the government.

In the News recently there was talk of control of prescribing antibiotics and preventing doctors from prescribing repeats of antibiotics as a way of containing the spread of resistance.

We may have grown up with the impression that the Big Pharmaceutical companies are altruistic organisations and that research into medical treatments are fuelled by the drive to help humanity fight disease and live longer. The truth is, as always, money is the driver. It is profits and not our health that is the primary interest for the Big Pharmaceuticals.

So if we can do something to push the agenda along, we need to do so. Write to local politicians and to federal politicians about your concern. Write to the Big Pharmaceuticals or sign petitions, when they come along. Do not presume that they have your best interests at heart. They are only interested in lining their own pockets.


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St. Anthony In the Fields Ecology Project

Many of you know that St. Anthony in the Fields, at Terrey Hills, NSW, was the birthplace of the Passionist Family Group Movement, but you may not know the lead it is taking in becoming a green church that is implementing the teachings of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si.

The parish was given to the care of the Passionists at the end of the 1960’s and flourished under the leadership of Fr. Peter McGrath, CP. Some 20 odd years ago, the Passionist Congregation gave the parish back to the Broken Bay Diocese due to our lack of personnel to continue to care for it directly. Since then, with a change of administration, many who used to attend, and who had come from other nearby parishes, decided to worship in their own geographical parishes, leaving a faithful remnant to carry on the Passionist Charism and Spirit.

I recently visited the parish on a tour to support and promote the Passionist Family Group Movement and gathered with some 40 people to talk about the future directions of the Church and the place the Family Groups have in that future. It was through this visit that I was introduced to a project initiated by the Social Justice group in response to the call to care for the environment and act on the teachings of Laudato Si. Ann Lanyon and Brian Norman showed me what they have been doing and their plans for the future. I’d like to share that initiative with you in this month’s blog article, in the hope that it may inspire others to take such initiatives in their own parish grounds or other green spaces. What follows comes in the words of those involved in the project, expressing their vision and hopes, the current state of their efforts and what has to be done.

“St. Anthony’s is located close to Garigal National Park and to endangered Duffy’s Forest plant communities. Kierans Creek, which traverses the site, provides important habitat for many species of small birds such as the Yellow Robin, reptiles such as the Eastern Water Dragon and the Black Swamp Wallaby. Surrounding properties in Myoora Rd. have been, or are in the process of becoming alienated from the natural vegetation, with the St. Anthony’s property soon to become one of the last remaining tracts of Duffy’s Forest Wildlife Corridor. There is a sacred duty to help preserve the movement of life and the revegetation project has attracted interest and support from Greater Sydney Landcare, Northern Beaches Council and other conservation bodies.

“In our Parish, God has given us both a unique challenge and an opportunity to respond to the call of the Gospel, to bring Laudato Si to life. For several years now, we have been revegetating the grounds at St. Anthony in the Fields Church to create a ‘Sacred Forest,’ a place to inspire ecological conversion and reconciliation, somewhere truly Australian to celebrate what it is to be Church in the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit.

“The grounds of St. Anthony’s are of particular significance to the local Aboriginal cultural identity, and religious ceremony. We have learned that it stand on both men and women’s country, near to a bora ring, where Gaimaraigal, Guringai and Dharug peoples met, traded and engaged in ceremonial ritual. Our creek was a thoroughfare for women and girls, travelling from as far as the area where Gosford now stands. The grounds continue to inspire Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to commune with nature and, through nature, with God. Each of our three parish churches were carved from indigenous Australian bushland and we recognise that we owe a debt to repay some of what we have taken and to display the stewardship Pope Francis asks of us.

“Over the years, teachers and clergy have used the grounds at St. Anthony’s for days of reflection and prayer. People come into the grounds to enjoy the serenity and to pray outside our Eucharistic chapel. Open-air celebrations of the Eucharist were a tradition over many years. Aboriginal people hold ‘yarn-ups’ around a campfire, whilst for Somali-Australians and their children from the Auburn area, the grounds at St. Anthony’s represent a place of wonder. Members of the David’s Place Community from Surry Hills visit for prayer, reflection and fellowship with our community and Mass.

“The church buildings are flexible, providing space for meetings, forums, gatherings and dinners. We hold forums on ecological issues and their related impacts and on other social Justice issues. We also hold gatherings and concerts with our indigenous friends and our youth use church and grounds for their activities. For a number of years, the church has been turned into a warm and welcoming environment for a gathering in solidarity with survivors of abuse.

“With the church buildings used for seminars, faith and environmental education, inter-faith dialogue, social justice forums and the like, regeneration of the grounds is providing first-hand opportunities to learn about and to experience the story of creation.

“Emboldened by Pope Francis and wishing to bring Laudato Si to life, our parish has begun to create, at St. Anthony’s, a sacred bushland space which, we hope, will become a resource for our diocese and our community, where people can discover God through the gifts of creation and use this discovery to bring healing to the environment.

“Our hopes and goals for a Sacred Forest at St. Anthony’s include:

  • To respond to the call of the Earth and the call of the Church through Pope Francis to nurture the Earth, to nurture creation, to keep it and make it grow according to its laws.
  • To revegetate the bushland of St. Anthony in the Fields church so as to enhance movement of native-species through the Duffy’s Forest Wildlife Corridor.
  • To seek reconciliation with the natural world, through symbolically attempting to restore what has been destroyed or taken away.
  • To continue to develop St. Anthony’s as a place for retreat, prayer, reflection and liturgical celebration, as a centre for environmental education and the development of environmental ethics.
  • To become a focal point for youth and young people to incorporate the social justice messages of the Church Fathers into a vibrant, contemporary sense of Christianity.
  • To establish the Parish as a good environmental citizen, through bush restoration, which is consistent with international practice in increasing carbon capture.
  • To provide safe habitat for threatened species of birdlife and other animals affected by habitat removal in nearby properties.
  • To enhance on-going sharing of the story, sharing the land relationship between the Northern Beaches Aboriginal community and the Frenchs Forest Catholic Parish.
  • To contribute towards growing the Church community through engaging the community in the project into the future.
  • To grow relationships with the local community through keeping it informed of activities and inviting participation in the project and use of the facilities.
  • To increase financial sustainability of St. Anthony’s through generation of a range of sources of income.

“It is vital for the present generation to hand on to future generations a world that is beginning to heal and to recover from the damage inflicted upon it since industrialisation. Pope Francis said, “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environment crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”

“An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this Earth somehow better than we found it. We love this magnificent Earth on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The Earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters…” (Evangelli Gaudium #183)”

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Growing Homelessness in Australia

The housing affordability crisis has been much on the news of late, as you are all aware. But what you may not know is that a key cause of the problem is that Australia has the highest housing costs and highest household debt in the world.

It is a problem that is getting worse and so I thought to provide you with some important information as well as responses you can make to this growing problem for Australian society. The information below is taken for the Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) magazine, ‘Just Now,’ volume 4, November 2019.

Adequate shelter is a basic human right recognised internationally and in Australia. Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that access to affordable housing is an essential element of living a dignified human life. Catholics have an important role to play in advocating for a more efficient housing system that views shelter not as a commodity, but as a basic human right. Society has a responsibility to protect the life and dignity of all persons. We believe there is enormous value in an effective housing system, striving to mitigate injustice and supporting those who lack the basic necessities for life.

However, with 1 in 200 people homeless on any given night in Australia, there are a number of key areas where the current policy is not working to achieve the best outcomes for persons at risk.

“We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing…The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to be a homeless person, what it was to start life without a roof over his head. We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing?” – Pope Francis 2015


The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines homelessness as a state where a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives. A person is considered homeless when their current living arrangement:

  • Is in a dwelling that is inadequate;
  • Is in a dwelling that has no tenure, or if the initial tenure is short and not extendable;
  • Does not allow them to have control of, and access to, space for social relations.

So called, ‘rough sleepers’ represent just 7% of all homelessness Australia-wide. People who are experiencing homelessness are usually staying in:

  • Improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out;
  • Supported accommodation for the homeless;
  • Temporarily with other households;
  • Boarding houses;
  • Other temporary lodging;
  • “Severely overcrowded dwellings.”

“I recently met a woman in her 70’s whose entire pension paid for her rent. She relied on her meagre earnings from a casual job to pay for all other living expenses. She lived in fear of losing her job or not getting enough work to pay for her living costs. She feared for her future. After many years of waiting, she finally received affordable housing. The result was transformational. Every person needs the stability of a home. It’s a human right. Without a home, it’s impossible to get a hob, to look after your health or plan for the future. Affordable, permanent housing ends homelessness.” – Sue Mowbray, CEO of the Mercy Foundation.


When most people think of homelessness, many think it is only a metropolitan occurrence. In reality, 60% of homeless Australians live in regional and rural locations.

An important reason for the growth of homelessness in regional Australia is a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Homes are scarce and unobtainable, especially for young people. A lack of access to support services is compounded by an increasingly more expensive private rental market and the fact that there has been a new construction of social housing since 2008 and the lack of access to support services is compounded by the unwillingness of Government to accept any responsibility for the housing crisis.

The phenomenon disproportionately affects young people, as there is limited employment and education options, which couples with inadequate formal support networks. The Australian Housing and Urban Research institute emphasises the importance of policies and programs in finding responses to youth homelessness in rural and regional areas. Research indicates that while homelessness is most common in rural areas, access to support services for young people tends to be found only in the large regional centres. The creation of local networks for young people experiencing homelessness in rural areas is crucial in ending the cyclical nature of the issue. Life skills training should also be provided alongside improved access to formal skills training at school, TAFE and University.


Census statistics reveal that there was a 14% increase in the number of people living in Australia and experiencing homelessness between 2011 and 2016. On census night, 116, 427 Australians were experiencing some form of homelessness. 58% were male and 42% were female. This works out to 50 out of every 10,000 people.


“The lack of housing, an extremely serious problem in itself, should be seen as a sign and summing up of a whole series of shortcomings: economic, social, cultural or simply human in nature. Given the extent of the problem, we should need little convincing of how far we are from an authentic development of people” – Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern.


“Homelessness is devastating. Every person experiencing homelessness has had their own personal crisis that has led them there. Most people blame themselves for their situation, but the blame lies squarely on structures that drive poverty, housing and support systems that are broken and a damaging shortage of affordable housing. We should be ashamed that older women who have led conventional lives are the fastest growing cohort to experience homelessness.” – Sue Mowbray, CEO of the Mercy Foundation.

  1. Support for homelessness services – Supporting the homeless in Australia places an extraordinary burden on charities and not for profits. Addressing the variety of challenges presented by homelessness requires a coordinated policy reform across homelessness services and other frameworks supporting disadvantaged Australians. Better coordination is needed between health, family support services, domestic and family violence services, the justice system as well as other social support services.
  2. Affordable housing – Funding for affordable housing has steadily declined since 1996 and the average waiting time for a family sized public housing unit is 3 to 5 years. An unaffordable rental market means that only 6% of public housing tenants leave each year. Homelessness as a growing problem creates an obvious challenge as there is not nearly enough social housing to support the local need. Mission Australia suggests State governments reform their planning systems to require at least 15% affordable housing for new housing stock.
  1. Reform of the housing taxation system – The Australian Council of Social Service suggests that the currency housing tax system is the root cause of Australia having the highest housing costs and highest household debt in the world. Not only do we need better safety nets to support those who need access to public housing, but a major review of taxation is required to repair the broken private rental market. National Shelter argues for a significant overhaul of national tax treatment that would target negative gearing, exemptions from Capital Gains Tax and other tax settings contributing to the housing affordability crisis.


  1. Experiencing homelessness is a choice – in most cases, it is not.
  2. Homeless people just need to get a job – They would if they could – there is only one job for every 6 people looking.
  3. Homelessness means rooflessness – Statistics show otherwise. Homelessness is a state where a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives.
  4. Homelessness doesn’t happen to ordinary people – One of the fastest growing groups is single older women who are homeless for the first time.
  5. There is no solution to homelessness – Homelessness is a structural problem that Governments could resolve if they change their priorities.


“The Mercy Foundation works to end homelessness for people with chronic needs and for women. We work to address the key drivers for homelessness through our grants program, by working directly with communities to support them in ending homelessness, through advocacy and education. Ending homelessness is a collaborative effort – we can’t do it alone.

“Most people will just need housing to solve their homelessness. We must continue to advocate for more permanent, affordable and social housing.

 “What can we do about it? We can join the ‘Everybody’s Home’ campaign and the ‘Raise the Rate’ campaign. We can support organisations working to permanently end people’s homelessness or prevent people from becoming homeless. We can be more informed about the drivers of homelessness, the facts of homelessness and the solutions to homelessness.

“We can ask our local, State and Federal governments to deliver more long term, affordable housing, and for the small number of people experiencing homelessness who also have complex needs, permanent supportive housing.

“We know how to solve homelessness and we also know the toll it takes on people’s lives if we don’t. There is no excuse for people to endure the indignity of homelessness.” – Sue Mowbray

Sue Mowbray has been with the Mercy Foundation since 2009 and CEO since 2016. She has a keen interest in social justice issues and has collaborated on projects to address homelessness.


  1. Get more informed – Homelessness Australia has a number of factsheets that are easy to read and detail the many ways in which homelessness affects Australians every day. The factsheets can be accessed here:
  2. Have a look at the Mercy Foundation website – to see if there is anything that you could do to help:
  3. Remember – the 1 in 200 Australians sleeping rough tonight in our prayers.
  4. Encourage others in your local community – to insist on the urgency of law reform and better support for those at risk. Continue the conversation by highlighting some of the issues raised above.
  5. As Sue Mowbray suggests – write to, visit or telephone your local MP about why the policies on homelessness and affordable housing need to be addressed urgently. Ask your local member to raise the issue in the Party room or in question time. Share your views as to how these policies can change.
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How to Psychologically Explain Climate Change Denial

Days after millions of young people demanded an end to the fossil fuel era at protests around the world, a landmark U.N. backed study of the links between oceans, glaciers, ice caps and the climate, was clear that allowing carbon emissions to continue their upward path would upset the balance of the great geophysical systems governing oceans and the frozen regions of the Earth so profoundly that nobody would escape untouched. The report projects that sea levels could rise by one meter by 2100 – ten times the rate in the 20th century – if emissions keep climbing. Thawing permafrost in places such as Alaska and Siberia could release vast quantities of greenhouse gases, potentially unleashing feedback loops driving faster warming.

If this happens, because of our inaction, the picture is grim. As oceans get hotter, what are known as ‘marine heat-waves’ are becoming more intense, turning coral reefs, such as sections of the Great Barrier Reef, bone white. As more carbon dioxide dissolves in the water, the oceans are also becoming more acidic, damaging ecosystems. The rising temperatures are in turn starving the upper layers of the water of oxygen, suffocating marine life, creating growing dead zones, and disrupting the circulation of ocean currents, which then unleashes more disruptive weather on land.

While this is the latest official report, we have known about the consequences of climate change for some time now. We have also known that we have passed a tipping point so that it is no longer a question as to whether climate change will happen but rather how severe will its effects be. A lot depends on whether we continue on the course we are on or act now to change our behaviour patterns contributing to it. The U.N. panel of experts found that radical action may yet avert some of the worst possible outcomes of global warming. “The key thing that’s coming out of the report is that we have a choice,” said Michael Meredith, and oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey and one of the report’s authors. “The future isn’t set in stone.”

Because of long lag times at work in oceans, even if the world stopped emitting all its greenhouse gases tomorrow some of these changes will inevitably intensify over centuries. But if emissions are allowed to continue rising then the impacts are likely to start accelerating so rapidly that they will overwhelm societies’ capacity to cope, with the poorest and most vulnerable communities and countries succumbing first.

Given that the vast majority of scientists agree with this conclusion, it is hard to comprehend why our elected governments refuse to take steps to respond to this crisis. Instead, they continue to deny our role in climate change and go on with business as usual. Clearly they believe that the people who elected them want them to continue to focus on promoting an economy that will deliver the unsustainable lifestyle they have become accustomed to. Their voters fear losing this in the present more than they fear facing some future disaster that will probably take place after they have died.

How do we explain such nihilism and short sightedness? How do we explain such self-destructive behaviour on such a grand scale?

We’ve all known people who have engaged in self-destructive behaviour, who know they should stop for their own good, but can’t help themselves. Sigmund Freud eventually came to believe that the life instinct in us, which he called Eros, alone could not explain all human behaviour and so concluded that there must also be a death instinct operating in us, which he called Thanatos.

Eros, the life instincts, deals with basic survival, pleasure, and reproduction. These instincts are essential for sustaining the life of the individual as well as the continuation of the species. Behaviours commonly associated with life instincts include love, cooperation and other pro-social actions. This drive compels people to engage in actions that sustain life, such as looking after their health and safety, and motivates people to create and nurture new life.

Thanatos, the death instincts, are a concept described by Freud as based on the fact that the goal of all life is death. Freud believed that people typically channel their death instinct outwards in behaviours like aggression and violence. Freud explained that sometimes these instincts towards destruction can be directed inwards, resulting in self-harm or suicide. Freud concluded that people hold an unconscious desire to die but that the life instincts largely temper this wish. Death instincts were an extension of that compulsion wherein all living organisms have an instinctive “pressure towards death” that stands in stark contrast to the instinct to survive, procreate and satisfy desires.

Of course people are not all the same. Some people will have an incredible survival instinct while others give up easily. Some want to live, while some don’t care if they die. Some actively seek death.

There was an experiment done where doctors would electrify a section of a floor under a dog, causing him to jump to another section. They would then electrify that section and so on until no matter where the dog jumped, he was electrocuted. Eventually the dog gave up and lay down regardless of the shock. The dog’s spirit was broken and he no longer cared. This can happen to people as well. People give up when to them their efforts seem fruitless, when they lose hope, when they don’t see an end to their suffering.

But that is not all. Another powerful instinctual force within us, connected to Eros, is the pleasure principle. In the 1950s, the psychologists James Olds and Peter Milner modified a chamber so that a lever press would deliver direct brain stimulation through deep implanted electrodes to rats. What resulted was perhaps the most dramatic experiment in the history of behavioral neuroscience: Rats would press the lever as many as 7,000 times per hour to stimulate their brains. This was a pleasure centre, a reward circuit, the activation of which was much more powerful than any natural stimulus.

A series of subsequent experiments revealed that rats preferred pleasure circuit stimulation to food (even when they were hungry) and water (even when they were thirsty). Self-stimulating male rats would ignore a female in heat and would repeatedly cross foot-shock-delivering floor grids to reach the lever. Female rats would abandon their newborn nursing pups to continually press the lever. Some rats would self-stimulate as often as 2000 times per hour for 24 hours, to the exclusion of all other activities. They had to be unhooked from the apparatus to prevent death by self-starvation. Pressing that lever became their entire world.

If we combine the two – the pleasure principle with the death instinct, the results can be devastating. I have an uncle who, despite doctor’s advice to control what he eats and lose weight for his heart’s sake, cannot stop himself from continuing his self-destructive eating habits. It is not that he hasn’t tried on numerous occasions to cut down on the wrong foods and do some exercise. But these resolutions are short lived. They do not provide the same immediately pleasurable rewards he gains from eating what he craves. Each time he backslides he perceives it as a failure that only increases the perceived hopelessness of changing his behaviour effectively. For him it is like fighting a losing battle with the inevitability of death. He perceives his efforts as fruitless and so has given up. Even though he can hardly walk and cannot sleep at night with panic attacks, his only satisfaction in life is the pleasure he receives from eating, and so he continues to buy the most unhealthy foods as he cannot let go of the pleasure he receives in eating them, even if it kills him.

I believe that these are the principles at work behind climate change denial.

As the world passes one tipping point after another in the climate change crisis, much of the approach by environmentalists has been to try to wake people up to the imminent danger that Climate change presents us with, much like my uncle’s doctors have tried to bring home to him the fatal consequences that will result if he does not change his self-destructive behaviour. This is a valid approach and, even though the governments of countries like the USA and Australia are still pushing in the opposite direction, many people finally appear to be waking up to the need for radical change.

In particular we are seeing a mobilisation of young people with the world wide student strike this last September to express their concern to their governments about climate change. Greta Thurnberg has become the voice of young people whose anxiety is growing, recognising as they do that their generation will be the one that will be most affected by the climate change crisis. For them the problem is urgent and their frustration and fear, at the inaction of those in power, acute. They cannot see why, what is so obvious to them is not motivating action from those in power.

But just like for my uncle changing his self destructive behaviour looks too much like hard work with no immediate promise of a reward, any adequate response to climate change will require sacrifice, and people do not make sacrifices without motivation. Too many people alive today do not see the need for sacrificing their comfort to reduce climate change. Most will be dead before the worst happens. In addition, the worst impact will be on the poor, not the wealthy, whose money can mitigate the consequences of global warming.

As the pleasure principle above suggests, people in power do not want to sacrifice their pleasurable lifestyle to bring about real change that would deny them the pleasure for no immediate or equally pleasurable reward. Just as the rats in Olds and Milner’s experiment were prepared to die rather than relinquish the pleasure they were receiving, we can expect those in power, and those who put them there, to perform in the same way.

Perhaps only a real and imminent threat to their lifestyle, say through a popular groundswell that could bring about real political change causing them to lose office, may push them to respond to the crisis in a helpful way. However, people give up when to them their efforts seem fruitless, when they lose hope, when they don’t see an end to their suffering. They may as well enjoy the present pleasures as death is inevitable and unavoidable.

Responding to climate change will require courage, motivation, support, and a moral vision that puts the poor and future generations on an equal footing with ourselves. A libertarian vision where each person seeks his own advantage will not work. Common effort and common sacrifice for the common good are what is required. And, perhaps, we can draw hope from the fact that not all people are like my uncle. Many people do manage to change their self-destructive patterns in order to survive. They are prepared to sacrifice whatever it takes to live. Can we find this within us before it is too late?

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Peter Gardiner CP in Cambodia (concluded)

Peter Gardiner CP sent me the second part of his journal on the time he is spending volunteering in Cambodia. So to complete his story, please find as follows his account of the work and experiences he had while there.

As I write this, I sit in my hotel room in Bangkok, waiting for the next phase of this trip, and wonder where has the time gone.

Back at the school Monday, week four, and again, it was a lovely day. I keep saying it, but the kids are so great. This week I spent time with the older and more competent kids.

