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2016 Power Trip Reflection: “My Journey has only just begun”

Isabella Hall, 2016 Power Trip winner from Whyalla, SAimg_0686

My finger swiped across the screen of my phone, the filters on snapchat passing by with each flick, until landing on just the right frame. On the bottom of my easily disregarded normal photo of a room filled with strangers, read the word ‘Canberra’.

Looking at the word still instilled a sense of disbelief within me. It had only been a few hours ago that I’d been sitting anxiously with my parents at my local airport waiting to disembark on a life changing journey.

Yet, the simplest thing, such as the snapchat filter, suddenly made my reality become real. Because my reality was that I had one won a ‘Power Trip’ to Canberra, after entering my story in Country to Canberra’s Leadership Competition.

Canberra was place I had always regarded as a destination of change. This was the city where decisions were made and futures discussed, and to my utmost delight, I was now allowed to have my voice heard.

I remember looking at the itinerary and feeling unable to comprehend the myriad of activities planned for us twelve girls during our short stay in Canberra. From a workshop on public speaking, to a Powerful Women’s Breakfast with the likes of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, I was feeling overwhelmed but nonetheless utterly honoured to have been chosen to experience the opportunity to discuss issues such as gender equality, with women of influence.

From this power trip I’ve been able to take home with me more than a cool t-shirt with the Country to Canberra logo. I’ve returned with a new sense of confidence and belief in my abilities to achieve my goals. Spending time with the amazing girls and volunteers has made me realise that hard work and passion can take you anywhere.

And now that I am home, I realise that my journey is not yet over. It is has only just begun.

Controversial issues, musical genuises and new perspectives: my TEDxCanberra experience

tedx-vanessaThe author, Vanessa Sporne, was a roving reporter at TEDxCanberra on 3 September 2016 for their ‘All In’ Show Day. Vanessa was also a finalist of Country to Canberra’s 2014 Leadership Competition, and is one of our Teen Bloggers. Country to Canberra is a proud Community Partner of TEDxCanberra! 

I really didn’t know what to expect. To me, TEDx had always been some mysterious show on Netflix that I’d never bothered to explore, but when I walked into the Canberra Theatre on September 3rd and saw a little sign advertising ‘Free Coffee’, I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to enjoy the day.

I could barely move within the foyer, as the bustling crowd pulsed with excitement. Looking around I saw people of all different ages and nationalities; little did we know that the TEDxCanberra team had brought us ‘All In’ to experience and propagate new ideas that had the potential to transform our communities. I could already see new connections being formed as people felt the confidence to begin new conversations and start new friendships. It was not only the performers, but the audience that would provide me with new ideas that day.

The sold-out theatre buzzed with anticipation as the lights dimmed and the first performer appeared on stage. Dark Rose opened the event with the uniquely sensual sounds of the Didjeribone. The audience’s attention was well and truly sparked as the musician created music that merged the contemporary and the traditional in a harmony unlike anything I had heard before. Dark Rose perfectly encapsulated what was to come at TedxCanberra in the way that he devoted himself to his unique ideas and fearlessly conveyed them to the world.14141986_10153884386891167_2319739858120424432_n

The rest of the musicians throughout the day were expertly curated, with multiple nationalities, styles and genres. Lucy Sugerman blew us away with a lyrical wisdom, greater than many of the most successful artists today, and Fred Smith pulled at our heart strings while providing a laugh with his songs detailing his time in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. The music kept the day flowing, and gave our brains a rest from the constant stream of information coming from the official speakers.

It was these speakers we had come for, and they did not disappoint for a moment. I was introduced to a new program that allowed people with disabilities to own their own homes, a broader perspective on the transgender community, nuclear medicine imaging and a new understanding of veteran mental health – and that was just the first session.

One of the highlights of my day was getting the opportunity to interview Adriane Boag, a program coordinator at the National Gallery of Australia. Ms Boag described to me how art has the ability to act as a treatment for those suffering from dementia, allowing them to escape their illness. I was inspired by how this idea refused to diminish the arts, and granted them a well-deserved respect. Ms Boag also works to promote the importance of arts in high schools with the National Summer Art Scholarship, helps young people to experience the gallery and refine their talents. It was such an honour to speak to someone so devoted to what they do, and so motivated to show the rest of the world the potential of their institution.

