Learn a Language - Change the World. Part 1 - Unchartered Waters
What Would YOU Do?*What would you do if you landed in a foreign country and realized that you had left your ATM / Credit card back home and only had a few dollars cash on you?*
What would you do if your only choice was to stay in the jungle overnight without any food, water, electricity or communication, or trek across the pitch black ocean in a small one-man leaking fishing boat where there could be pirates? … the boat option the only forseeable way to complete your mission?
What would you do if you were offered BBQ dog as your welcome dinner? … the same cute dog that you were admiring as he was just hopping and playing around the local market?
I have just had one of the most amazing, scary, dangerous, amusing and enriching experiences of my life as I spent 11 days trekking across some of the most beautiful, but often inhospitible and often dangerous places in Indonesia. With just four photos and a few village names in hand, we set out to find the families of four Indonesian fisherman to bring them hope.
Change the World!?
I have to thank my dear friend and mentor Andrew Stotz for inspiration for the title of this blog post series. Not only is Andrew in my mind one of the most brilliant financial minds in Asia, but he is also one of the most grounded human beings I know as well. We were talking about a new presentation workshop that he had put together that inspires people to develop superior skills of presentation and persuasion so that they can in turn go out, inspire people en masse and change the world.As a polyglot, I would like to take it even a step further. The number one question that I get asked is *‘How do you learn so many languages?’* I think the real question should be ‘
- do you learn so many languages?*‘
The answer is simple. Just think of how many more lives you can influence if you can communicate with them in their own language. For me, even more importantly, think of how many millions of more interesting, brilliant, fascinating and colourful lives can influence my life if they are able to communicate with me?
People Smuggling Rings Affect More People than you Think
I posted a few weeks ago about my recent trip across Java, Indonesia with Australian lawyer David Svoboda, where we tracked down the families of several Indonesian men that had fallen victim to People Smuggling ring recruiters and subsequently found themselves sitting in maximum detention prisons across Australia for years on end. I am happy to say that four Indonesian fishermen (including one child) have won their trials in the Australian Supreme Court and have been or are in the process of being repatriated with their families in Indonesia thanks to David and his amazing team’s efforts.
Australia’s mandatory 5 year sentences for these Indonesian crew members are hurting more people than one would expect at first glance. There are repercussions to having the sole bread winner of a poverty stricken family incarcerated in a foreign land. Such pressures might lead other family members into prostitution, drug trafficking and slave labour both domestically and internationally just to help make ends meet. Hopefully our small efforts can bring a small ray of light to a few families at least.
Language Takes you to some Wild PlacesI was initially exposed to these People Smuggling cases through being employed as an Indonesian interpreter for the detainees back in 2010. I have been involved with over 50 of them from their first arrival at the Brisbane Watch House, to their first court appearences, prison inductions, interviews, legal meetings right up until sitting with them through their often weeks long Supreme Court trials. I was only interpreting in Australia as a stop-gap after I migrated back to Australia from Thailand and needed something to do.
As I was getting more and more involved with the cases and the clients, I couldn’t just sit there in the role of ‘interpreter’ anymore and see these guys suffer and seeing people within the system profit from their suffering while I knew exactly what they were coming from and what the circumstances would have been like to drive them to a point where they jumped on a boat full of Iranian, Afghani, Iraqi or Rohingyan refugees and sailed right into the arms of Australian authorities only to be incarcerated for a mandatory 5 years.
At least I thought I knew what their circumstances were like. Thanks to the faith placed in me by my lawyer friend, I was brought in to help track over 10 of these guys’ families down right across the Indonesian archipelago over the past 3 months, I can honestly say that the circumstances that these gentlemen are coming from are in many cases far worse than what I could have ever imagined. These people come from a world that many of the people who are fortunate to have access to the media and are reading this article might not ever have the chance to encounter in their lifetime.
These people live on dirt floors, most have no electricity, no knowledge of their own country’s current affairs let alone Australia’s latest foreign policy issues, they have in many cases never traveled further than 60km away from their own village and most have accepted jobs as crew members as either mechanics or cooks having been told that they would be working with ‘foreigners’ that had money – a once in a lifetime opportunity. In one village I visited, the hottest issue that consumed everyone’s thoughts besides what was going to feed them for the day and how they would get it, was whether or not corrogated iron should be banned from substituting the traditional thatched grass roofs on their huts. The iron was seen as technology eating away at their culture and traditional ways of life.
It’s all about the Money, Money, Money
During the journey, there were extortion attempts by immigration officials, gangs, fishermen, up-country hoteliers, taxi drivers and your general person on the street. I found myself sleeping in mosquito, spider and gecko laden hotels and sometimes having to sleep in cars as the more luxurious option, taken into villages where BBQ K-9 was the order of the day and raced against the clock in the middle of the night to trek across jungles and the pitch black ocean lit only by a half-moon to an uncertain destination with a complete stranger in a tiny leaking fishing boat.
I’m happy to say that the trip was a success in that we completed the mission and I will be writing a series of articles over the coming days recounting our adventures that I hope will not only be educational and give a new perspective to the whole topic of People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, but will also be inspiration to people who love languages, but don’t see any other career options other than being an interpreter, translator or language teacher.
If you learn a language, you really can help change the world… sounds corny, but true. Stay tuned!