Firstly, I spent about an hour trying to teach Teachers Likik and Sam, how to pronounce “smile”. God, that was hard work. I’d break it up and bit by bit they could do it, but once they put it all together, it straight away became “smell.” The teachers and students are all very keen to learn, so they milk me for all they are worth which, of course, is why I am here. They are also incredibly polite, perhaps too polite sometimes, for their own good.

We have a little chat group where we share information about transport, pick ups, jobs, all that sort of stuff. Every time Rady, the volunteer coordinator, says something, he says “sorry for the inconvenience.” A minor thing happened on the work site last week, and he copped, I thought, some unfair criticism over it. Later, I took him aside, and had a quiet word to him, encouraging him, and just giving him a few tips on what to do in the future. He apologized to me for my being inconvenienced by the encounter!!! Every day, I say to someone, “you don’t have to apologize” usually many times.

Rady was telling me a story about his brother. His brother decided to go to work in Thailand, as the family were desperate for money. He worked for an illegal logger. He was earning great money, which was being sent back to the family. Anyway, after some time, the police caught up with them. The police then just rounded them up, tied them up, and burned them alive! Rady’s brother managed to escape, he spent a number of weeks hiding in the forest, and eventually made his way home. He was sick for a year.

Tuesday I spent at the office doing some work on the video, photos etc. we ate lunch at a local diner, lovely people. Being the generous guy I am, I picked up the bill. $7 for four of us! And we ended up with more than we could eat

Wednesday to Friday, back in the school. One of the things I find interesting is that because I don’t have a lot of conversation with them, the language barrier, being an issue, you spend a lot of time observing them. And it’s interesting to see the different personalities. The kind ones, the worried ones, the eager to learn ones. One lad in the oldest class, Seng, who I mentioned last week, he would be about 15. He is a very hard worker. And you can see that he wants to go places. He’s a very competent and kind young man. Unlike the other kids, he and his sister turn up in different and clean clothes each day. It turns out his parents have a business.

Most of the kids turn up for school each day wearing the same clothes. I was talking to Likik, and this little kid came and sat with us. His clothes were filthy. Of course, I say that without judgement. It reminds me a lot of PNG here. They are all incredibly friendly, old clothes or new.

I was in Likik’s class 
and they were
 learning food words: Ice cream, sugar, chocolate etc. So she had some flash cards, and she had cut up heaps of cardboard with different letters on it. So she would read out, say, “sugar” and they would have to find the letters in the pile, and make the word. And then on to the next word.

They were in two teams, and one team was winning all the time. Of course, with their new vocabulary, the boys in the group, when they won, would sing and dance, and go “champions” and flex their biceps!!!

I decided the other team needed some help, so I asked Likik if I could read out the words. So what I did was, let’s say it was “chocolate,” I would show the flash card to the kids who were losing, so they had about a ten second start on the other team. It all went pear shaped when the word was “jam” and when I read the word a nano second later. They had it right, and of course the other team smelt a rat. They did a bit of a dummy spit, which was fair enough. Anyway, they were then quite resourceful. They looked at the list of words (they had been written up on the white board) and started making them into what were possible combinations. Needless to say, order was soon re-established.

They are incredibly resourceful.
 Teacher Lida has the older kids. For 
the last few weeks they have been 
working on a garden. The soil here 
is like concrete. Anyway, he
 collected some left over wood from
 the workshop (the building 
warehouse is behind the school),
 and got the kids to make a fence.
 They sawed them all to the same
 length, then cut the ends into
 triangle shapes, for some simple
 decoration. The girls collected dirt
 and put them in old plastic bottles to mark out the paths. They
 collected cow poo and rice husks
 to make a sort of soil. All the plants came from cuttings at the kid’s houses. It’s a great little thing. Already some of the plants are starting to flower. Some look as though they will struggle, but most of them are on the way, even in this short time. It will look great when the plants get a bit older. But it is all something out of nothing. And the kids are not afraid of hard work. I feel embarrassed when I see how they get into things.

Friday night, Enola and I decided to see one of the local tourist attractions. It was a live show at the Angkor dynasty. The hotel owner’s wife, herself Khmer, had seen it and raved about it.

Well it was sensational. I’m going to make a big call: the best live show I have ever seen, and I doubt if I will see better. It was all dancing, acrobatics, a story line about Khmer history. It was spellbinding. An amazing experience

It was full of Chinese, not that I have anything against the Chinese, but the Chinese tour market here is huge. I’m sure most of them would never meet a Khmer person. They would stay at the Chinese hotel, be served by Chinese waiters, get on the Chinese bus etc. There is a duty free store near here, and when my camera died, I thought I might try there. I didn’t realise it was set up for the Chinese tourists. Well there were five Chinese buses waiting outside. It was full of Chinese. I wasn’t thrown out, good luck to them, but I was obviously not part of their target market

Unfortunately, with the softening of the Chinese economy, the number of tourists have declined this year by about 10 – 15%. I know it is the low season here now, but it is amazing how quiet the place is

There is a resort city down south called Sihanoukville. Apparently, it’s been taken over by the Chinese. They have built hotels, casinos. There is something like 80,000 Chinese workers and expats there. Apparently, the triads run the town, and there is a lot of violence there. Recently an under construction building collapsed, and 28 workers died. Of course, it was an illegal construction. But the local authorities have lost any control. The Chinese government have made it part of their one belt one road program.Here is a video that talks about it: influx

Enola went to Pnomh Penh for the weekend to catch up with some friends down there. So I spent the weekend doing tourist things.Angkor Wat was number one on my list. This is the reason why people come here. The old Hindu turned Buddhist temples are amazing. This is my third trip here, so I had seen the temples before. An all day temple tour is exhausting. After you have seen about three, you have seen the lot.

So I asked a tuk tuk driver in the morning, who parks near here, would he do a tour for me. Starting at 3 in the afternoon, then just three temples, then the sunset – that’s all. $10 was the agreed price. When 3 o’clock came we met up, and he mentioned that I wouldn’t see much in three hours. That was the idea, I said. We set off. It wasn’t a particularly nice afternoon – overcast, but no rain.

There are a couple of favorites of mine, and probably most other people. Ta Prohm has amazing trees growing out of it, with roots going everywhere. It is amazing.

I get quite frustrated by all the tourists!!! There are a couple of spots that are popular for snaps, and so there is a line of people who either use a selfie stick, or get someone to take their photo and stand for ever in front of something that is quite beautiful. They must go home with hundreds of photos of themselves blocking the view!!!!

The Bayon temple is my favourite. It has a large number of carved stone faces, which I find quite amazing. It is actually mis-named, it is named after the Banyan tree, under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. There are over 200 carved stone faces, which are believed to be the resemblance of the King Jayavarman VII, who was the mastermind of much of the Angkor Wat complex. Not only did he build many of the Temples, he also built over a hundred rest houses and hospitals at set points along the way, for the purpose of assisting pilgrims making the trek. His inscription at one of the monuments reads: “He suffered the illnesses of his subjects more than his own; because it is the pain of the public that is the pain of kings rather than their own pain.”

He was actually a Buddhist. Most of the temples were originally built as Hindu temples, but he built the Buddhist side of things.

Sunset at Angkor Wat was underwhelming, so I made arrangements to come back for the sunrise – me and about 5000 other people! Fair dinkum, the traffic heading out at 4.30 was like Parramatta Road. I put my running shoes on when I got there, and managed to get a good spot. The pics are nothing spectacular, but it was a calm and peaceful moment, as most people just took in the awesome moment.

I did the Angkor Museum in the afternoon, which was quite beautiful. My experience was dulled when I found out that the national bird of Cambodia is the Giant Ibis!!! Maybe we should send some of our Marrickville Ibis back there?