14086437_10153884369486167_6096049176907854587_oAnother set of speakers who touched the hearts and minds of every person in the theatre were Omar and Saad Al-Kassab. These two young men bravely detailed the experience of growing up in Syria, describing the fear and heartbreak they endured in their native country. I’d only ever been told the horror stores of war-torn Syria second-hand; from the TV, online articles and Facebook. Never had someone stood in front of me and told me the reality of living through war. I’ve never felt so lucky in my entire life. Hearing these brothers speak, I realised how blessed I am to be able to attend university, see my family and live in my own house. The most humbling moment of their talk was when they showed us a short video of what their home looks like today. The audience was confronted with images of brown rubble, broken buildings and streets filled with abandoned cars. In that moment the theatre was silent with disbelief and grief. I walked out of that session wishing that everyone in Australia could have a conversation with Omar and Saad, because there is no way you could meet those men and still think that refugees don’t have a right to a better life in this country.

The TEDx event has changed my perception of multiple issues within society that I was initially unsure how to approach. I have a greater ability to appreciate the struggles of others in society who are not as lucky as myself.



Nobody is youer than you!

EllieWritten by Ellie Simpson – Country To Canberra Teen Blogger

I wanted to heat up some party pies and sausage rolls from the freezer. I popped them into the oven, turned up the heat, sat back and relaxed. And relaxed some more. 30 minutes later, the oven still wasn’t even hot. How did this happen? I did everything correctly? I left it for another 15 minutes before something started beeping from the direction of the oven. Panicking, I began to dial Mum’s number to inform her that I had just broken it. Then, I realised I had turned the timer on rather than the heat.

Once, I put a metal spoon in the microwave. When I say once, I don’t mean when I was a kid. I mean six months ago. Did anyone else know that you’re not supposed to do that?

Heating up food on the stove should be simple – just turn the temperature up and away you go. Who knew there was a switch on the wall that turns the stove on, otherwise it doesn’t work.

It’s not that I’m so stupid that I’m not aware of how to work an oven or what you can and can’t put in a microwave. I’ve just never really learned what to do in the kitchen.

Cooking class at the start of high school was compulsory and I’m sure I learned a lot, but that was five years ago and who remembers anything from school that long ago? Last year has already fizzled out of my brain.

I used to make killer chocolate brownies. Half the mixture would be gone before it went into the oven, but oh my, it was 100% worth it. I would like to learn how to cook, because I assume it is a skill that I will need at some point in my life. Unfortunately, you can’t live off Noodle Box or McDonald’s.

People often laugh at me when I ask simple questions in the kitchen, like ‘Is this bowl microwavable?’ or ‘How long do I heat up my tortilla bread for in the microwave?’. But, you know what? Some people are just better at some things than others. I’m sure that not everybody is good at reading 6 Vogue magazines in a row like I am and not everybody can spend an entire day watching two seasons of Gossip Girl.

Some people are just born to do to certain things – some bake cakes and don’t melt spoons in the microwave, and some watch TV and read about dresses.  It’s all embracing our strengths and working to develop our skills in the other areas.

So as we head into 2017, remember, nobody is ‘youer than you’!

2016 Power Trip Reflection: “A trip that will change our lives”


Jasmine Elliott, 2016 Power Trip winner from Gladstone, QLD

Sponsored by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

On the bus to the airport after a packed few days in Canberra, a few of us remarked about how many times we had used the word ‘amazing’ during the Power Trip. We had been given so many opportunities throughout the ‘Power Day’ to network and describe our experience, and ‘amazing’ was on everyone’s lips. I’ve come to the conclusion that this wasn’t a reflection of limited vocabulary- but of the quality of the program. A trip that will change our lives.

This trip was amazing; whatever I write now will surely fall short of the undeniable impact that this program had on our lives. Partially because I, myself still haven’t digested exactly what I am taking away from the trip… but I am sure I will notice its influence well into the future.  I was truly shocked about how many worthwhile experiences we immersed ourselves in within only two full days- so I’ll split it up.

