A Place For You

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Diversity…something that’s lacking, somewhat, in the front benches of Federal Parliament at present and yes, a pretty cheeky comment coming from the President of the Country Women’s Association!

However we’ve never claimed to be anything else.

And whilst we may not be very diverse in terms of gender, that’s where the bias stops.

Our members live in cities, towns and on farms. They are wives, mothers, professionals, grannies. They range in age from 4 months (yes months and she has lots to say!) to 100 plus. They are fifth generation Australian and first generation Australian refugees. Their interests range from International affairs to agriculture, social issues, baking, education, languages, politics, policy and knitting.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs we launched CWA Awareness Week in Sydney and I have had the privilege of spending time with some exceptional women who represent the diversity of our membership.

Gabrielle – the former member of the Australia Defence Force who has a Masters of Philosophy in Indonesia-Australia Political and Defence relations and can speak Indonesian, Chinese, Arabic and German

Annette – a …. year old powerhouse who is currently overseeing a 64,000 acre property in remote White Cliffs whilst her husband is away earning off farm income. In her spare time she manages software and disability product companies, looks after her sister in law and trains to be a volunteer ambulance officer.

Isabelle – a 21 year old university student from the Sydney’s inner western suburbs, who joined at the age of 17 and has won prestigious blue ribbons at the Sydney Royal Show for her baking prowess

You will also have seen blogs from other inspirational ladies like Debra, a professional Sydney based woman with a passion for enabling women to make good life choices through literacy and numeracy education; Tin, a Burmese senior lecturer in economics who, as a refugee herself, has a passion for caring for the land and human rights and is building schools and creating education paths for kids in her home country; and stay tuned for Barbara the vibrant member in her 70’s texting and tweeting faster than her friends can knit one, purl one!

This week has seen us embrace and promote the elements of the CWA that most people never hear about, because we haven’t mentioned them. Our members are normally quiet achievers, getting on with what needs to be done in their communities with little fuss and certainly no fanfare.

This week, however, we have been shouting (in a lady-like fashion, of course) about our efforts in raising and distributing funds for CHARITY, driving CHANGE and celebrating our DIVERSITY.

No matter your age, background, location or profession, the CWA has a place for you

p.s. Good luck Julie Bishop, if you get tired of all that testosterone…. www.cwaofnsw.org.au

Challenge, contribution and rewards – By Guest Blogger Tin Hta Nu

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Tin (second from right) with members of the Kendall CWA Branch at the community herb garden that they maintain.

As we celebrate CWA Awareness Week this week I have taken some time to reflect on my own experience as a member of the Country Women’s Association in my hometown of Kendall, the Poets Village, Mid North Coast, NSW.

For me, being a member of the CWA is about three words – challenge, contribution and reward.

It is about challenging ….

Coming from a non-English speaking background, I found it really challenging to adapt to a new culture. I enjoy taking this challenge head on and the CWA has helped me to orientate myself to the Australian way of life.

Through the CWA I have been able to learn about my country of choice, Australia, in a supportive and inclusive environment. I have also been able to let my fellow CWA members understand about my home country, Burma. On our meeting days I usually bring Asian finger food which my CWA friends enjoy.  When I bring the food I always tell the stories involved in the food I bring.  In reciprocity, they have helped me with baking ideas.

It is a challenge for me to explain to my CWA friends to see how lucky we are here in Australia.  Although I held a respected position as a senior lecturer in Rangoon University, I still lacked freedom of expression, and the situation is even worse for women in the country.  At the time I left Burma in 1990 there were no organised women’s associations or civil societies.  We had to tolerate a lot of suppression by the military, and try to survive with many shortages such as electricity black outs that are so common even in the capital city, let alone rural areas.

CWA has a place for everyone, and many activities that you do not think you are capable of doing is encouraged by your fellow members such as crafts and singing. I find it a very challenging activity to learn the national Anthems of our countries of study every year.  It is rather challenging to learn another language at my age. This year also I lead and sang together with our branch members the national anthem of Morocco at our Kendall branch International day.  We also sang, Timor, Egyptian and Danish and Maltese national anthems in previous years.

It is about contributing…

Through my CWA membership I have been able to play a part in the bigger picture by contributing materially and financially to disaster stricken areas in Australia and also to less advantaged people and women overseas. Personally, I have been actively involved in the work CWA has done to the victims of the cyclone Nargis in Burma.

