The Power of People By Tara Wesson

Eighty students. Ten towns. Nine days. How do I put this experience into words? The Big Lift has left me speechless and full of emotion. Life feels different. It’s been two months since I got back to Sydney and over that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve been affected by this trip. But here’s what it is: The Big Lift has made me realise the power of people. Over the nine days, I had encounters that left me feeling empowered and loved. Here are just a few.

I think I realised pretty early on how much I loved the wandering conversations with the locals. The residents of Peak Hill, of Trangie and Walgett, and Tenterfield and Blackbutt, had an unforgettable energy and filled the towns’ spaces with spiritedness and wit. It was refreshing to see.

In Peak Hill, it was Pat Norris. Postman, president of the radio station and member of the tourism committee, he plans to soon open a cafe on Peak Hill’s main stretch. He showed all forty of us into the cafe that he was so proud of. He told us to work hard and never give up.

It was Liz Mackay, a nurse at the hospital in Trangie. As we talked about the effect that forty young people had on the community, we got into a heartening discussion about her older patients, most of whom were quite lonely and always liked a chat.

“It’s a rewarding thing to be able to converse with elderly people and I think it’s really fulfilling for the elderly to be able to talk to the young ones”, she said.

At a primary school in Tenterfield I spoke to Wayne Lusty.

“L-U-S-T-Y,” he spelt for me, chuckling. He was definitely a character! He was an older man, wiry limbed and bearded. He was full of stories, wisdom and funny anecdotes. After covering topics of his family and weirdly, Shakespeare, he said this, with a sincerity that really stuck —
“I’d just personally like to say thank you to each and every one of you, because it just takes a workload off some of us as well... I just think it’s one of the best things in the world.”

By travelling through the towns and getting to know the locals, we also got to know each other. So it was: on this thirty-three hour bus trip I made a family. I’d only met one other person on the bus before we left, but by the end, I considered all thirty-six of them family. We bonded over bus conversations and riddles, stupid jokes and pretty sunsets. On various occasions, every single one of them amazed me with their capacity for kindness and wonder.

On our morning in Walgett we were painting at a primary school. I think this was when I finally caught the volunteering bug. We were laughing about the perfectionism we were all showing over the hopscotch we were painting, but it felt so lovely to care so much. There was a wonderful feeling of mutual goodness flowing among us as we all imagined the children’s future reactions.

“I just don’t want anything back, I’m just doing this one hundred per cent for the purpose of giving... it’s very easy to think about yourself and I think volunteering really opens your eyes and allows you to look at the people around you, like, this is not about me, this is about something bigger than that,” said Oli, one participant.

“When we do something for the school, we’re helping the children.”

In Tenterfield I spoke with Katy and Trina, participants who’d gone to garden for a ninety-six year old woman. They said they’d ended up spending most of the time talking over a cup of tea. “Though we were there for the gardening, the thing that impacted her the most was the company we gave her,” said Katy.

On our last morning volunteering in Blackbutt, there was a wonderfully warm and flowing sense of ease among us. I felt like volunteering was just so much fun. But then, I felt like anything would have been fun with this group. As we coated a deck in oil and cleaned out a shed, we listened to music, and chatted to the locals and each other. Here, I spoke to Marg Moult, a local volunteer.

“We’re all trying to do things for other people in life and that’s what you’re doing. And that’s wonderful... everybody should give,” Marg says.

It’s been through these encounters that I’ve realised how easily I can give. Every morning in the towns, we gave the service projects our absolute best. Schools were painted! Tennis courts were weeded! It was always about doing what the town needed. I’d talk with participants afterward and they, too, felt the beautiful sense of community that came from volunteering. In those conversations I’d always come away wanting to be more like my new friends. That is, kinder, softer and more mindful of others.

I gave a flower to a stranger on the Gold Coast. I told him to pass it on. Twenty minutes later I saw another woman with it. It felt incredible to know that my kindness, so simply and easily given, had been passed on.

In moments like those I’ve written about, people are powerful.

“We are very very lucky. None of us are rich. But we’re rich in more than things. We’re rich in friendships. On this group, you’re all friends."

“Friendship, we’re rich in it.”