Day One

Despite my initial apprehension, yoga at ANU Sport was an invigorating experience that inspired me to… maybe do a bit more exercise. We developed our leadership skills and worked on breaking down the barriers of stereotype with women from Australian Defence. Tearing apart newspapers, learning about the presenters’ stories and presenting our values provided us a mixed discussion through which we were able to discover so much about ourselves and those around us.

Next up was public speaking training with Ingrid from TEDxCanberra. We talked about the importance of distinguishing between ourselves and our ideas, along with practical instances of public speaking- introducing others, accepting compliments along with the optimal structure of a speech. Thanks to Raising Hope Foundation, all of the winners were able meet our allocated mentors who will mentor us for the next 6 months, providing much needed advice. Then… The Australian War Memorial, a truly breathtaking place which beautifully commemorates the harsh sacrifices made by our servicemen. I thoroughly enjoyed learning even more about Australia’s past during our tour.

Day Two

This day was titled the ‘Power Day’ and rightfully so. It all started at the Powerful Women’s Breakfast at which we were all extremely excited to meet female leaders – including Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop! I learnt so much from the stories of all the women I talked to; from a plethora of backgrounds and in all walks of life. From here we travelled to 666 ABC Canberra where I was interviewed by the brilliant Genevieve Jacobs, and discussed the importance of my community, along with my submission into the leadership competition.

Australian Parliament House: a building where so many decisions are made, debates are had and politicians discuss ideas and plans for the country’s future. We spent our afternoon here, touring Parliament House before attending a lunch with many politicians, including my local member and Queensland Senators including Chris Ketter and Pauline Hanson. I brushed shoulders with inspirational leaders from across Australia and was enthralled in Question Time. We had insightful discussions during our meetings with Fiona Nash and Tanya Plibersek about politics and work-life balance.

And just when I thought we couldn’t possibly pack more into one day there was the VIP Mocktail Event and movie screening of the Queen of Katwe. There couldn’t have been a better way to finish off my time in Canberra.


So thank you Hannah Wandel, Country to Canberra volunteers and everyone who contributed to making this trip one that I will never forget. I was able to make some extraordinary friends, learning about myself and others simultaneously. And to you, reading this, if you’re in high school next year, I urge you to enter the leadership competition. Honestly, there’s nothing to lose and so so much to gain.

Empower Profile: Cassandra Heilbronn

Motivated by another awesome power trip event for 2016, we decided it was time to post another ‘Empower Profile’.  These profiles feature inspiring women and girls who are making waves and promoting empowerment in rural Australia.  We are thrilled to be able to share with you Cassandra Heilbronn’s story. She is an amazing woman – enjoy the read!

pictureCassandra Heilbronn is a Senior Associate at MinterEllison, practising in the Insurance and Corporate Risk area, specialising in management liability, sports law and medical negligence.  She is also President of Women Lawyers Association of Queensland, Social Media Manager for Australian Women Lawyers and a Committee Member at Toowong FC.  In her spare time, she plays a lot of sport (although a recent broken leg from playing soccer has her sidelined at the moment!), coaches U8 soccer, and is completing her Masters of Law at the University of Queensland.  Cassandra runs the @careergirlinspo Instagram and is an avid blogger, sharing her life of a lawyer stories and mentors a number of junior female professionals as they transition from university to their career.  

Cassandra Heilbronn is an example of someone who did not let growing up in a regional area stop her from pursing her goal of becoming a lawyer.  Raised in Bundaberg in a low socio-economic area, Cassandra is the eldest of three girls.  While dealing with a number of illnesses, which ultimately led to an early retirement based on his disabilities, her father worked hard to ensure that Cassandra was able to obtain an education at Shalom Catholic College.  She remembers that as a child she never actually realised that her family did not have a lot of money until she reached high school when her friends were talking about the holidays their families were taking, the expensive cars their parents drove and the clothes they could buy (as opposed to op shops and hand me downs!).