I have had the opportunity to let my fellow CWA members know about the poor education system in Burma, and how the country people live.  The CWA members and people in Camden Haven are proud to know that 5 children from the village school we build are qualified to attend Medical Sciences in Mandalay University. They have to study by kerosene light or with candles. One of them, a recipient of CWA contributions by our members, just completed her degree in optometry.  She is now working in a hospital in her region.

As education is important for the villagers in Burma my CWA friends are still supporting my projects.  I have started a new project to fund 70 orphaned girls in a nunnery in Rangoon. My CWA friends’ support my farm produce sales and their contributions have allowed us to buy school exercise books and pencils for these orphans.

It is rewarding…

The CWA has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded friends and has widened the horizon of my social environment. I’ve enlisted the support of many members to help in my projects such as the CWA herb patch in our community garden.

Personally, it’s also very rewarding. Like many things you get what you put into it.

My most rewarding moment was putting up the “The Kendall CWA Room” sign in the Burmese High School to honour the CWA ladies supported me tirelessly in various fund raising events for the building of the school.  They have helped me preparing food for the International nights, culinary adventure nights and more than that, they purchased tickets for the nights.

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The Kendall CWA Room

As CWA members we are seen by the community as being balanced, but not afraid to speak our mind.  With nearly a century of history behind us, CWA has become the voice of concerned rural women.

I am proud to be a part of the CWA and CWA has a place for everyone!

“I am a refugee and am so appreciative of this wonderful country. Life is for giving.”

Tin grew up in Burma (in Rangoon) where she was a senior lecturer in economics, Rangoon University. Her cousin by marriage is opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi. With a passion for human rights, Tin was active in the nationwide uprising for democratic reforms which resulted in her needing to leave Burma for Thailand.  Tin came to Australia as a lecturer at UNE Armidale in 1991. After that time, she and her husband worked for AusAID. Based at the poet’s village of Kendall, between Taree and Port Macquarie, Tin explains that coming to Australia “saved her life”. She joined the CWA ten years ago and, at the age of 63, is actively involved in her local community. Tin’s other passion is looking after the land and has established a community café and a community garden with her friends, to educate people about Asian herbs and vegetables.  She also raised funds to build a high school in Burma which now boasts its own ‘CWA Room’ and now continues to support the school by selling produce. Tin also supports a girl’s orphanage in Burma which cares for 70 children. “I am a refugee and am so appreciative of this wonderful country. Life is for giving.”

Fun fact – The ladies of the CWA are teaching Tin the Australian National Anthem and she is teaching them how to make spring rolls. Tin Hta Nu can be interpreted as ‘high in gentleness and devotion’

Tea and Scones Have Moved On

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Awareness Week has finally arrived and it’s time for us to tell everyone else, that we’ve moved on from tea and scones to a chai latte and strawberry macaroons.

Over a ‘cuppa’ (chino) we’d like  to tell you that our agenda covers a variety of issues; from protecting land and water to no standing on school buses; debate over foreign ownership to the adverse effects of energy drinks on our kids; issues surrounding mental health to ensuring the school curriculum includes teaching children where food and fibre originates.

While you’re polishing off that last crumb of macaroon you should know that we raise funds for scholarships, medical research projects, international aid and emergency and disaster relief across the state and Australia, respectively.

This year we are focussing our efforts on the things we are not normally known for:

  • Charity; in the last 12 months we have raised and distributed almost $1 million, in Australia and abroad
  • Diversity; our members are from all cultures, all walks of life, all ages and they live in the country and the city
  • Change; we are making better use of social media to communicate our activities, harnessing technology to benefit our members, reaping the rewards of sharing wisdom and history with energy and enthusiasm

We will be celebrating Awareness Week from 14th – 21st September 2013 with a host of local events and activities, which are listed here, if you would like to participate.

CWA of NSW is full of passionate, accomplished and committed women. They all have interesting stories and different perspectives on why they are members and I hope to share some of these with you during our Awareness Week, starting tomorrow morning – turn on the telly to Channel 7 at 9.20am to see me and a couple of marvellous members featured on Sunrise.

There’s a LOT more than just ‘tea and scones’ at this table!