Search Results for: people of my year

Becoming the monster I abhor

Plato quoteA friend introduced me to her colleagues who were visiting Bangkok over the weekend. One of my joys being away from home is to meet old and new friends visiting Bangkok. Touring them around is also my way of getting to know Thailand better.

All of them –my friend’s colleagues—were nice and fun to be with. But one of them is just extra warm, it’s like her heart is full of kindness which radiates from her sweet smile and soft voice. She’s the oldest among the group, much like our mother. But really, I felt so at ease around her that I couldn’t help but mention it to my friend. That’s when I heard an interesting story.

My friend said that she has never really spoken to that lady except for work-related matters. “People say her personality used to be like that, kind and loving. But she suddenly changed about two years ago. They say she suddenly became aloof. She doesn’t talk to people anymore except for work. Even after meetings, she doesn’t join her colleagues for a cup of coffee. She became strict and unfriendly, very opposite to what she used to be. Even people who have been so close to her, who have worked with her for over 10 years couldn’t understand what has gone wrong with her. She was like that for two years and now she is back to how she used to be, kind and friendly.

I got curious. I told my friend; maybe that lady has gone through very challenging trials in her life. And tough times always bring out the worst in us. And I smiled at the thought that I had my own share of unleashing the monster in me.

I hate confrontations. Whenever I encounter misunderstandings with people, I would opt to stay quiet and not defend myself even if that means I have to take the blame. I could not speak out for myself because sometimes it would mean revealing the other person’s mistake and I could not stand that a person is humiliated or hurt because of me.

My colleague once told me, “nobody can stand up for you except yourself. You can’t just let people abuse you.” I also read somewhere that staying silent and suppressing your emotions is not good. It will eventually take its toll on your health. But I was stubborn. Until one day, I just lose it.

I was overly stressed at work and was facing a lot of problems in my personal life too. I had been suffering from insomnia and I couldn’t eat well. I just don’t have the appetite for any food. I knew something was wrong with me. I was aware that I was not being myself. I just don’t know how to stop the negativities. I cannot decide whether I have obsessive-compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder (see, I have already made my own psychological diagnosis hahaha). Kidding aside, I knew now that I could have been better if I had enough sleep then.

But anyway, in that not-so-good episode of my life, I turned into the monster I abhor. I made this stupid argument with someone and ended up saying words I could not imagine coming out from me. Now that I’m over those dark hours of my life, whenever I think about it, I would regret why I had not dealt with the negative situation positively. But regrets don’t come first and feeling it would not help either.

I believe that the first step to move on is to forgive ourselves and accept that we are just humans; we are not perfect and we are bound to commit mistakes. Like what Rahim Khan said in the book The Kite Runner, “there’s a way to be good again”.

People who we see as bad, people who are cruel and unkind are people who are hurting inside. They need our understanding and love, not our hatred and scrutiny. And when this happens to us, let us not forget to appreciate those people who stayed by our side, the people who never gave up believing in us when the rest of the world slummed its doors.

Up close and personal with Dame Carol Kidu

It is a great honour for me to be able to write about a woman I deeply admire, Dame Carol Kidu.

Dame Carol Kidu is the former Minister for Community Development and Member of Parliament of Papua New Guinea. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in January 2005. In February 2009, she was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur by France, “for her dedication to helping women, young girls, children, the physically and mentally impaired and her commitment to fighting discrimination“. She was the first citizen of Papua New Guinea ever to receive this award. She accepted the award on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea. In 2007, the magazine Islands Business named her “Pacific Person of the Year”, in recognition of her efforts towards poverty alleviation, against domestic violence and child abuse, against HIV and AIDS and in favour of women’s empowerment. She was also the recipient of the PNG International Woman of Courage Award from the Secretary of State of the United States of America in 2007. Dame Carol has also received honorary doctorates from Vudal University (Madang, PNG), University of Queensland (Australia) and the University of Papua New Guinea in recognition of her services to the people of Papua New Guinea.

Below is the article I wrote for our newsletter as a tribute to a woman whose passion and drive made significant contributions not just in PNG but also in the region.

Up close and personal with Dame Carol Kidu
A tribute to a remarkable woman

The political landscape of Asia and the Pacific in the past decade had seen very few women parliamentarians making a difference and still thriving against the canopy of male dominance. Women’s participation in decision-making and involvement in politics remain a challenge in the region where most countries are still tide in the traditional notion of patriarchal society influenced by both religion and culture.

One of them is Dame Carol Kidu, a remarkable woman who sailed against the tides for 15 years of dedicated service, both as a parliamentarian and Minister, to improve the welfare and development of the people in her country particularly the children, women and marginalized groups.

Dame Carol Kidu gave up a comfortable Australian life to live in Papua New Guinea with her late husband Sir Buri Kidu, PNG’s first Indigenous Chief Justice. The political environment in PNG had not been good particularly for women.

The political and cultural challenges did not stop Dame Kidu from running for a seat in parliament in 1997 where she won and became a representative for Moresby South constituency. Her decision was motivated by her husband’s sudden death. “I can’t be him and I can’t be as good as him but maybe I can do something because with his death I felt that the people were robbed of a very good leader.” Her decision was also fueled by anger from seeing social injustices in her country.