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A Day in The Life of a Participant by Jenivy Sewak

When I first saw the blue and white logo on a fateful Clubs Day I never could have imagined what it would end up meaning to me. The Big Lift first attracted my inner volunteer to the cause with their ‘Pay It Forward’ philosophy, which operates on the belief that one act of kindness completed out of the good of ones heart results in a butterfly effect of goodness that goes forward to the wider world.

The Big Lift’s goal to empower students as global citizens by travelling to under- resourced regional communities and offering a helping hand through a variety of service projects and activities saw the development of an unexpected comradery within #whitebus. A true sense of community was developed, the shared experiences and heartfelt memories of which are held very dear to me and will be treasured for years to come.

The day begins at 7am with a series of rustling sleeping bags and hushed whispers. Then...

G O O D M O R N I N G GOOD MORNING followed but the collective groan of 40 UTS Students because it’s too early for that kind of enthusiasm without a form of caffeine.

You sit up and smile at the fresh faces of these people, the people you’ve spent all day and night talking to, getting to know, starting to love. And love them you do.

Never did you expect a community hall to feel so much like a home then when sleeping bags are pushed close together into the centre of the room and belongings piled into a hazardous maze in the corner.

Your morning routine is rejuvenated into a social event with plenty of hugs, cups of tea and maybe even a sneaky shower if you can get away with it. It’s onwards and upwards to the service projects as the sun starts to shine through the crisp morning air.

Today you could be making mulch, preparing garden beds, laying down wet newspapers to prevent weeds growing or steaming weeds dead as part of the ‘conversation gardening’ initiative within the Canowindra Community Garden, or being treated to an extensive tour of the Canowindra Historical Society Museum, then raking autumn leaves and trimming gardenias to create a picturesque grounds for the 50th anniversary of the community collection.

Maybe you’re painting the base layer of a school shed for the later installation of a professional mural, picking fresh olives straight from the tree, shoveling and laying mulch or planting seedlings alongside a pathway at the Red Hill Environmental Education Centre in the famed ‘one dollar town’ of Gulgong.

Or perhaps it’s the time to meet up with the #bluebus at Walgett Community College to re-paint the worn down playground designs after 8 years for the start of the new term, relocate a sandpit while wild riding in the back of a ute (until getting told off at least), or doing minor land care at the pre-school.

Possibly the day of working yourself -quite literally- to the ground at the Best Nursery in Tingha has come about, clearing out an entire greenhouse, digging trenches, deconstructing two major shade houses, weeding and uprooting garden beds in an all hands on deck display of enthused teamwork and dedication.

Or it may happen to be the final day of service projects in the lively community of Clifton, doing a variety of land care and painting projects at the local firehouse, train station or laying organic mulch from the towns peanut farms.

Experiencing the extraordinary ability that helping hands have to make a big workload small is a worthwhile achievement any volunteer knows well.

Whichever volunteering day it may be, the ever-present kindness and gratitude was shown by all the communities that The Big Lift bus visited. You were treated to biscuit breaks and many lovingly homemade meals, long chats with the locals about their experiences in the towns and their fascinating life stories.

Maybe this fictional day in the life of a Lifter is during the two-day stint on the coastal bliss of Surfer’s Paradise? TBL taking over the Gold Coast with jam-packed days of the BigMazing Race, Paying it Forward with Random Acts of Kindness or performing the painstakingly practiced Flash Mob in a spectacle of blue.

Or your last bittersweet night waiting for the sunrise on the beach of Nambucca Heads, everyone huddled around a makeshift campfire, roasting marshmallows to the low murmur of conversation, good tunes and good company.

After packing the bus up and saying your final farewell to that small community hall that somehow felt so big, it’s off on the next journey of surprise pit stops, wise words from Ken, bus crushes, yeah buddies and updates for the infamous quote book.

You can never forget the countless activities that took place in the nighttime. The bond that you share with the other Lifters is one that cannot be articulated in so many words. The diversity of all the participants is somehow seamlessly accepted and every struggle weighs a little less with the support of your newfound family.

The day is an emotional rollercoaster for sure, but opening your heart and mind enables you to strive in ways you never could have imagined. The act of giving for a selfless cause while not expecting anything in return, results in you receiving the most unexpected but genuine form of fulfillment and a humbled soul.

