Category Archives: Travel

Human Rights Arts & Film Festival – Melbourne


Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege … Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it

bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

I recently attend the excellent Australian Human Rights Arts & Film Festial (HRAFF) in Melbourne where a collection of short films were presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).  The HRAFF has been running for nine few years, and seeks to “hold a mirror to the uneasy truths of our times and reflect our stories” through creative means – and that it does.

acmiThe International Shorts screening that I attended comprised a collection of five award winning films from around the globe that presented a broad range of international and social issues in bold, despairing, humorous and challenging ways.  All of the five films (perhaps with exclusion of Ave Maria) where tied together by common themes of: power, privilege and capacity.

The film-suite seemed to emphasise how privileged we are in Australia, while also inspiring and subtly challenging the audience to consider how we can more fully use our vast capacity to facilitate change and empowerment of vulnerable people both locally and internationally.


I have briefly reviewed each of the respective short films:

Shipwreck (2014: Netherlands and Italy – 15min) shipwreck

Using clever camerawork to provide a feeling of disorientation as well as buoyancy at sea, this Shipwreck is light on dialogue and heavy on impact.  26 year old Morgan Knibbe‘s moving film is shot through the perspective of one of the 155 survivors of the well publicised ship-wreck that was carrying 500 Eritrean refugees that sank off the cost of the Italian island Lampedusa, 3 October 2013.  The viewer is presented a world of disperse, chaos and loss as the remaining survivors and the local police are forced to deal with the aftermath of the tragic voyage.


Listen (2014: Denmark, Finland and Colombia – 13min)

listenListen is a painfully realistic lesson in understanding the difficulties of migrants who cannot communicate in the primary language of their new resident nation.  Somewhat reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga‘s tragic film Bable, Listen tells the story of a Musilm woman seeking Police protection from her abusive husband against the wishes of her intentionally  misleading Muslim translator and her teenage son.  Change for this woman is shown as nearly impossible against such cultural inertia and language barriers.


A few seconds (2014: France – 16min)

A_Few_SecondsNora el Hourch‘s film tells the story of a small rough-edged band of young women in France that are coming of age amidst passively and actively abusive men.  With plenty of humour, and plenty of shock A few seconds shows the importance of community and friendship when coping with life away from the support of family.


Everything will be OK (2015: Germany and Austria – 30min)

everything will be okPatrick Vollrath’s ‘short’ film tells the story of a desperate father seeking to kidnap his child out of his loneliness, despair and anger at his current custody arrangement.  Tastefully shot, Everything will be OK, allows the audience to simultaneously sympathise with the father while understanding the suffering of a poor child caught in the middle of parents’ fighting and broken relationships.  In the final moving scenes the daughter seems to behave more like an adult than her Dad while literally being pried from his arms.


Ave Maria (2015: Palestine, France and Germany – 15min)ave maria

A start contrast to the other four shorts – it is clear that the program directors had learned from last year, the importance of allowing the audience to leave the cinema smiling as well as being shockingly moved.  Ave Maria is a quirky tale of a handful of Nuns and Jews that are forced to help each other in the West Bank under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Making light of some Jewish and Catholic cultural traditions and stereotypes, Ave Maria seems to ironically elucidate the similarities between different religious and cultural groups by forcing the audience to somewhat laugh at the small and large things that makes some communities appear different.


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Vietnam – With a Mission (WAM)


Hoi An, Vietnam

 Dĩ hoà vi quý – Making peace is treasured

Vietnamese Proverb: Minh. Gọi nắng xuân về. Nhàsách Quang Minh. p. 116.


Apartment life – Kuala Lumpur

Over the recent end-of-year holidays I was very fortunate to visit both Malaysia and Vietnam for three weeks.  My one week trip to Malaysia was a holiday in the true sense – visiting the land where my father was born.  His parents, or my grand-parents, were working in Penang, Malaya as it was previously called when a British Colony between 1949 to the mid-nineteen-sixties.  Penang is a very multi-cultural city with plenty of hustle and bustle.  One of the most encouraging aspects about this city was how the different cultures and religions were able to live peacefully amongst each other.  On the main street was a: large protestant church, Muslim mosque, Buddhist temple, and Hindu stores selling incense and idols.  Trips through Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur revealed a more Muslim nation with great food and welcoming people.