From a young age, Cassandra was involved in a number of sports, church and charity events.  During primary school, she remembers volunteering at the local library of a weekend and in school holidays and in exchange was allowed ‘first pick’ of the new Sweet Valley High books that were released!!  It was here she developed a keen interest in law and American politics by reading biographies and accessing the newly released Encarta on CD.  Cassandra obtained her first casual job at age 13, slicing bread at a local bakery before school.  She later started working at the local bowling alley of a weekend and took on supervisor roles by age 15.  In 2000, Cassandra was named in the winning Siren of the Surf Team and in 2001, was named the inaugural Leukaemia Foundation Miss Bundy Thunder.  At school, she held the position of Rowing Captain and House Captain for Athletics and Cross Country.

After Cassandra was admitted as a lawyer, she continued her charity and community work and was named the 2008 RSL Sunshine Coast Girl in a Million raising over $4,000 for RSL veterans.  While practising law at the Sunshine Coast, Cassandra and her friends took over the running of the Sunshine Coast Girls Boardriders Club, preventing it from closing down.    

These days, Cassandra is President of Women Lawyers Association of Queensland, Social Media Manager of Australian Women Lawyers, a Committee Member of Toowong FC and a recently retired Board member of Squash Australia.  In October 2016, she was named as the Women’s Agenda Emerging Leader in the Legal Sector at the 4th Annual Leadership Awards and last week was named in the 2017 Who’s Who List of Australian Women (after first being named in 2015). 

Cassandra is supportive of initiatives to help those girls in rural and regional areas realise their goals by not letting their location or economic situation hold them back.  She is an indication of what can be achieved by using what resources are available, taking a chance and sometimes going it alone, in order to create a life that she dreamed of. 


Han WorsleyWritten by Hannah Worsley – Country To Canberra Teen Blogger

This week, despite not having followed the American presidential campaign or election beyond what cropped up in my newsfeed, I was truly heartbroken.

Politics is something I tend to be very passionate about, yet the very high profile and emotionally charged event that was this year’s race to the presidency honestly failed to capture my attention.

America is not my country. I did not get to vote. Trump is quite literally #notmypresident.

However, as his victory became increasingly clear, I felt my heart break, not just for the people of America, but for myself and my country.

Initially, this was due to the basic fact that Trump, a man entirely unqualified for and unsuited to the job as President of the United States, was elected over a woman who was in every way a better candidate. I thought back to my time in the UNSW Women in Medicine committee, and some of discussions we had at our events about how men essentially have their gender as one more positive on a resume, regardless of their proficiency.

To me, Trump’s election is a sexist one. It has been a prime example of how not only can a man take a job he is not in a position to take, but he can do so with numerous sexual assault allegations, including those involving a minor. He can do so with tapes of his disgustingly predatory language towards women. He can do so with the support of a nation we consider to be first-world and forward thinking.

People chose this man over a woman who used the wrong email. Whatever your reason for supporting Trump, I strongly believe that there is inherent sexism in that decision. It is impossible to look at the two candidates and compare their suitability for this position and still choose Trump without being undeniably on the wrong side of far too many gender issues.

I think the feeling I had upon hearing of his success was one of fear as well. I am a woman, and a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. All the way away in Australia, I felt like his presidency hits home that many people will still relegate me to a second class citizen. Not only that, but violence and hatred towards someone like me is acceptable simply because of my gender identity and sexuality.

But see, I am lucky. I am white. I am well educated. I have a fantastic family. I am financially secure.  I am in a relationship with a cisgender, straight male. In a way, I am able to escape much of the scrutiny thrown at both women and LGBTIQA+ people simply out of luck. But my heartbreak was for all of those people, especially those in America, who simply cannot do that.

There have been reports of women wearing hijabs having them pulled off in department stores, of gay men being brutally bashed by trump supporters, and of neo-Nazi Trump-themed graffiti popping up all over the place. America has become a scary place to me. It is now divided into those of the ‘new order’, and the ‘undesirables’.

There are so many flaws with this election and its outcome. Educated people voted for Donald Trump, and we cannot afford to demonise them and leave them as a faceless enemy, or else we will not only fail to understand why we have found ourselves in such a backwards place in 2016, but we will also fail to prevent it from happening again.

I made a huge life decision, then went to TEDxCanberra

14237632_957377001037294_3425952092376546542_nThe author, Hannah Worsley, was a roving reporter at TEDxCanberra on 3 September 2016 for their ‘All In’ Show Day. Hannah was also the winner of Country to Canberra’s 2014 Leadership Competition, and is one of our Teen Bloggers. Country to Canberra is a proud Community Partner of TEDxCanberra.  

I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that rural people, and rural girls, can do everything when given the opportunity. Opportunities like TEDxCanberra open doors to further experiences and networks. But something I didn’t expect during my experience was the change in mentality, my approaches to problems, and my understanding of myself.

These things are not the most tangible outcomes of an experience like TEDx, but they are undoubtedly the most profound. And if I’m honest, I think they are also the most challenging. Meeting new people is exciting. Contributing to organisations like Country to Canberra and TEDx is a fantastic way to network. But sitting in a room full of the kind of people at TEDx, sometimes the way your own thinking changes is simply scary.

What I’m getting at here (trust me, this blog post has a point!) is that spending a day at TEDx prompted me to grapple with some pretty tricky questions that have been running through my mind lately. For a variety of reasons, mainly illness, I decided to defer my medicine course. As the resident ‘smart kid’ at my rural high school, my path was always well defined. You finish year 12, smash the HSC, go to a prestigious university on a scholarship, graduate, and live happily ever after.

When my path took a sharp and sudden U-turn, and I ended up back at home in rural NSW, I felt like a bit of a failure. Had I made the right decision for me? Yes. Did other people necessarily understand that? No. And although such a trivial point should not matter, when you live in a rural town that your great grandparents also lived in, people give their opinion freely, and it can be hard to take.

When I got to TEDx, I had not long made the decision to defer. These questions and issues continued to pose a lot of problems for me. But I found that this opportunity gave me a quick 18 minute summary many times over of why a perfectly defined path doesn’t exist. There were speeches about mental illness, about life changing challenges, about the power of family, and the bond between man and dog. There was passion and excitement and happiness-but I don’t think any of the people who got up to speak believed in the perfect life path I felt I had destroyed.

I was given the opportunity to interview Brad Carron-Arthur, a mental health researcher at ANU who ran 5000km to raise money for and awareness of mental illness. He spoke about how accommodating massive changes in your life can bring stress and confusion about many things, big and small. And as someone who was in the thick of this exact problem, to hear someone who I thought was amazing say almost exactly what I was thinking was jarring. But in a weirdly good way.

TEDx is all about spreading ideas and helping people make connections with others. But it gave me something more than that. It helped me greater understand myself, and see the truth in what everyone was telling me-that changing my ‘life trajectory’ was not the end of the world.

Given the time to reflect on the path I took through year 12 and on to university, I think I got caught up in what everyone thought was a good idea, rather than what I knew was best for myself. I finished year 12 11 kilograms lighter than I began it. I smashed the HSC, along with my sleeping pattern. I went to a prestigious university in a city where my horses and wide open spaces were impossible to access. And I hit a wall, came back home, and felt like the happily ever after part was out of reach.

I’m writing this exactly one month after the incredible experience that TEDx Canberra and Country to Canberra gave me, and it’s safe to say that I feel a lot more at peace with where I am. How ridiculous, you might be thinking, that it took a 19 year old girl such an experience to find a bit of self-belief. I have literally decades ahead of me, and no single year of my life is likely to ever go perfectly to plan. In less than 2 weeks, I start a new job that I am incredibly excited about. I have plans to take art classes, start swimming again, and to maybe even get a little bit bored-things that a study-heavy year 12, and an immediately following 6 months of medicine never allowed me to explore. I aim to mentally happy and physically healthy. And I think the long and short of it is that TEDx Canberra 2016 pushed me off the ledge I saw as a cliff, and kick-started this new outlook.

Caitlin’s C2C Experience: “A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity”

handlers 2014Caitlin Heppner was the South Australian winner of the 2015 Country to Canberra Essay Competition. You can read her essay here.