Monday arrived and it was back to school. Monday and Tuesday, teacher Likik was away. Her sister was involved in a pretty serious motorbike accident, and so she was away looking after her. I think the sister’s leg copped the brunt of it, and she cant walk at the moment.

With Likik away, that meant most of my time was in the classroom. I quite like it. It is pretty chilled. Teacher Sam runs both classes, she runs between them both, and I help the students with their English. It’s mostly pronunciation, grammar etc. Its usually pretty easy, but sometimes a student will have made a minor mistake, or said something that is sort of right, but not the way we would say it. So it is a major drama as I try to explain to the kid what they need to put. Most times it works OK, but occasionally I have to get one of the kids to run next door to get Teacher Sam so I can explain to her, and she can explain to the student in Khmer.

The kids are so sweet, attitude is nonexistent as they choose to come to the school, so it is not too difficult. The explanations are the hard part. Sometimes I will have eight or more kids around me while I try to correct them, one at a time.

Tuesday, they decided to sit some of the students in their class, while I supervised the students who came to the computer room. The computer room has about 20 computers. I had forgotten, but I had donated some of these, with other people’s money, of course. I’m quite generous like that!

They are pretty simple computers, and they use the UBUNTU system, of which I am only very basically connected with. But it didn’t take long for me to become the tech guru. I managed to get most of them going, which mostly entailed me pulling out plugs and putting them in again! I think we’ve all done that. The interface wasn’t the best, so I managed to make a few minor changes. But it was fun. The class was typing practice, so if they didn’t get 100%, they couldn’t go onto the next screen. Of course, I could read where to re do the test while they, of course, could not. But it did make me something of a tech genius!!!

One good thing is that we are starting to get some rain. Not just the usual 4 pm thunderstorm, but the good solid downpours that they have been waiting for so long. We have had some great thunderstorms. The frogs are coming to life around the hotel and I am starting to see people working in the rice paddies. When I am in Vietnam, I notice all the workers out in the fields. That hasn’t happened here because with no rain, there has been little to tend. But with this great rain, now they are getting out to work

On Wednesday afternoon, I asked Daral, the tuk tuk driver, to take me around the village so I could see where and how these families live. We asked the village leader for permission, which was readily granted. I was surprised to find that there really is no village. You have a road, and maybe every hundred meters there’s a house, and the rice paddies belonging to that family are behind the house. Occasionally, there will be a roadside stall, but the sense of a village, per se, just doesn’t seem to happen, at least in the countryside.

Daral pointed out where there were now cashew farms, mango farms, you name it farms – it was once all pristine forest. The devastation continued on for kilometer after kilometer.

Occasionally you will come across a “town” where a few businesses gather. There is one such town a little bit out of here, which seems to house mostly industrial businesses. I’ve been through there a couple of times, and it’s quite filthy.

On the way home, Daral took me on the back roads. It was quite fun. We found one family sitting down having lunch and they were incredibly welcoming. We sat and “chatted” for some time. We then took another back road, but the rain was teeming down, so It was all slipping and sliding. I was sure we were gonna go over!

One day a week at least is in the library. So they have some set reading, and then they can pick out books to read. I think I know most of the books by now.

One set of books is of group of photos, with words, which may be counting or items and they have to say what they are. One example that is in nearly every book is “candle”. So it might be “four candles” (two Ronnies fans will be happy So we made a bit of a guessing game around it. Didn’t matter what it was, six or three, I’d say, “what do you think they are?” I had about six kids and they would all scream and laugh, “Candles!!!” It was just a heap of fun.

On Friday, I went back to film the family we had built the house for. This is one of my projects, to show things from start to finish, with the building process. It was a great experience. The dad could not help but keep smiling. I may have mentioned that in the old house, the two eldest girls slept with the grandmother, there was no room in the old house. I asked them what some of the benefits of the new house were. Basically the two oldest girls sleep in the room, and mum and dad and the youngest girl sleep on what we would call a verandah.

The oldest girl, who is probably about 16, spoke of the usual things like a place to study and do homework. But a big difference to her now was that she had friends at school. With the old house, there was so much shame that no one wanted to be her friend. But now she has some new friends. I might add that she is a very articulate and friendly young lady, so it wouldn’t be because of that that she has no friends. But now she has some worth because of the new house.

The dad spoke of how now he could protect his family. Mum spoke of how now they were close together they could talk about things in their life. Even the translator was amazed at how much benefit could come from even something like that. He himself as a kid lived in a shanty house, and spoke to me of how it affected him so negatively.It was a very moving experience.

Saturday awoke, and I decided to head to the local markets. Sela is where all the locals go. Again, it was just a feast of sights and sounds. It’s quite huge. There is absolutely everything there. You can pick your chicken and get it killed on the spot. One woman had a stall with all meat on it, except it was completely unidentifiable. The only thing I could work out were the eyes. These big huge eyes. God knows what the other parts were.

That afternoon I decided to at least see Apopo, the rat de-mining exhibition. After all the drama of last time, and not seeing it then, basically, I was disappointed. It was great seeing the rats in action. That took about 5 minutes. I learnt that the rats are too small to set off the land mines. They are taught to scratch the surface when they smell something. They can smell an infinitesimally small amount of TNT. They are also used in TB screening of samples, in other countries. They had an area that was covered with sand, and they had two baubles, one with a small sample of TNT, and the other with nothing. The baubles were the size of hailstones. It walked straight past the clean one, which was visible, but detected the one that was buried in the sand. The figure they quote is that they can clear an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, which would take a human team all day.

After that 5 minute display, which was quite interesting, we then sat and watched about half an hour of videos, most of which I had seen on YouTube. The Apopo thing is quite outstanding, amazing really, and the bloke who thought of it is a genius, but after all the trouble I went to, to see the actual museum, well, it was basically nothing to write home about. Which is a silly thing to say, because that is what I am doing right now.

Sunday I booked Daral, our tuk tuk driver, to take me up to Tonle Sap. Enola had gone to Bangkok for the weekend, and Daral had offered to take me around and visit some of the families. This is where we watched the sunset from, dining on frog and rat. But at the bottom of the hill, is a shantytown, and it is the poorest of the poor.

At the moment, with little rain, it is all dry. The houses are built on stilts, but in the wet season, they are supposed to be flooded up to the floor, and the roads are under water (roads being a term that over describes them). I was walking along, and the first house I came to, there was a woman sitting at the door. I asked if I could take her photo and she said yes. I noticed in the room behind her was a man. He had the most interesting face, covered with lines, but still with a warmth and beauty. I “walked” up the path to their house (which was strips of bamboo sort of strung together). It was a pretty rickety stairway. I got to the door, and the bloke was inside still, I asked him if he could come to the door, I wanted to get some light shining on his face. He dragged himself to the door, and Daral whispered to me, “he can’t walk.” I’m thinking this is going really well, here. Anyway, I took some photos of him. I just love it. Probably one of my favourite photos of all time. His face is just a tale of lifeand hope and despair and laughter. It will be coming to a Christmas card near you soon.

We continued to walk around the village, it really was a lesson in humility. These people have nothing. Nothing!

Monday morning arose, and I headed off to my
 last day at school. I decided not to take my
 camera, just to sit there and soak in the
 experience. These kids are simply quite
 beautiful. They are so sweet and innocent and joyful. I know they have their moments, but it is really great.

Class wise, Teacher Ee asked me to help mark the exams her students had taken on the previous Friday. I was looking forward to this, because one of the questions she gave was for them to write a short passage on Rural Life in Cambodia. Most of the responses were the same, one student said rural life was very hard, but there was another theme running through many that life was in fact easier in the rural areas. They didn’t have the supermarkets and so on of the cities, and they had no money, but they didn’t need any. They could go out to the lake or rice paddies, and catch some fish, frogs, or crabs or whatever for dinner. City folk, if they had no money, just starved.