Most of the challenges she faced as an MP were at the electorate level because it is a poor urban electorate where people don’t have gardens to feed them. “In the end it becomes draining emotionally and financially. And because I was very accessible quite often I had people in my office who are destitute, who literally had no food to feed their children. It can get very depressing because we don’t have any system to help them in the urban area. There’s no social security of any sort so there’s no way you can tell them to go to this office and you’ll be able to get some help. I found that very difficult because you feel so powerless.

A lot of women commended her for being strong and powerful but for her she hasn’t felt so powerless in her life than when she was a politician. “I’d seen injustice. I’d seen some innocent youth in my electorate being shot dead by police without the chance of a trial. You would feel so powerless because you wouldn’t be able to help their parents. You don’t have the money to help them to go to court and help them bring justice to their child.” Despite having been seen as strong by fellow women, often people attribute her failures from being a woman. “When a man doesn’t achieve something they do not say oh he’s only a man.

When asked about her strengths she said, “I’m a very determined person if I believe in what I’m doing. Sheer determination and never ever give up type of determination.” Being the wife of a highly respected man gave her the advantage over other women and helped her win the first election but she had to work hard to stay there.

Dame Kidu has achieved a lot in the last 15 years. She is more proud of the invisible things she has left behind in her constituency. She started an NGO called Ginigoada Business Development Foundation – Ginigoada means stand up strong – which gives income-generating  skills and basic business training to marginalized youth and women particularly those who had no education at all, and looks at job placements for them after their training. “I also introduced early childhood training and introducing pre-schools to communities, community-based pre-schools and parenting training. For me building people is far more significant than building buildings.

At the national level she led many policy and legislative reforms. Under the umbrella of  an Integrated Community Development policy, she led the formulation of the community-based policy for disability, early childhood care and development policy when she was a Minister. She also reviewed the women’s policy to become gender policy and did the informal economy policy to help the empowerment of people who are vending on the streets.

In terms of legislation, she introduced major reforms to the criminal code in  areas of sexual offenses including  rape (making the offence of rape  gender neutral and removing the marital defence for rape) and new laws on various forms of child sexual exploitation. The package of legislation also amended the evidence act to make it not so difficult to bring a case to court because it was almost impossible to win a rape case as the evidence requirements were too difficult for PNG. Later on she passed the Informal Economy Development and Control Act and developed an Informal Economy policy.  She also passed  the Lukautim Pikinini Act or Child Protection Act which replaced the old colonial Child Welfare Act 1967.

Dame Kidu said the ICPD agenda is very important in PNG since one of the most pressing issues in the country is related to sexual and reproductive health. “Most of our politicians don’t know anything about ICPD and that’s one of my aims now, to work with UNFPA to help raise awareness.” The country faces issues on unsafe abortions, unmet needs for family planning, young teenage pregnancies, sex workers and abused sex workers, homosexual criminalisation. “We’ve seen serious abuse of sex workers, some of whom are just doing sex work because they don’t have any alternative to feed their children or maybe there are alternatives but they don’t see them. People may say they can do something else but unless the person herself can see there’s opportunity it’s very hard.

Seeing abuse against the homosexual community, Dame Kidu worked on issues concerning the criminalization of homosexual  behaviours in her last term for which she received much criticism. “If people criticized me I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done because I believe that everyone has rights no matter what their sexual orientation as long as it is adult, consensual behaviours.  The same as I always supported the prisoners from my electorate. They were serving their time in prison but to me they were still my constituents so every Christmas I would make sure that they had something in prison. Sometimes they would say no, give parcels of food to our family instead. I tend to look at the marginalized who are often the majority of people. The poor are the majority.

She sponsored a major piece of legislation called the “Equality and Participation Bill” trying to get reserved seats for women in parliament. It did not succeed so it was not implemented in the recent 2012 election. With strong support from women’s groups she lobbied for women’s political participation which brought the issue to a high public profile which it had never been before. Their relentless lobbying in the last five years brought three women in parliament in the country’s recent election.

Dame Kidu sees the election of three women in parliament as a sign that there is a change in attitude coming. “It’s really critical now that we don’t just say we’ve done it. It’s really critical to say that we’ve got the first step on the ladder and now we need to  focus on supporting those women. We’ve got to make sure that we keep strengthening them so they don’t just get 5 years and then will be thrown out. We really got to support them to stay there and we’ve got to keep working with political parties, keep working on the idea of affirmative action to try to get more women to join them.

As a Minister, she felt she had the opportunity to influence policy and legislation. “I had to put my full self in the Ministerial portfolio.” Now that she has retired, she feels she can contribute more by becoming part of the lobbying force outside to keep pushing on issues such as justice and human rights, sexual and reproductive and health laws. She hopes to be used regionally not in permanent jobs but being an advocate and resource person. She is also in the process of setting up a small consulting company which will be called CK Consultants that will be based in and focused on PNG. She will be working at community level and giving strategic advice about community engagement.

Despite what Dame Carol Kidu has achieved locally, nationally and internationally she remains humble and simple. “I’m just an ordinary lady. I really am. I struggle like everyone else.” Her message to the three women MPs would be, “Know that it is extremely hard work particularly for women. Being a politician is not easy. It’s a very difficult task in PNG. You have unrealistic  expectations from your constituency. People expect you to deliver far more than you can possibly  deliver. Be humble and  remember that we’re there to work with people not for people. Keep working hard, be humble and move forward”. And her message to other women MPs, “never ever give up.

Indeed, we need more women leaders like Dame Carol Kidu in the region who are bold in facing difficult challenges and tasks and who will put the interest of the poor and marginalized as a priority.

A digital copy of the newsletter can be accessed here.

On the spotlight: Celebrity moment? Certainly not!

Being a history buff — and lover of anything vintage-looking — a visit at historical places particularly the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople in Istanbul was something that kept me consoled from missing a lot of family gatherings and out of town trips (and snorkeling!) this month when cousins came home.

At Blue Mosque my colleagues went to the loo and asked me to just meet them near the gate so I was left to myself. Captivated by the maginificent beauty of the architecture — considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period — I lose touch of the present as I delve into the soul of the place. I was brought back to reality by a teenage girl. She doesn’t speak English but her hand gestures seem like she’s asking me to take a photo of them. I smiled and said sure. She looked very excited as she rummage inside her bag for her camera while asking me where I’m from. I said the Philippines, extended my hand to get hold of her camera only to realize that she wants to have a photo with me. I cannot grapple any sense out of the fuss but I gladly granted her request. (Pose, awkward smile, click)

I continued roaming around only to find another group of girls asking me the same thing! Okay, that was the second. I started to wonder why but still consented their whim.

There were too many people at the mosque and getting a good shot was pretty hard. I was occupied with finding the right angle when another group of girls approached me… again? Could it be that they have mistaken me for someone known in their place? But that doesn’t make sense, not with me. I felt it’s time to leave. I went to the meeting place but couldn’t find my colleagues. A group of teenage boys came and asked me for, well, a photo with them. I said no. I started to panic. Feeling pretty was never an option especially in a place stormed by foreigners. All I could think of where horrible possibilities.

What are they gonna do with those photos? There was an ongoing protest around the area. Could it be that I look like someone suspicious or an enemy with my costume all in black (remembering the time when wearing red in Thailand is…) except for my colored scarf? But why do they look beguiled? Will I die in this place? Scenes out of my paranoia caught me literally trembling with fear.

An old man was standing behind me. I took the risk and asked him why those people wanted to take a photo with me (rather know why before I die eh). Just when he was about to answer another group of men approached us, guess you can tell why. Sensing my discomfort, he shooed them away. Then he said, “maybe it is because you are pretty and your dress is more contemporary. If you are feeling suspicious, just tell them no.” It dawned on me that I might have looked too scared that he thought I was being suspicious of his compatriots. That was rather embarrassing.

My Turkish sim no longer has credit and I don’t know how to request for an emergency call. My Philippine roaming sim doesn’t have credit too (lesson learned, always have your roaming loaded when travelling abroad) and my Thai sim is just useless. I started searching for someone who could speak English and lend me a mobile so I could call my colleagues.

Three little girls — I’m guessing grade schoolers — came, said ‘Hi’ in a very sweet way and asked where I’m from. I said Thailand (change of address but not really, paranoia on). While the one who speaks little English tried to make a conversation, the other one took her camera and started snapping (should I just forget about the fear and started feeling like a celebrity then? Good try but not the kind of situation one can find humor with. Nice talking to myself). I asked them if I could use their phone to make a call. While trying to make them understand that I want to call someone, more teenage girls started to gather around us. Finally they understood and lend me the mobile. I turned my back on them as I made the call avoiding the… omg cameras! Very strange.

On the way back to the hotel I found an abandoned house filled with grasses and white flowers. I just loved the sight of it. I sat on the bench in front still bemused by the incident at the mosque. I calmed myself down by taking pictures. Then the words of the old man flashed back, “maybe it is because your dress is more contemporary”. I dress very simply and if they still see me that way, then I can’t help but feel deep sadness. Surely, that simple act stems from a more profound reasons. I silently wished that it’s not because they see things in me that were deprived of them. Many things crossed my mind, some of them the worst plight experienced by other women.

While relaying the story to my friends earlier, I remembered an article I read in the newspaper on the plane on our way to Istanbul. I know very little about the place and never had time to do some readings so I thought the newspaper will give me a glimpse. The news was about a 23-year old woman who killed her husband as a self-defense after he beat her just because she look at a naked man from a movie they’re both watching!

I was reminded of the book, A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini which is a story of two Afghan women. It is very sad that so many women do not enjoy the kind of freedom that we are having in different aspects particularly in making choices on how to run their own lives. The issues they face are too many to mention, some too complicated to digest.

I never thought I would ever encounter such a strange experience. But I’m thankful for it made me appreciate the kind of womanhood I’m blessed with. Many women don’t realize the kind of power they possess to influence the society and make a positive change. Hopefully women in a free society will be able to extend their hands to those women binded by men’s power and not just be too engulfed with fashion and make ups.