This is your TBL day and certainly much more, all the little moments and memories undoubtedly made a BIG impact on me. I guess it’s a matter of once a Lifter, always a Lifter.

All that remains is to pose a question, can it be said that a Day in the Life of a TBL 2017 Participant is worth at least a thousand YEAH BUDDIES?

Baby, There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.

 

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An Open Letter To My Future Self By Angela Zhao

The Big Lift (TBL) is a student-run volunteering organisation which works with regional Australian communities. It functions on the belief of “paying it forward” and the idea that many hands can work together to make work small. There is a general consensus that The Big Lift is just a nine day volunteering road trip like a school camp like many of my peers, I joined The Big Lift to give back to community, make a difference and expecting to make a friend or two by the end. This happened and more. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of comradery between participants through the countless shared experiences and memories throughout this trip.

To the future TBL 2016 group,

The Big Lift 2016 has passed quickly and already we have to separate. This week has been full of many great emotions, stories and moments we’ll never forget. From braving the cold, to early mornings and seeing each other’s sleepy faces we really have gotten to understand each other during our highest and our lowest.

Nothing beats the feeling of knowing that we had helped a town work on projects that they never had the opportunity to do before, bought joy to their day and bonded their community closer together.  The possibility of knowing that our actions will leave an impact in years to come may inspire us to visit again; to see the new completed look of Woodstock’s Lawn Bowling Hall, the veggie patch at Gundaroo Public School, test the benches we helped make at Bombala, catch up for a chat with locals at Orbost or how check how tall the trees we planted at Stratford have grown. Maybe some of us will chose to continue The Big Lift’s motto of “paying it forward” and get involved with other causes.

Can you believe we hardly knew each other before the trip? Starting off “well-rested” at 7:30am on Saturday morning at university, not knowing anyone apart from some people you had briefly met before on pre-departure night. Whose names you had either forgotten or your un-caffeinated brain could not recall. But see how far you’ve come going from strangers to being even able to call them your family. Working together as a team you pulled staples out of walls, cleaned and painted halls, transported timber at the Men’s Shed and of course mulching- so much mulching.  And not to forget sleeping together in halls, churches and even a football club!

And how about towns we visited? Woodstock, though not as lively as its older sister who shares the same name, has a killer of a country fair. Gundaroo with their heritage-listed monuments.  Bombala with their strong ties to the timber industry and popular Men’s Shed. Bohemian Stratford, famous for their Shakespeare on the River Festival, strong support for the arts and AFL. Not to forget the wide range of people we met possible award nominations for the best beard, the future Masterchefs and even a past UTS Alumni. Many residents had originally lived in large cities like Sydney and moved for a tree change. This opportunity to volunteer at these town enabled us to discover the background city and country folk of Australia are not opposites. However the difference lies in our sense of community, possibly due to the rush and crowdedness of the city life we don’t interact with each other as much. Many of us wouldn’t have such a strong relationship with everyone who lived on our street let alone the town as these locals can.

What we did do was we formed our own sense of community. We felt supported as the Lifters always there to help a member in need whether it’ll be food, toiletries, money or just someone to talk to. Bromances and bus crushes were present some bravely going the extra mile writing love notes and showcasing their love at our talent quest.  Heartstrings were pulled- thanks to alpacas and a lamb-, ships set sail and some relationships possibly kindled.

Do you still check out our photos and recall those moments in your spare time? Find the countless selfies from Woodstock to Melbourne and anywhere in between tucked away on your Instagram. Come across the videos of your team mates posing with statues, twerking in 7/11 or performing various other silly tasks. Break out into dance to “Can’t Stop this feeling” or look forward to the ‘good morning’ song at 6:30am.

Will we be glad we went on this trip? Reflecting back on the trip many would be more than happy to relive the same trip with same people, over and over again. A couple of us will be thanking our friends for the recommendation and getting others to sign up. The skills we have learnt from foundations in tree-planting, mulching and lawn bowls will be useful tools in developing our personal and professional identities or possible conversation starters as we depart university. But more than that the people we have met and formed friendships with have helped us see the positive change TBL has bought with it. It sews a hope that we harness a power to influence the world we live in however it is whether we take action upon it or not that makes the difference.

See you soon,

Your current selves