Country to Canberra for me, was and still is a once in a lifetime opportunity that opened my eyes and allowed me to see what is possible if I set my mind to it.

As SA’s representative, I took my Power Trip to Canberra as a great chance to talk to politicians in Canberra about topics close to my heart; Australian Farmers and Agriculture. Although we were there representing our gender through the topic of gender equality, I have always believed that although it as an issue in agriculture that needs to be faced, it is not one of the highest priority.

After talking to politicians in Canberra, I took action when I returned home by contacting my local MP regarding better water prices for the people who feed our nation as well as many overseas countries which we are currently working on trying to achieve. It wasn’t just the things I felt were important to carry out once I returned home that made the power trip an amazing experience. It was the wonderful group of young, strong women I met and the fun and friendships we formed. We all had such different backgrounds, different stories and different passions and it truly was an amazing experience.

One of my favourite things about the power trip was that we were given the chance to visit the Australian War Memorial. I have always wanted to go there but we really could have spent 2 whole days there reliving our nations past. Being there made me feel that we had an even stronger reason to stand up for what we feel is right on behalf of our states. Walking through the war memorial made me as much sad as it did proud of the people who fought for us. It really was something that made the power trip 10 times better than it already was even though I don’t think it could have gotten any better!

I’m a very country person so going to Canberra for me was a very big change but I did learn some helpful things while I was there, one of them being if I want regular coffee….. I have to order a ‘flat white’! It may sound funny but that has to be one of the best things I learnt while I was in Canberra besides how amazing the other girls were and how strong willed we all were.

I cannot praise Hannah Wandel and the Country to Canberra team, as well as all of the sponsors enough for the opportunity they gave 7 winners, one from each state and territory. I not only think, but know that more competitions and programs should exist like Country to Canberra as it is so beneficial on so many levels for not only the winners, but everyone else involved. Sometimes all it takes is a little Girl Power!

Our Top 10 Moments from TEDxCanberra

TED Talks are wildly inspiring and have been given by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Clinton, Bono & Jane Goodall. That’s why we were beyond a little excited to be an official partner with TEDxCanberra for their 2016 Show Day!

Held at the Canberra Theatre on 3 September, two of our C2C Teen Bloggers, Hannah Worsley and Vanessa Sporne attended to interview the speakers, audience members & crush life on social media! Here are their Top 10 moments of the TEDx Show Day themed ‘All in’:

1. The number of young speakers!

From neuroscientist Hayley Teasdale, farming & Indigenous Australian Advocate Josh Gilbert & singer Lucy Sugerman – it was great to see youth and their ideas valued.

2. Snicklefritz the dog.

He loves breakfast burritos, comes from Afghanistan and is passionate about wearing hipster dog vests. See Eriz Yarger’s TED Talk for more context 😉

3. The Al Kassab Brothers.

These young men, who fled Syria to Australia, had the ability to make us cry and laugh at the same time. Seeing the image of Homs, Syria, before the conflict and now in 2016, made our jaws-drop. The damage was horrendous, but these brothers inspired us and pushed our boundaries. They received a standing ovation and we truly can’t wait to see what they do next.


4. Our Country to Canberra T-shirts. 


5. Jenni Atkinson’s speech on gender.

The long-time Trans-Advocate did a great job at explaining the difference between sex and gender – something a lot of people don’t understand. Interesting, frank & practical.

6. The performances.

From a magician, to dancers to singers, this kept our energy levels high, gave us a mental break and boosted our invigoration for the Speakers to come.


7. TEDx Bingo!

We took photo after photo with speakers, jumped off fountains and hugged volunteers. Sadly we didn’t win, but we reckon we won over some hearts and minds.

8. The Topics.

So many were controversial, challenging or stigmatised, like refugees, suicide and online abuse. But it was a safe space and a supportive audience, where the the Speakers gave solutions to problems we hadn’t given much thought to before – like Glen Keys’ speech about independent housing for people with special needs (it’s called Project Independence, check it out!)

9. Personal stories.

From Ginger Gorman’s online trolling to Brad Carrun-Arthur’s ultra-marathon, the Speakers weren’t afraid to tell us about some of their hardest moments, and how they got through them. It showed us their motivation and passion behind their incredible achievements.



10. That shining diversity and community spirit. 

The diversity of the Speakers, in particular the musicians, was amazing. Why? Because it demonstrates TEDxCanberra’s support for a wide-range of local performers, and also, their dedication to youth (yep, still at point 10, we’re fangirling over Lucy Sugerman). Even more special, is that these weren’t just your ‘normal’ musicians. Rather, all of their performances had deeper messages, which linked to the TEDx motto of ‘ideas worth spreading’.

This dedication to community and promoting good ideas flowed on to the organisations TEDx partnered with, like Country to Canberra! Country to Canberra is spreading ideas about how to proactively combat gender inequality and about how to empower young rural women like us. So thank you TEDxCanberra for partnering with Country to Canberra – we had the best and most inspiring day.

The Secret to Happiness: A Malaysian Perspective

Written by Samantha Edwardsimage – Country To Canberra Teen Blogger

What is happiness to you? When are you happy? What makes you happy? For a lot of people, happiness stems from our inherent materialism. A win in the footy, an A on an assignment, cheap tickets to that concert you really want to see. But do these really mean anything in the bigger scheme of life?

I was recently lucky enough to travel to Malaysia and volunteer at Bethany Home, a school for people with disabilities (mainly children) in the area. This two week experience brought me back to Australia and the comfort of home with a much bigger picture of everything in my life I take for granted. The kids at Bethany have a rough life: with mild to severe disabilities, they live in a hot, humid and developing country where their differences struggle to be accepted. However, one of the things I noticed endlessly throughout my stay was that everyone is just so happy, always with a smile on their faces. I honestly believe that we could all learn a few things from the people there, about how to lead a happy and fulfilling life. I know I did.

Here’s a few ‘takeaways’ from my trip which I believe are key to happiness 🙂

1. Appreciate the Little Things

For the students in Malaysia, it didn’t take much for them to give you a big grin: a smile, handshake or high-five was all it took to ignite the stunning light of pure joy in their eyes. There are so many things in everyday life that are special; the sunshine sketching patterns on the ground, autumn leaves filling the horizon with red and orange, an unexpected compliment. Sometimes the small details in life are the most beautiful and awe-inspiring.

2. Revel in Other’s Success

One of my highlights at the school was the annual “Special Olympics”, a day devoted to celebrating the achievements of the students. From across the field I saw boys and girls with autism, Down’s syndrome and a variety of other awfully debilitating disabilities jump as if their lives depended on it. I think that if you’re struggling to find things in your life to cheer you up, looking at the triumphs of your peers will fill your heart, and brighten their day too. Seeing the animated faces and listening to the excited voices put a smile on my face.

3. Lend A Hand To Someone Else

In the school, offering assistance was met with a passionate welcome from the students, and their enthusiasm was infectious. Even if you can’t directly see the impact that you’re having, you’re almost guaranteed to feel a sense of satisfaction just knowing that your time and effort is going to a worthwhile cause.

4. Be Grateful For What You Have

We are extremely lucky to live in the safe and comfortable country that is Australia. Many of the students we met don’t have the luxury of clean water, or can’t afford food; their breakfast and lunch at school was all they ate each day. So forget the “don’t haves” and the “I wants” and be thankful, even just for the roof over your head and clean water. The worth of even the smallest things should not be overlooked.

5. Don’t Overcomplicate It

Almost every student I worked with showed me just how easy it is to be happy. They have an incredible resilience that allows them to live like there is no tomorrow, appreciating the little things and being grateful for everything in their lives. Being happy is natural, and should come easily; if you have to force it, it won’t be genuine. Living in the moment and letting happiness be part of every minute of the day makes many troubles seem less, and struggles seem easier.

The kids I met in Malaysia showed me how to embrace life and all the privileges I have, making happiness look easy. Don’t be fooled though. It might seem easy, but it still requires time and effort. According to Ralph Marston, “Your happiness will not come to you. It can only come from you.”