It’s nice to be home!
With Sydney’s 55km Spring Cycle Challenge behind me (Sunday was a beautiful day for it and despite cycling amongst the hoardes, it was relaxed and without accident), I now have many other commitments ahead of me. Visiting various friends and family, attending a day of Ebola training, the Sydney to Woollongong cycle and various other obligations are planned. Being on paid leave I now cannot work for a salary but MSF seem to think they can get around this issue by putting me on a “zero contract”. As such I have given them the end of March as my next availability, this time only on a short mission of maximum three months. I hope to get some experience on a vaccination or outbreak response next. It would be very interesting to work with Ebola, but hopefully by March the current outbreak will have been reined in.
Upon return to Sydney I was obliged to attend a debriefing at the office which was about two hours long and involved seeing Human Resources, Communications, the placement officer and then talking by telephone with the Tokyo office about my experience and providing them feedback on the program which I just left and if/how I view my future plans with MSF. It was an effective way to feel some closure to my experience. I can also sense a shift in approach, moving from my status as a “first missioner” to someone with a year of MSF experience behind me. Previously I wasn’t given much choice as to the type of mission I would like to do but now they are talking to me about my preferences, further training needs, etc. This leaves me in a bit of a quandary as I consider whether I want to stay in my currently-on-hold position in Alice Springs, where I have friends, a home, stability and familiarity; or if I want to make a career/life move towards permanent humanitarian work in the third world. Luckily I have another year to think about this.
Today I have spent a chunk of time on the telephone trying to work through the complications of how we might put the orphanage in Cambodia onto an Australian-friendly system so that Australians who are interested might make donations. The orphanage is a registered charity in Cambodia and France, where we have bank accounts. Australians wishing to donate currently have to make international transfers which have significant bank fees attached to them. I have spoken with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission and also the Australian Tax Office.
In short, more for my own records than because readers would find this particularly interesting, to open an Australian bank account linked to the orphanage, we would need an Australian Business Number (ABN). This is a complicated process requiring applications through the Department of Foreign Affairs and would take at least, probably longer than, a year, with no guarantee that it would be approved. If approved, then once we have an ABN we would then need an Australian Board of Directors to administer funds because foreign nationals do not meet the criteria for administering funds raised in Australia. The current Board of Directors consists of Cambodians, French, an American and myself. It is not possible to open a bank account in the orphanage’s name without an ABN, so it’s a catch-22. The alternative is to find an Australian-registered charity who would be willing to act as our agent in receiving and distributing the funds.
While I understand the need for rules and regulations it seems that these things could potentially be made much easier if there was coordination between first world nations relating to third world charities, where funds are so desperately needed? Meanwhile children in a very high needs country sit precariously in wait of an unknown outcome for their future. While it was so easy for me to raise money for an Australian fundraising event (the Sydney to Woollongong cycle which raises money for Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in Australia), it’s astounding that raising money for vulnerable children in a poor country is so much more complicated and difficult to achieve? I have approached four large Australian charities asking for assistance in this regard. With any luck we may find someone willing and able to receive funds in Australia on our behalf.
While that is going on, after a year of advertisement-free living I’ve been surprised by the amount of “native advertising” which takes place on our news programs. Yesterday there was a multiple-car pile up in northern Sydney after a truck’s brakes failed (noone was killed and injuries reported were minor, miraculously). A reporter speaking from a helicopter above the scene transitioned from events occurring below him on the motorway, to how you can purchase a new Mazda motorcar, as though the Mazda was somehow connected to the accident below – which surely wasn’t a good association! To ears not used to this form of advertising, it is quite disconcerting to see our news, which is already so melodramatic, dumbed-down and entertainment-based, infiltrated by such blatant commercialism. On the other hand I got to see Judge Judy for the first time in over a year (just to show that I am not 100% against commercialism)!
In 2.5 months I will be back in Cambodia. Meanwhile, I don’t think it’s really going to take me so long to step back into my First World existence. The only thing I can say about that, is how incredibly lucky I am to have such a choice.