I decided to buy lunch for the staff, all five of them. I bought some pork the night before from one of the street barbeques where my hotel is. They have a bbq with only pork. Having said that, there was intestines, ears, everything. I was hoping to pick out a few more common cuts, but they just grabbed a few bits and cut them all up.

It reminded me of an old joke my dad use to tell, that they went to a place that similarly had all bits of pork. When they asked, what did they have to drink, the waiter replied, bore water. To which my dad replied, geez, you don’t waste any of that pig.

I used the usual OH and S standards here: buy the pork 16 hours before use, put it in the fridge briefly, and then let it sit un-refrigerated until eaten, which can be of any length of time. It works. I’ve been surprised how I have hardly been unwell at all.

Tuesday, 27th,we headed off for our staff retreat. We had a week of 5 o clock starts. It was a team building experience for the team. About 20 staff in all went, plus myself and Enola.

The day was exceptionally long as we had a lot of ground to cover. We were basically heading to the north and east of Cambodia. During the bus trip, designated members of staff gave talks on various topics. It was all in Khmer, so you can guess I was riveted. We stopped for lunch at a river with quite a sensational section of rapids. In fact, it was the Laos border. Back on the bus, the talks were over, and it soon became a bit of an end of season footy trip. The boys had all chipped in and bought beer. Needless to say, all the boys were at the back of the bus, and all the girls at the front. I was invited back to share a beer. I had one, and managed to spray most of the contents over Enola. I then told her that she was now a Catholic!

We eventually got into town, and had dinner, then to KARAOKE. Well, I ruled, of course. Bit of Elvis, bit of Enrique Iglesias, and I had them in the palm of my hand. So much so, that one of them took over the controls and from then on, only Khmer songs were played. I was not quite sure how to take that. Anyway we laughed and sang and dance for an hour or so, and it was back home and off to bed. One of the things here is that they don’t care who they dance or sing with. There would obviously be cultural things about boys and girls singing and dancing in public, if they weren’t partnered, but the boys can sing and dance with the boys, and the girls with the girls. It really was a great night.

Wednesday, we had a short drive, maybe only 4 kms to another lake, where we had lunch. It was really quite beautiful. The boys had organised some of the local brew, what was some rice wine, and what else I’m not quite sure, but you drank it through the straw, and the straws were stuck in sand or mud at the bottom of the urn. It really was quite odd, and quite disgusting if I may say so. They had also bought a heap of food at the markets in the morning, and did a bbq.

Again, the markets had everything. Everything. There were quite a few
 sellers with a buckets of cockroaches. Another seller had the raw and
 racked rats. There was even a dead hedgehog for sale. It was really quite amazing.

After the day at the lake, we got back to the hotel, and we still had heaps of meat. So they decided to have a bbq of the leftovers. Only problem was they had no rice. So Buon, one of the men, hailed down a tuk tuk, and then 20 minutes later, returned back with about 12 containers of steamed rice. I guess this is the Cambodian equivalent of a Macca’s run.

After that we still had some time to kill, so Rady and the team split us into pairs, for a fashion contest sort of thing. Needless to say, I was paired with Enola. We had to dress up singularly, then pair up, to present a play. Well, of course, I had no idea what to do. Enola grabbed every prop she could, including a broom, and ended up looking most unattractive. I decided to put on a few things, and grab an empty beer can, and fill it with water, then pretend I was drunk. Well that part went over well. Then we had to do something together. So I put on a rain jacket, and told Enola to grab the “beer” can, and tip it over me. Well you would have thought we had won the Oscars.   

There were about 6 teams. Then we had to describe what our concept was. Well we had no idea, we had just made it up. The other descriptions were quite vivid. One of the other guys had grabbed a basket and was limping around. I thought he was imitating a land mine victim begging for money, which I thought was a bit rough. Turns out he was a doctor who had decided to become a pickle seller. Don’t even ask me!!!

Anyway, we had to describe our concept, so I used the old chestnut, we were portraying world peace. I outdid myself in drivel as I explained that myself and Enola had come from completely different parts of the world, and had found a shared experience amongst all the kindness and love of Cambodian people. Fair dinkum, I was in the zone.

Needless to say, we won, and I asked for a moment of solemn silence, as we all prayed, deep in our hearts, for world peace. Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? It was a fun night out of nothing.

Thursday, and we were all on the bus again at 5 am, for what turned out to be a beautiful day. We stopped at a place called Basroa falls. An absolutely stunning waterfall. Further to it, all the team got dressed up in traditional gear, and it was just a beautiful thing. Words can’t describe the beauty of this day.

I had a thought during the day that I had found a place that I could never have found on my own through the love and care of these wonderful Cambodian people. And I would probably never be there again, and we would never be there as a group. Probably never, so just savour the love and goodness and beauty that is there. It was a great day.

By the time we headed off, the rain was really coming down. We stayed at a lodge owned by local indigenous people (who also owned the waterfall). I quite enjoyed staying in the hut, though the door to the bathroom was about 1 metre high, so I lost count of how many times I hit my head on the door.

Last day we headed back to Siem Reap. Another 5 a.m. start, and more talks by staff. What I found interesting was that the sharing by the group was more personal. It was really quite moving.

Ee has recently been employed by the school as the head teacher. I pegged her at about 26 years of age, she looked very young, but she has done quite a lot in her life, even starting a school herself. It turns out she is 22 – she has really packed it in. She shared a very moving story of how she had been hurt by life (she didn’t go into the personal details, just the general story – which of course is fine) and how she pulled herself together. I was quite touched by it.

People spoke about others who had mentored them. The builders all pointed out Bun Theun. Bun is probably the oldest bloke there, which makes him significantly younger than me. But many of the staff of VBC come from very poor backgrounds, rubbish jobs that pay no money, and they have to learn building skills to build these houses. And these other four young fellows spoke about Bun Theun’s kindness, and patience, and skill in bringing them onboard. It was quite humbling.

One discussion moved onto cultural issues. Nica, a lovely young local woman who works in the office, spoke of how she was proud to be Cambodian and would always look after her parents and so on. She really valued the family connections.

One of the other young women basically said she rejected all that. She was living her own life, and it was up to her parents to look after themselves. She was adopting the western way of life.  

Sinn, the founder of VBC, then said he was proud of his culture, and was happily looking after his parents, and it was no problem to him. He has also visited Australia, and he realises Westerners do it differently, but there are still many great things about western culture.

He then posed a question that made me think a lot: ‘Which is more valuable, diamonds or gold?’My left side of the brain was working overtime – ‘well it depends what you want it for, blah blah blah,’ and the discussion went on, mostly in Khmer. Occasional translations were made for me and Enola. Buon is one of the builders, a fine young man. And he made his observations in Khmer. Then his last line was translated for us. He simply said, whatever is the more valuable, they are even more valuable when they go together. I just thought, what an inspired beautiful thought by a simple humble builder who has come from nothing.

And that, my dear friends, brings us to the end of this week’s entertainment.

I am in Thailand at the moment, I’m suppose to be following up stuff for Bill Crews, but it is really going nowhere at the moment. I will catch up with some different groups, but I am not sure we can provide a lot of assistance. They have plenty of people on board, and labour is cheap. Its intellectual property they need, to write programs, manuals and that sort of stuff. So lets see how that goes.


