Change Makers By Lara Czysnok

What will our generation be remembered for?

What will we leave behind?

Will it be tweeting, texting and smashed avo, or will it be much more monumental?

Whilst most of their counterparts were enjoying the pristine waters of the Mediterranean Sea, 80 eager University of Technology Sydney students set off on The Big Lift; the road trip to rival all road trips.

10 regional towns. 9 service projects. 160 rolled up sleeves. Challenge accepted.

First stop Wyangala, a 40-person town where their pride and joy is the Wyangala Dam and every working day is finished off with a cold glass of plonk. With fresh faces and more layers than we have fingers the Lifters did not hesitate getting their hands dirty. Laying concrete beds, shovelling mulch and painting fences at the local primary school and golf course were just some of the ways that Lifters chose to ‘pay it forward’, a term coined by the philosophy of performing one good deed and expecting nothing in return, ultimately setting the wheels of generosity and altruism in motion.

Less than 24 hours into the trip and Lifters were lending more than just a helping hand. Pushing wheel barrows with flat tyres, digging holes with calloused hands and dragging 100s of kilos worth of tree branches is how Lifters chose to flip the bird to anyone that says Millennials are not hard workers. Uncle Wayne reiterated the selflessness of Lifters in his comment, “you lot are the future. Australia needs more people like you running the country”. This became an enduring theme throughout the course of the 9 days; making a difference, making a change.

Over the week, The Big Lift saw a reciprocal cycle of Lifters appreciating the hospitality and generosity of townspeople and townspeople appreciating the hard work and commitment of Lifters. Travelling through towns that you could not track on most maps gave Lifters the opportunity to see the 'real Australia', where the climate is unforgiving, (Harcourt) apples come from trees and not the supermarket and the town swears by Uncle Wayne's Green Tomato Relish to cure all illnesses from the common cold to any funny looking warts. Everyone knows everyone and almost overnight, everyone suddenly knows you. Ganmain, Finley and Skipton are less than half of the memorable towns that Lifters set out to make a difference in and inadvertently have a sudden deep affection for. 

Change makers are hard to come by. They are a rare and dying breed. The need for more change makers in our world is ever present. Ray of the Finley Lions Club put it best, “people often kick young kids down. Young kids are the future. We need more kids like you coming through, for the sake of our country”. The Big Lift promotes and attracts change makers.

Leaders are – by definition – change makers. When you are called to lead, you are called to advance, move forward, and improve the situation. The Big Lift does just that. There is no time for hesitation, only perspiration. Hard working individuals, helping out and making a difference for the benefit of a stranger. That is the essence of paying it forward. The idea that through one act of pure unvetted kindness, you set in motion a cycle of generous, thoughtful acts that will ultimately make the world a better place.

We are the future. We are the movers and shakers. We are the change makers.

A Journey To Generosity By Aditee Hardikar

Post TBL blues.  It’s a real thing.  You spend 9 days with 80 people and they become your family.  Every day, every night and every moment is shared, and you find yourself immersed in a bubble of love and friendship.  When you first sign up, you’re sceptical of this “life-changing” ability that TBL alumni speak of.  But, once you’re home, you’ve unpacked your bags, and taken a much-needed shower . . . waking up the next morning without being surrounded by 79 other sleeping bags, makes your body go into withdrawal.  9 days of volunteering together, road tripping across 7 different towns, eating together, sleeping together, and making many great memories in a remarkably short amount of time does that to you.  The people you meet, townspeople and your fellow volunteers, the bond you form with one another, it’s priceless.  You become dependent on each other, you support one another, you become family.

As someone who has lived in the city their entire life, I found it difficult to comprehend why people would choose to live in regional Australia.  The energy and liveliness of the city seemed so much more attractive.  The Big Lift made me realize my ignorance and the fact that there is so much more to country life.  There’s not only the stunning landscape but also the people are the kindest, most generous you’ll ever meet.

The very first night we stayed in a primary school at a little town called Mandurama.  The number of kids that went to this school . . . Eight.  Unlike anything you’d ever see in Sydney.  Upon arriving there, we were welcomed by the school’s principal, their only teacher, parents and even a couple of the students!  When you go to these towns the general mindset of a city perspective is that you’re the ones offering support and time to the townspeople.  You don’t expect anything in return.  However, the moment you meet them, the idea of us and them becomes invalid.  You all become the same and come together to achieve something great. The overwhelming generosity and hospitality of the townspeople does not fail to amaze.

After learning all about the history of Mandurama and being served quite possibly the best apple pie ever, 40 of us along with our sleeping bags squished into the school’s assembly hall like Tetris blocks.  I know, sounds extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient.  You’d rather spread out on your own bed like a starfish.  But honestly, that first night made everyone so comfortable with each other and we instantly bonded.  It was one of my favourite memories on the trip and I would definitely jump at the chance to do it again.  

When visiting these small towns, the biggest difference you feel is this incredibly strong sense of community.  The serenity and unity that exists is not like anything I’d come across ordinarily.  It’s unexpected, just how friendly and welcoming the locals are when you visit these towns.  Walking down the street, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t say hello or smile at you.

