Hannah Rhodes is the kind of person that finds joy in helping others. It seems to come naturally to her. I first met Hannah in 2014. She was in the POLS Honours students’ room, which was next door to my COMS Honours students’ room in Locke. One day, I was in the common room fretting about an upcoming assignment. I had to come up with 3 different innovative media projects to pitch to the class. As I sat there racking my brain for ideas, Hannah started suggesting some off the cuff ideas for me while casually preparing her lunch. In my frazzled state, I so appreciated her input. Her ideas got the ball rolling for me, so to speak, and soon enough I had more than enough ideas for the assignment. That’s Hannah – a good sort – willing to help anyone out.
So naturally, after completing her Honours year in Political Science she continued her passion for helping others, but with much more worthy recipients than just a distressed student. Hannah got involved with Linda Cruse – UC senior fellow, entrepreneur and humanitarian aid worker – whom she had approached after hearing her speak at university about her international aid. With the help of the UC Innovators programme, which awarded Hannah a summer scholarship, as well as some self-funding, she was able to travel to the Philippines with Linda to help small communities rebuild their lives post-typhoon in the forgotten area of Carles.
For two weeks, Hannah stayed in the community hall, sleeping on the floor. The conditions were very hot and humid. She says she “definitely got used to working in sweat. We probably got up at about six in the morning and then went to bed at about eight or nine at night” – working out in the heat of the day for most of that time. The facilities were very basic – a squat toilet with a bucket for flushing – and another bucket for showering.
During her stay Hannah taught basic hygiene to school children and helped set up small businesses such as community gardens and a chicken project. These sustainable projects are life-changing as the families are able to sell the produce and eggs, providing a daily income for basic goods and children’s school fees. The way they talked about their new projects was a highlight for Hannah. “They’re so excited and they feel like they’re growing and independent. They have ownership of it and they’re proud of it”.
On the last day of Hannah’s trip a Christmas party was held to celebrate the season. According to the psychological recovery model – an important element of Linda’s aid work – it is important that there is “always a party, or music…or something that brings the community together”. So the Christmas party was the perfect event for the community after such terrible loss and trauma brought on by the typhoon. “There was food, and for them, they never eat meat cause it’s too expensive, so we got two big pigs and they had pork, and to them it was amazing.” The children also sung and gave performances, “and they gave us little cards – it was pretty special.”
Having returned from the Philippines, Hannah’s focus is now to assist Linda in registering her charity called Be the Change. The year is also likely to bring more trips to the Philippines to further develop the business projects they sponsored and to ensure the charity is as effective as possible. 2015 will be a significant year in the development of the charity, with plans to increase student involvement to bring a more youthful energy and make it more of a social movement, “so whenever they travel or whenever they get involved in something, they think about how that can be a force for good.”
At the end of our interview and in perfect summary to this blog post at the beginning of a new year when we’re all feeling reflective, Hannah provided some insightful perspective. “Although they have nothing, they’re the happiest, most optimistic people in the world. The things that get us down in the western world, it just seems so ridiculous. And the way they [media] always portray people in really poor countries as being really sad. It’s just not like that. You’ve got to give them dignity. They’re just as human as us – we probably have a lot more to learn from them than they have from us sometimes.”
If you’d like to learn more about the work done by Linda and Hannah in the Philippines, see these recent media releases: