Category Archives: Featured Stories

Caroline’s Little Stars sing of hope and community

Meet Caroline. She runs Caroline’s Little Stars, a fun and relaxed music group for babies, toddlers and youngsters that gather in a small eastern Melbourne suburb. But the group does more than sing songs. Through music, Caroline and her little stars reach out right across Australia and overseas to touch the lives of other, less fortunate children by holding monthly fundraising classes.

Caroline Morpeth is a primary school teacher who taught in schools for 12 years until her first daughter came along. Trained also in Secondary music, the mother-of-two began Caroline’s Little Stars in 2008, when her eldest was about two years old.

“I’d been taking our girls to music classes and kept thinking ‘I could do this, I’d love it!’”

Caroline became friends with the teachers at these classes, and they began helping her collect songs and ideas to start her own group. Like all new businesses, her clients at first were her friends, who would gather with their children at Caroline’s house.

“It worked so well because I wanted to work but was a little reluctant to put the girls in care, so they came to my class…which meant they were having music classes as well.”

By the end of the year, Caroline would hire a space elsewhere to accommodate her growing class. She chose a room at St Faith’s Anglican Church in Glen Iris, Victoria, where she still teaches now.

It was at the start of Term 1 in 2013 that Caroline kicked off her monthly charity classes. At the start of the year, the dates are decided for the monthly Friday event, offering two morning sessions. At the end of the year, all proceeds from those days are dispersed among charities dedicated to aid for children.

“I absolutely love teaching the classes and thought it was a practical, convenient way of raising money for disadvantaged children.”

“I know there are lots of wonderful musicians and other artists out there who do really great things for people less fortunate, using their music in a positive way. It is really such a fabulous avenue for creating happiness and helping out in the community.”

Last year, Caroline’s Little Stars raised $3250, donated to three projects: a health program run by Anglican Board of Mission in Papua New Guinea, Anglican Overseas Aid’s Gifts of Light program, and an Anglicare project that supports children in crises, at that time aiding tsunami affected families in the Philippines.

St Faith’s also plays an important part in Caroline’s endeavour, supplying the hall to her for free on her charity days.

Just like the littlies attending the classes, Caroline’s Little Stars continues to grow. Last July, two new days were added, including Wednesdays at Ashburton Community Centre. While the charity classes remain popular, this year there are usually some spots available. The remaining dates for 2014 are October 10, November 14 and December 5.

“I’d love to continue running these classes for as long as I can. It’s such an enjoyable thing to do and so satisfying to know that I’m helping disadvantaged children at the same time as sharing the joys of music with little people.”

“I’m having fun teaching the classes, the children are having fun, and we’re helping those less fortunate at the same time. It’s a win-win situation!”

For more information about Caroline’s Little Stars or to contact Caroline visit http://www.facebook.com/carolineslittlestars

Photo courtesy of Boroondara Leader community paper

The Effortless Way Towards Collaboration and Changing the World

I love this story. If anything, this story is about how easily one can realise a dream. It’s also about how wonderfully easy it is to make connections and form relationships that lead to meaningful collaborations, ones that change other’s lives. Let me tell you Sanjeev’s story and how he, an emerging photographer, came to team up with fast-growing social enterprise, STREAT, on a project that will help bring Australian youths out of homelessness. For Sanjeev, it simply started with a conversation at a party…

Sanjeev Singh is a self-taught photographer who this year embarked on formal training. Last year, he was on a career path that had nothing to do with photography. In fact, his work had not involved cameras since his days as a photojournalist in Malaysia. He moved to Australia as a student and soon walked a journey that led away from art and the lens.

“Nine years later, I thought, ‘Okay this wasn’t my original plan. I didn’t want to work in education, I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ ”

A change came abruptly last year when Sanjeev was faced with a redundancy.

Revealing a lot about his character, he saw this as a chance to reassess the direction he was headed and took a leap of faith. He would focus on his passion of photography and hone his technical skills with a two-year course. I like how he put it to me. He said:

“I thought of going back to studies as a great opportunity to re-invent myself.”

It’s clear that re-inventing meant more to Sanjeev than just a new direction. Here he was at the start of a course, the start of a new life, and he was already asking himself about the bigger picture. He thought about what it was he wanted to achieve with these new skills, thinking beyond what he could do to what he could give. Sanjeev dreamed his work would eventually involve collaborating on projects that would touch the lives of others.

“I always wanted to be a part of something that’s going to bring about positive change, whether it’s to homeless kids or whether it’s to people’s attitudes towards certain issues…I wanted my art to be a bit more meaningful.”

At a dinner with friends just a few months ago, Sanjeev struck up a conversation with a (then) stranger and was very open about this desire.

“I started talking about what I do, that I’d love to do a fundraising project,” explains Sanjeev.

