International Human Rights Day was celebrated at the Tanks on December 4 with guest speaker, Noela Davies, 2011 recipient of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) award, the Florence Nightingale Medal, following her humanitarian work of many areas of conflict around the world. McSkimming ICRC, in her praise stated “Noela is a credit to Australian nursing, an ordinary Australian who has made an extraordinary contribution to improving humanity and that making a small difference is a good thing.”
The international event included Our Living Books, seven special people there to tell their stories. Everybody found them very interesting and inspiring so I thought I’d share them with you.
Vang Yee Chang
Vang Yee was born in Laos into the Hmong community, an ethnic group displaced by war, political unrest & persecution. During the Vietnam War, his family lived in the jungle fleeing troops as they moved between the north & south. Leaving Laos, they crossed into Thailand where the family spent 10 years in a refugee camp. Vang worked in a medical centre & as a translator for the UN High Commission for Refugees, while hoping to return to Laos. The family were later sponsored to Australia & after originally settling in Tasmania, Vang soon found warmer climates more to his liking. Today Vang lives in Edmonton, is a much respected community leader, father of 8, a musician and very focused on assisting people to get a better life and helping young people to get a job!
10 days after her birth, Lizzie and her siblings were placed in foster care. During this time, she experienced abuse and at the age of 4, she was returned to the care of her father, however his own struggles and challenges meant more difficult circumstances and Lizzie left home at 13 and lived on the streets, eventually leading her to sign herself over to the care of Child Safety. It was around this time Lizzie developed a strong religious faith and eventually a Samoan lady took Lizzie in for a weekend & she ended up staying 3 years. Lizzie has experienced many positive changes in her life since then, including completing several training courses, discovering singing & writing her own songs and later meeting her partner. She is now eagerly awaiting the birth of her first child in February and I have no doubt she will make an excellent mother.
Elverina is a woman from Yarrabah, a writer, artist, curator, and researcher. She is committed to demonstrating leadership within Indigenous communities and is actively involved in the Dirringhi Aboriginal Corporation, has presented papers on Indigenous Issues to the United Nations, co-ordinated the Black Women Strong Conference in 2011 & is President of the Yarrabah State School P&C. Elverina has received community recognition including a Highly Commended Award in the 2008 Smart Woman Smart State Awards, a Recognition Award for Cairns International Womens Day and was the first woman to receive a scholarship from Swinburne University. She is currently studying at Melbourne Business School. Elverina lives in White Rock where she is bringing up 4 boys and is a real powerhouse.
Born in 1941 in Darwin, Evelyn’s early years were spent with her family in Brisbane and later on a banana farm near Beenleigh. Schooling opportunities were intermittent, she was often the only black child and little was known by the white community about her Torres Strait culture. However, her parents worked extremely hard to provide for her and the family and now Aunty Evelyn is herself well respected leader in the Cairns community. A local radio icon in the region, she shares her message and her spirituality with a large audience of fans.
Mark and Lisa Garrett
Mark and Lisa decided to form a family by adopting a child from Ethiopia. They specifically chose an Ethiopian child as they were friendly with a Sudanese family and had many friends in the local African community. After lodging the first application in 2003, they began the long wait, often experiencing difficulties and numerous barriers due to rigid bureacratic processes. In 2006 they moved to Ethiopoa to live in the birth country of their intended child, taking jobs as teachers and administrators. Unfortunately poor health meant they had to relocate to Dubai and begin the adoption process again. In 2009 their efforts were rewarded and the people of Ethiopia entrusted Mark and Lisa with the care of a beautiful boy named Tewedros.
Kayko (Keiko) Berry
Keiko was born in Tokyo and spent time in Japan and the US before finishing school and moving to Australia in 1991. Keiko originally planned on a 12 month stay but met her husband here and has raised 2 beautiful children. After working in tourism for 10 years, she began working for the Qld Police Service and was later appointed as the Japanese Police Liaison Officer. Keiko is currently attached to the QPS Cross Cultural Liaison Unit which is rsponsible for improving relations between the Police Service and Indigenous and ethnic communities.
In 1991 Rob suffered a tragic diving accident that left him a quadriplegic. Although being in a wheelchair for the past 20 years, it hasn’t stopped him achieving, always putting the ‘ability’ in ‘disability’. He spent nine months recuperating in Princess Alexandria Hospital Spinal Unit in Brisbane, during which time he married his fiancé Jenny.
Rob had worked in various professions until breaking his neck, but post-injury, he decided to undertake tertiary study so he could re-enter the work force in a new capacity. He completed a Bachelor of Arts in History and Politics at JCU and a Law Degree at QUT. “It’s important to increase your education because it widens your options,” he said.
The son of a former Cairns Mayor, Tom Pyne, Rob spent a number of years assisting and campaigning for the rights of other disabled people. He has had a number of roles, including the Regional Disability Liaison Officer at James Cook University, the chair of the Far North Qld Regional Disability Council, the president of advocacy group Rights in Action and a member of the Disability Council of Qld.
In his position at JCU Rob provided information and advice about post-school options, support and services and assisted people with disabilities move from school into training and education and then into their chosen career.
In 1998, Jenny gave birth to the couple’s only child Katherine. Named after Tom’s mother, Katherine now is entering her teenage years and is enrolled at St Mary’s Catholic College in Woree.
Rob was appointed to the Disability Council of Queensland by the then Disability Services Minister Warren Pitt. “Disability councils provide an opportunity for Queenslanders with a disability, their families, service providers and local community members to get involved in government decision making, particularly in regard to the delivery of quality disability services in the state,” he said.
Pyne also speaks out on behalf of people if they need assistance with government funding or housing. He said access and services for people with disabilities in Cairns had improved over the years. Footpaths and guttering have improved but we have a long way to go.
Rob decided to contest the seat of Division 3 at the 2008 council election after Councillor Jeff Pezzutti signalled his intention not to return. He won in a landslide and has since shown his passion and dedication for the local south side community.
He said one of his priorities was to stop rates increasing. “I just want Cairns to be a great place to live for all residents. I would like Cairns to become known for its tropical buildings, shady green spaces and healthy environment. Proper planning can ensure development is sustainable and enhances the character of neighbourhoods and suburbs, but life has to be affordable as well.
Rob hopes to continue as a Councillor, “This isn’t a stepping stone for higher aspirations for me – I don’t want to be Mayor or a Member of Parliament.
He concludes, “Local Infrastructure is my passion and I am always going in to bat for Cairns for better facilities and services. I do feel sad to see the loss of the semi-rural lifestyle, but it is most important to provide services and facilities for our young people, so they don’t have to move away to pursue their careers and their dreams.”