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Peter Gardiner CP in Cambodia

Peter Gardiner CP, part of our JPIC committee, has once again headed north to Cambodia to do volunteer work for VBC (Volunteer Building Cambodia). He is keeping a diary of his work and time there and has sent me his first installment. I share it with you all as our blog article for this month. Peter writes:

“I arrived here via Bangkok, and a nine hour bus trip to Siem Reap. I thought I would enjoy the view. I can’t say there was much to see. Dry rice paddy after dry rice paddy. I have since found out, that despite the rain I have seen since I’ve arrived, the wet season here this year is quite late, and quite poor. If it doesn’t rain soon, the rice crop will fail.

The days are long. At the moment, I haven’t even touched the tools. I’ve spent the first two weeks at the school. The first day at the school the temperature on the phone was 34c, but the phone said it feels like 41! The early morning tuk tuk ride is beautiful, a balmy mid twenties. Of course, most days a thunderstorm rolls in about 3. I think the easiest job in the world would be a TV weather forecaster here in Asia.

So the day starts at 7.30 a.m. on the tuk tuk, about a 40 min trip to the school. There is a staff meeting before school starts, but so far that hasn’t happened. So I just cruise around while the kids turn up. First class, 9:00 till 10.30 a.m., then a break till 1pm!!! That is usually the teachers asking me questions for about half an hour about English, then we have lunch, and then a nap.

There is a little road side stall across from the school. I have tried it a couple of times. They have some chicken sticks, which the teachers described as “roast chicken”. I bought a few to share. The one I had was quite chewy and nothing like chicken. It turns out it is chicken intestines. Beautiful.

At 4 back on the tuk tuk, home here at 5. Then by the time I clean up, have a swim (that was on the must have list for my accommodation), dinner, then I spend a couple of hours processing the film and or video that I have done that day. I have only put a couple of things on FB, but if you are on FB, the link is*F

The short version of the story is that they want me to promote the work of the community centre, so hopefully to get more volunteers there, get some donations etc. They get a steady supply of volunteers on the building side, but not in the school. I suppose people think, and I have to plead guilty here myself, you can build a house, and you can say, “I’ve done that, take a photo etc. and I have a memory for life.”

But something less tangible like schooling is harder to get people on board. They have been singularly unsuccessful getting teachers to volunteer. You don’t really need to teach, they just want someone in the classroom to help the teacher with grammar, spelling, pronunciation.

It’s quite hard to get money for schools here in Cambodia. So the kids attend their local school, while the community centre runs three sessions a day, for four different classes. So there are eleven classes in all (the older kids don’t have a session in the morning). They only teach English here.

The kids who come actually choose to come. It is a choice their family makes, so they are kids who want to get on. There are very few behavioral problems. Quite the opposite.

Mr Sinn, who founded all this, uses money made from the building sites, and uses that to run the school. About 10 – 15 % of the building money ends up there. I was not aware of all the issues getting backing for the school.

So those who come not only build a house and change that family’s life. They help build a future for these kids. It’s quite wonderful, really.

So my brief is to produce some assets, etc., so they can promote it, use them for fundraising etc. I also sit in the classes and help the teacher with the English, and do short stints teaching.

Let me say, they have already learned that English is a living language. I have taught them some new concepts, which they have grabbed. “Morning Teacher” has been replaced by “Hi Champ.”

Also I have standardized the marking system. I help the teacher mark the homework, and then depending on how many they get right, they get a comment. She started out with comments like “good”, which you received if you got half of them right, to “very good” if you got a perfect score. The new system starts at the half way mark, which gets you a “very close”, and there is a sliding scale up to a perfect score which earns you “sensational”

I must say the kids are absolutely beautiful. They have such a quiet beauty: Lot of fun, and not afraid to be cheeky in a nice way. Taking pictures has been easy. Some are a bit shy, but they soon warm up. I think I have my Christmas cards covered for the next couple of years.

As the photos are of kids, I am not putting them up publicly, but on the VBC CC page, and then sharing them on mine from there. I hope to put some on Google Drive, and send the link around later. But the copyright and ownership remains with VBC CC

There are three teachers at the school, Likik and Sam, both women, and Lida, a guy. They are all probably about 20. They are all great mentors, they love the kids, and you can see the kids love them

I have sat in on LIkik and Sam’s classes, and soon will help Lida.

Likik spent a bit of time talking to me about her real dreams. She wants to study abroad. But her parents are against it. They are both rice farmers, and only went to grade two, and can’t see why she needs any more in life. Her English is quite good, quite understandable. She did year 12 here locally, and is now studying at Uni. But she said to graduate you need level 12 on their standards, and she is only level 3. She is a real hard worker. All three of them teach during the day, and study each night. Saturday is their day off, and both the girls work in their rice paddies. Sunday, they study. They really work hard. Lets hope their dreams can come true. They won’t die wondering.

Likik and Sam are both former students at the school, and VBC have given them scholarships to help them get ahead.

A new head teacher started yesterday. She looks about 18, but must be mid 20’s given what she has done. She has started and run a school previously and spent a year working as a teacher in Laos. She is a very capable young woman. Her name is Ee

The kids love their games. One popular one for the boys is to make sling shot type things. Then they put a stick up in the middle of the dirt, and try to knock it over with their bands. They stand about 15 – 20 metres away. It’s quite amazing to watch really. They seem to have a simple form of betting, with the currency being rubber bands. So when someone wins, you see the others reach into their pockets, pull out rubber bands, and settle with the winner

Both the boys and girls play a game, much like knuckles when we were kids. But they use the gravel stones. I haven’t worked out all the rules, but they start with a version of paper, rock, scissor. They have a fourth option, which is a needle. Im not sure how that fits into the pecking order. So all four or five or how many start off playing, then one by one they get eliminated. Till the first to go is set.

Then they do the knuckles things. At the end, they are all serious as they count the stones they have accrued. At the end they do a nice thing where all the losers stick out their right hand, and the winner goes around to each one and sort of claps, meeting in the outstretched hand. It’s all done with a great deal of kindness and fun.

Then they throw the rocks back on the ground, and go into class. Which sort of makes me laugh. One minute these stones are all valuable, then the next minute, worth nothing.

I’m sure we have all been there.

It also means they are not as devious as me. I would have picked up a few extra stones, put them in my pocket, then pulled them out as needed, to win each game. As I said, there is a kindness and innocence amongst them. A couple of times, arguments have broken out amongst players, but they don’t last long. Everyone settles down quickly.

Walk to Valley of 1000 Lingas

It was quite a solid walk. The length of the walk was 1500m, but the first 700m were basically straight up a mountainside. Over rocks, tree roots, up stairs, I was pretty done by the time I got half way. Fortunately, the second half was pretty flat. The photos on the travel guide were beautiful. The two other girls had gone ahead, and when I get to the top, there was NO water. A scattering of tepid pools you couldn’t drown a cat in. I was pretty annoyed, all that walking and no water.

Anyway, we kept poking around, and we found the waterfall. The only water flowing was the equivalent of a small tap. (what looks like water on the falls is actually tree roots.) Anyway, I wasn’t gonna waste the opportunity to at least splash my head under it. I took a drink of it, and it wasn’t too bad.

I found out later that the locals call this “holy water”. The place is known as the Valley of a Thousand Lingas. Way back when, some hermit monks carved sacred carvings into the rocks in the river, depicting various Buddhist deities, mostly Shiva and Vishnu. So the water flows over them, making them holy water.

On the way back, I never thought I was gonna make it. There was thunder, a light sprinkling of rain, and I thought we were gonna cop it. I sent the girls on ahead so I wouldn’t slow them down.

So these two young guys started following me down. I could already see what was coming. At about the second lot of rocks I had to scramble over, they came over and offered their help. So they helped me all the way down. They claimed they worked there, as “Security”. True or not, I was more than happy to cough up a tip for them. I doubt I would have got back without them, at least not without a big struggle. I wasn’t sure what to pay them, so I gave them $20, and judging by their reaction, I had paid over the odds. As I say, I couldn’t care. Good luck to them.

The other person on our walk was Marrissa, who is Dutch, a volunteer for another agency staying at Enola’s guest house., and so they hang out together. We have all done a few things together.

Next week I will finally be helping with a house build. One of my suggestions is to make a short film, say 3 minutes, showing the house build from start to end.

We went out yesterday to interview the family. Fair dinkum, it was terrible that people have to live like that.

So next week, I will finally get on the tools


For those on this list looking for sermon material, I thought I would add something that happened on the first day in Bangkok. I was waiting at the guesthouse for the bus to arrive. Outside there were three or four taxi drivers waiting for a fare. While they chatted, one of the drivers used the time to clean the car. He wiped down the inside, the windows, then wiped over the car. Then he opened the hood, to clean the engine. I’m thinking, the customer wont even see this part. When he had finished that, he took off the Engine Bay cover. I have never removed that ever. I didn’t know you could!!! Then he cleaned all the bits and pieces under that. While he waited, they chatted, and he cleaned. Everything – whether it could be seen or not. He didn’t know when the next customer would come, but when they did, he would be ready.”

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Contemplating Israel

On the 5thof June, I conducted a mass for a house of a Catholic Girl’s high school in which I used, in my homily, the case of Israel Folau as a means to try to open up the discussion on religious freedom. I never expected the negative reaction to what I said would be so great. After the mass, a group of the administration staff spoke to me. They were deeply concerned and expressed their belief that my point on religious freedom would have been completely missed by the girls and that all that the congregation would have heard, was that I agreed and supported Folau’s condemnation of homosexuals. They were right! I failed to correctly read my audience and failed to recognize how contentious an issue this currently is, such that rational debate is almost impossible.

I thought that I was on safe ground as I used, as resource material, an article by Fr. Chris Middleton SJ (rector of Xavier College, Melbourne) that appeared in Eureka Street on the 7thof May, 2019. I have read a number of articles that have followed the case since, as I wanted to write this next blog article on the issue and my experience with it, yet I find that the article by Fr. Middleton says best all that I would like to say. I find it the most balanced appraisal of the situation. So I have included below Fr. Middleton’s article as it appeared in Eureka Street for your information. Like Fr. Middleton, I do not in any way agree with Israel Folau’s theological approach to God’s love and the condemnation for sinners, but also feel uncomfortable with Israel Folau’s own condemnation for stating his beliefs, from the point of view of an effort to save souls rather than foment hate speech. Chris’ article is as follows:

“The post on Instagram by Australian Wallaby, Israel Folau, is an example of the impact of our use of social media, and of the complex issues that are raised by it. Folau posted a passage from St Paul’s biblical Letter to the Galatians (chapter 5 verses 19-21), along with a warning that hell awaits eight categories of people unless they repent, in the conviction, as Folau posts, that Jesus loves them and desires their repentance. His post caused immense offence to members of the LGBTQI community and many others, as it referenced homosexuals, even though this reference is not in St Paul’s list of ‘sins of the flesh’.

“Folau is a lay minister in his church and has been filmed preaching and baptizing. There is no doubt that he, as an evangelical Christian with a literal understanding of the text, believes a whole lot of people will go to hell unless they repent.

“But he is also an Australian representative, a sporting hero to many, and a contracted player for Australian Rugby. In that position, many found his post to be unacceptable hate-speech that violated the sport’s code of conduct. Rugby Australia determined that he should show good cause why his $4 million contract should not be terminated. In all likelihood, the case will go to the courts. Important issues around the role and responsibility of professional sport stars, the relationship of sport to social policy, sport as a business, and the rights and limits of free speech all come into play in what is emerging as a significant case in Australian public life. Numbers of commentators have taken up his case and some voices have linked it to a perception of attacks on religious freedom. I remain conflicted about the sacking of Folau, as I believe his case does raise questions around important issues in a society that values diversity and that promotes inclusivity and tolerance.

“Highly paid sports stars are indeed role models, and to publicly canvas that gay people risk going to hell because of their orientation has an impact on young people and their wellbeing and safety. A sporting star has clear responsibilities in this area to weigh the consequences of their words or actions. It is appropriate for governing sports bodies to enforce codes of conduct in this area and to insist on the responsibility of players.

“Moreover, the fact is that Rugby is a business and has a brand name to protect. Folau is an employee and has contractual expectations. After a previous incident around the same-sex marriage plebiscite he gave his word that he would not venture into this space again.

“But he is also a sportsperson with a private life, and is a member of a small church. Should his employer have required of him to be silent on issues related to his faith? Is it discriminatory to require this on some issues but not on others? Should sports, and sportspeople, have public positions on social issues that don’t directly relate to their sport, for example, officially endorsing same sex marriage, as distinct from ensuring a lack of bigotry or hate speech within a sport?

“Rugby Australia enjoys a monopoly in terms of employment (playing Rugby), and unlike in other employment contexts Folau doesn’t have a choice about employers — if he wishes to express himself he cannot simply look for another employer. It seems to me that this monopoly situation is relevant in what can or should be asked of a sportsperson. Selection for a sport to represent a country cannot be reduced to an employee relationship.

“Is Australian Rugby heading dangerously towards imposing a religious or a political test for sporting selection? If a conservative Muslim player was to publicly support Sharia law would that disqualify them from representing Australia? If a Maronite Catholic player was to publicly affirm their opposition to same-sex marriage would that disqualify them from representing their country?

“There is an important side issue here: how much influence should big sponsors have in determining policy? Qantas is clearly an issue — they are the Qantas Wallabies, and CEO Alan Joyce, and the company itself, were vocal supporters of same-sex marriage. It seems Rugby Australia feels the pressure here.

As a Catholic priest I have a very different understanding to Folau about the redeeming love of God. Threatening hell has no place in my way of seeing faith. But as a member of the Assemblies of God, Folau has a much stronger belief in the likelihood of people going to hell. In his post he named a whole lot of ‘sinners’ as he saw it, and how he wished to help ‘save’ them. I don’t agree with his theology but it is hard to see in its intent, at least in a layperson’s terms, as meeting the threshold of hate speech. His intent is repentance so that they can be saved.

“Now, I don’t for a moment doubt that many find these views hateful, but in a pluralist, multicultural society that cannot be, in itself, justification for silencing someone. I think his way of reading the Bible is dead wrong, but the Church learnt some time ago that it can’t impose its understanding on other Christians. Can Folau be held to account by Rugby Australia for expressing a religious belief that is shared by many millions? As one writer noted: ‘there is no distinction between a person’s beliefs, and publishing material consistent with those beliefs, as much as the latter might be dressed up as a code-of-conduct issue.’

“Is race also an issue in this case? Over 40 per cent of professional Rugby players have Pacific Islander or Maori heritage, with many belonging to ‘fundamentalist’ churches. Like all communities there are a range of views within Islander communities, and various judgments about the rights of Folau to express his views the way he did, but I sense a growing unease among this part of our multicultural society about how Folau is being treated.

“Are their cultural and religious sensibilities to be respected? As Paea Wolfgramm, who won Tonga’s first-ever Olympic medal, silver, at Atlanta 1996 in heavyweight boxing, and who was critical of Folau writes: ‘It now feels that Folau is under a sustained attack, and therefore his and our “Tongan-ness” is being attacked as well. As we counted our connection to Folau, perhaps with each attack our empathy as well as our sympathy grew.’

“The Folau case remains disputed space that has raised genuine and serious issues on both sides, but also highlights how intemperate language and polarization in our society poses such a challenge to debate in the public square.”

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