Interested, the stranger asked which group he had in mind to work with and Sanjeev told him of his admiration for STREAT, who provide homeless youths with training and work experience for careers in the hospitality industry.

“And he said, ‘Funny you mention STREAT’,” says Sanjeev. “I said, ‘Why?’”

“He said, ‘Well, the office is down below where I work and I’m really good friends with the person who founded it!’ “

Within a week, Sanjeev met Rebecca Scott, CEO and co-founder of STREAT, a joint project was coordinated, and Sanjeev launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for help in purchasing the photographic equipment he needed to do the work.

This sense of ease comes up a lot in this story. There was an immediate rapport, and it seems STREAT were waiting for Sanjeev to come along. Over their first meeting, the project scope grew quickly from Sanjeev’s offer of creating a calendar to also producing a children’s ‘food’ alphabet book, something Rebecca had wanted to do for two years.

“I’ve always got some hair-brained ideas for collaborative arts projects and, most of the time, I’m just waiting for the right type of collaborator,” Rebecca says.

The right type of collaborator, for Rebecca, could come from anywhere. She says there isn’t a profession she can think of which couldn’t bear value to any social change project and believes so strongly in collaboration, she’s building it into STREAT’s growing physical space.

“My view is that some of the reasons we haven’t solved what have seemed like intractable social problems is that, often, we’ve been quite limited in who we’ve invited to the table to be part of the solutions.”

“Our business model has absolutely proved that baristas and chefs can stop homelessness. Well, why can’t photographers, and why can’t artists, and why can’t anyone?”

STREAT offices

Sanjeev is pragmatic in his approach to getting involved.

“We come to a stage where we have to create opportunities for ourselves,” he says.

Rebecca agrees, though is mindful of the trepidation and anxiety that often comes with starting out on these journeys.

“I have lots and lots of admiration for people who go, ‘I don’t know where this is gonna lead,’ ‘cos lots of people don’t take the first step…but there’s an enormous courage in doing it.”

“If you want to do stuff that you’re passionate about- cause related- and you just take that first step, you pretty quickly find other people who share those values.”

Sanjeev’s story is one of many I’ve come across showing how easy it can be. Without detracting from all the hard work that also goes in, his is a great example of how talking openly about your dreams can get you on the path of fulfilling that vision. Often, it takes the right mindset to be successful.

“What I really, really admire about Sanjeev,” Rebecca says, “is that not only is he changing careers but he’s entrepreneurial enough to work out how you help fund the change… and then engage his own personal friendship networks to help him in that.”

“He’s turned what for most people would be a job change, into a community project. That’s one of the things I love about harnessing a broad range of people, you end up feeling like you’re getting a group hug.”

The project is now well underway, with shooting set to finish at the end of the month. Both the calendar and alphabet book will be ready for Christmas sales and all proceeds will go back into supporting STREAT training programs.

Cover photo courtesy of Sanjeev Singh. Pictured: Rebecca Scott and Sanjeev Singh

Art Displays Showing Hope for an HIV-free Generation

A weekend of pre-conference activities that marked the start of AIDS 2014 was about to begin when the shocking news of MH17 hit. While stories of the tragedy flood our media and muffle coverage of the conference itself, Liberation Arts Network turns its focus on two of the pre-conference initiatives that used art to reach out to the public and share information on an important, and often overlooked, subject.

 

We gathered in the cold on Friday night outside the Hamer Hall. It wasn’t just the Melbourne winter that chilled us; the day’s news had brought fresh sorrow to an already sobering event.

We were supposed to be celebrating. Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS, known as YEAH, was set to reveal their champion initiative: a digital art installation projected onto the façade of the Art Centre’s Hamer Hall that told the story of HIV today and the hopes for Australia’s first HIV-free generation.

The project would mark the start of the 20th International AIDS Conference, hosted this year by Melbourne, where thousands of scientists, activists, researchers, and key HIV advocates come together until July 25 to share knowledge and spread hope.

But sadly, several attendees of the conference were on their way to Melbourne via Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over Ukraine. The gathering turned from an uplifting look towards the future to a memorialisation of the key thinkers, activists, and fellow humans lost that day.

In an eloquent address to the crowd outside Hamer Hall, CEO and co-founder of YEAH, Alischa Ross, made a moving appeal.

“As tragedy heavies our hearts, so too does it offer the opportunity to strengthen our solidarity…and search deep in our collective humanity to hold hope for our future.”

Unperturbed in her determination, Ross pushed us to share that courage.

“Every life lost is one too many.”

“Our community strength and leadership is our resolve.”