The townspeople that I met on the trip were genuinely happy.  Their hearts are pure.  You could see they were content and extremely grateful for what they have.  It was heart-warming to see how they welcome you into their town with open arms when they’ve never met you before and know absolutely nothing about you.  The conversations I had with the people in these towns showed me that there was so much wisdom hidden behind their modesty.

In our very last town, Meredith, a few volunteers and I had the pleasure of having an insightful conversation with Mr. Jim Baker, a local.  It made us realize how vital communication across generations is and how much knowledge can be gained through such interactions.  Like Mr. Baker said: “Share whatever you know to learn from each other”.

And that’s what The Big Lift did for me.  It taught me to be more open to people and their ideas; to stop and listen to the people around you because they have so much to offer.  I experienced this not only with the townspeople but also my fellow volunteers.  I learnt to be less selfish, to be grateful for what I already have, to take a chance, to love and appreciate those around me, and to simply be a nicer person.

Volunteering really shows you how much a group of uni students can achieve in just a few hours.  It shows you how small acts of kindness can save people so much time, money, and energy.  Seeing just how appreciative and grateful the townspeople were, it really made my heart melt.

There’s many reasons why you might consider going on The Big Lift trip. Maybe you just want to help people. Maybe you’re doing it to become a less selfish person.  Maybe you want to become a better person and give back to the community.  Doesn’t matter.  In the end it’s all the same.  You come out itching for more.  You want to go back and keep going.  Keep helping people.  Keep spreading positivity.  Keep paying it forward.

 

A Penny For Your Thoughts By Lara Czysnok

After returning from the phenomenal experience that was The Big Lift just a few days ago, the experiences are deeply etched on my mind. Not yet memories, the friends I made, opportunities I had, and lessons learnt are very much experiences that I hope to always carry with me. Expectations are a damned thing. They are slimy, prickly little creatures that get into our heads and make us think of the worst-case scenario. In my mind, I was entering into a week of chattering teeth, lengthy bus rides and overcooked camp food. For someone who has the inclination to always be right, it was quite a shock to the system to be so blatantly wrong. Of course my teeth were in a perpetual state of chattering, single digit temperatures would do that to a person, but that was concealed by an indelible smile that was masked across my face within a matter of hours and remained there for the following nine days.

As a second-year student, finally getting into the swing and mastering the so-called uni life I decided to step up my game. I know where the cheapest coffee on campus is, the best napping spots and always manage to get a seat in the library. At the beginning of 2018, I made a vow to make a conscious effort to immerse myself in campus life; be it joining a club, playing a sport or exploiting as many of the free sausage sizzles as I could. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that by joining The Big Lift I would not just be joining a club, but a family. In a matter of days my family went from 3 to 40.

Being stuck on a bus with 37 strangers with nothing but the ancient art of conversation was a seemingly daunting task. No matter how old or experienced you get at this crazy thing called life, meeting new people is still an experience which sends you right back to kindergarten where you would do anything to be invited to play in the sand pit. The Big Lift brought out everyone’s inner child. There was no shortage of singing and dancing, there was a continual flow of snacks and you were perpetually on the hunt to track down your 'Bus Crush'. 

The Big Lift was an experience that I have not taken lightly. The penny has well and truly dropped. I have a new and reformed understanding of community, what helping a neighbour looks like and seen true altruism in action. Growing up in Sydney in the 21st century we often lose sight of these simple treasures. As a collective we all agreed that very few of us really knew our neighbours, so you would think when your closest neighbour was 30km down the road you would have more of a reason to be a stranger, and yet that was far from the case. Watching townspeople and Lifters pick up someone else’s rubbish, build a railway they were probably never going to ride and plant trees they would never see grow taught me a lot about altruism. In this supposed dog eat dog world altruism was seemingly lost and forgotten. No one does anything for nothing. Everyone does something for something. Yet, in Ganmain all it took was a quick Facebook post to the community group and dozens came flocking to pick up rubbish they had never dropped expecting nothing in return but a slice of Val's delicious lemon sponge. 

The Big Lift taught me a lot about people and even more about myself. Talking to total strangers brings to light things you never knew about yourself. Tennessee Williams’ poetic license put it best when he said that he “always depended on the kindness of strangers” and this does not ring truer than it does for The Big Lift. My urge to make a difference is stronger than ever. Planting a tree is a drop in the ocean of social responsibility but it is also symbolic of change, growth and opportunity. Trees not only consist of multiple branches that create the bigger picture, but once the tree has grown and developed and strong enough, it brings new life. Life makes home of the tree. 

Going on The Big Lift, never did I imagine I would make one friend let alone 37 of them. My 37 friends are not just friends, they are not just 'Lifters', they are family. We are a family. The power and social impact that 'paying it forward' can have is unfathomable. Meeting 37 people who want to do the same things as you is almost like magic. Finding one person similar to you is enough of a challenge, but 37 of them. That certainly does not happen every day. 

So to my fellow Lifters, I say thank you. You are a special bunch, I vow never to let you out of my sight or heart.