To commemorate and acknowledge the lives affected by HIV today and in years gone, YEAH created Honouring the Past & Hope For the Future: Towards an HIV Free Generation, and projected it onto a cultural icon of Melbourne visible to many. Through a series of digital images, the installation featured original art created by artists from Melbourne and her six sister cities- Osaka, Tianjin, Thessaloniki, Boston, St Petersburg, and Milan- displayed proudly alongside visuals of panels crafted for the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Little more than a year ago, the idea to make this digital installation came to be. Ross was thinking about a way to reach out and “educate the public” and “positively inspire people to take action”. She decided to incorporate the work of the Memorial Quilt.

“I thought about how each one of these [quilt] panels is an artwork, and a dedication to a life,” she said.

Ross keenly understands what these panels mean for those who made them. A young woman now, she contributed her own quilt panel when she was 14 years old “to honour the life of my sister, who died so young, before treatments were even available.”

The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt was officially launched on World AIDS Day, 1 December 1988 and gave birth to a strong motto: “See it and Understand”. Echoing this sentiment, Hope For The Future was punctuated with key ideas and statistics that were informative, moving, yet also encouraging, with contributions from local and international leaders. Barack Obama was quoted saying, “Our goal is no less than an HIV-free generation”.

HAMER HIVSTAT

Ross summed up their aim simply: “I hope, more than ever, the narrative we share tonight will engage the public…to recognise and understand the ongoing impact of HIV – here and around the world.”

 

Engaging the public through art didn’t stop there. Joining up with the AIDS 2014 Melbourne Youth Force, YEAH presented Legacy Street Art Project, where Youth Pre-conference participants could share their voice and leave their legacy in a mural painted along a public wall at the Queen Victoria Market.

Shortly after midday on Saturday, the young participants arrived at the Queen Street end of the Market and were greeted by spray paint and gear, as well as a stencil-framed, undercoated section of wall. But before painting could begin on the wall, participants designed and cut their stencils and a practice session was held.

The Legacy Street Art Project was funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. It stands as a symbol of the movement towards greater understanding and participation in discussions about HIV/AIDS and discrimination.

Community says ‘Oi Enuf!’ to domestic violence

‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others’ Nelson Mandela

It’s Mandela’s mighty call to action that resounds, to me at least, in Nia’s more succinct plea that “we just need to stop being c*#ts to each other”. Nia is addressing the crowd in between music performances at her event Oi Enuf!, a fundraiser supporting the victims of a family violence crime which happened less than two months ago. On a small stage, accompanied by a clutter of sound and lighting equipment, she compels us to spread the sentiment for mutual respect and love for one another.

Few would not be touched by the story of a mother of four murdered outside her solicitor’s office just after attending court over an Intervention Order on her ex-partner. Fiona Warzywoda was only 33 and her four children, aged 5 to 15, depend now on the kindness of a community of friends and strangers.

Yet, few strangers would be moved to take the action Nia and her sister did. Swiftly, they organised a line up of musicians and performers, found them a venue to perform in, turned the event into a fundraiser, and even created event merchandise to sell, with all proceeds going to a trust fund established for Fiona’s children.

Nia didn’t even know Fiona. Nia says she was just “sick of seeing it” all around her.

“We’re not talking in spaces where we have an impact on each other,” she says.

“We need to have the conversation.”

The atmosphere in the darkened backroom of The Reverence Hotel is friendly, even jovial, but retains a solemn undertone as everyone attending keeps in mind why they are here. The event has drawn a modest but expressive crowd, and they cluster around the room in their respective cliques.

Contemporary rock pop band 4Tress have just played an amazing set, and left the room buzzing. Over this din, Nia is explaining to me that she’s brought everyone together today because she wants to get people talking openly, honestly, and publicly about the “still very taboo” subject of family violence.

Passionately, she describes her horror at persistently coming across fear and awkwardness in others when trying to (or inevitably avoiding) talking about the issue.

“It’s not right that we can’t talk about it and have to pretend it’s not there,” she says.

As the next band sets up, I mention that the event has attracted a variety of bands and music styles, from the punk rock of Ruby Soho and Liquor Snatch to the spoken words and hip hop of Joelistics. It seems this was deliberate.

“I feel having a mix of bands is representative of the many voices out there,” Nia says.

From the musicians who have come to play tonight and then stick around afterwards, there’s a strong feeling of comradery and the sense that they are here, not to promote themselves, but to display the power of music.

Chatting with us, Bulk of Man band member Rinaldo Antico pipes up about how excited by the event he feels, particularly by Joelistics whose heavy focus on lyrics is what Rinaldo found most powerful for an event such as this.

Rinaldo also stressed the band’s eagerness to be a part of future events.

There are plans for more events such as these, Nia says, and she shouldn’t have too much trouble finding talent to get involved. The community support and interest she received for tonight was astounding, even to her.

“People put their hands up straight away to be a part of it. People I didn’t know.”

Just in the same way Nia and the Oi Enuf! organisers didn’t know Fiona. Strangers coming together to support strangers; it does happen…