Our boat driver and local houses     Mei Kong Delta

However, my trip to Vietnam was of a somewhat different nature.  Choosing to study and work as an engineering was a decision I made some years ago to hopefully help those less fortunate in practical ways.  After a brief presentation from one of members from the Kew Baptist Vietnamese congregation’s outreach group With A Mission (WAM) at an evening service I was encouraged to join the team for the one week mission and exposure trip.  As part of the trip we were to assist with the construction of some houses for local poor people, who, although owning land were often unable to construct or afford a decent house due to being widowed or elderly.  We were also to assist with a medical program that the church regularly runs.  Fundraising for this church and its activities was conducted prior to leaving.

We travelled to Kien Giang Vietnam, south of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  This area was quite remote from tourists as I was the only ‘white’ person that I saw for about six or so days.  In this region we partnered with an amazing local church that is part of a broader network of churches involved with Socio-Medical Committee of the Vietnamese Evangelical Church of South Vietnam, SOMEDCO.  I would like to share three primary reflections in this piece:


Newly built house and its owner

Firstly, I was shocked with how these very poor Vietnamese people lived and interacted with the rivers and water.  Each day we took a boat for over an hour (each way) along the Mei Kong delta.  In this tiny boat I saw how the river was used for washing people and food, and for drinking, however, it was also used as a rubbish dump for plastics and human effluent.  Regularly our boat’s motor propeller had to be taken from the water to remove tangled plastic bags that were stopping it from working – however, the driver would simply then throw these removed pieces of plastic back into the river before continuing forward.  Internationally, sanitation and poor access to clean water are among some of the largest reasons for infant death, and place a great drain on the communities where people may regularly become ill.

Secondly, I was amazed by the vibrancy and work of the local church.  Prior to leaving we had been fundraising for the work of a partner church in the region.  While we were there: over four houses were being constructed; their main church building was finishing its construction; their church manse was knocked down prior to building a new one; another smaller-church building was about to begin construction for a new congregation; and a medical program was run where many Christian doctors from Saigon visit the region seeing over 500 patients.  These Christians are a minority amongst their Communists and the Buddhists neighbours – however, they are well respected for their generous work by the local people.  Due to their poverty and most not having any formal ‘weekend’, except for schooling, it seemed that in these poorer regions that only the Christians had a day of the week that differed from any other of the week – trying to make ends meet.


Vietnamese Refugee Boat, circa 1970s

Thirdly, I was humbled by the stories told by our Vietnamese team members.  I distinctly remember one morning at breakfast where Pastor Khoi was speaking about his escape from Communist Vietnam as a 14 y.o. boy on a refugee boat with his aunt.  He then proceeded to go around the table of primarily Australian-Born-Vietnamese (ABV) team members and tell how each of their respective parents had each risked similar trips.  The only two people at the table who did not share this same history was a local Vietnamese Christian worker and I.  Over 1 million Vietnamese asylum seekers died at sea between 1975 and 1995.

This trip was a wake-up-call and a reminder of both the realities of poverty in our world and the opportunities for Christians, among all people, to love those less fortunate.


Dragon Bridge – Da Nang

Dragon Bridge, Da NangAfter the mission trip I was able to holiday with some of my new friends through: Saigon – a busy, dirty and changing city; to Nha Trang – where I discovered many Russian tourists and proportionally very few other international visitors; Hoi An – a city with a beautiful UNESCO world heritage protected zone that was heavily influenced by the Chinese; and finally, to Da Nang – arguably Vietnam’s most modern city, featuring many large bridges, including the now famous Dragon Bridge that breaths fire during public displays.

If you are interested in any part of the mission trip and or would be interested in participating or donating please visit:

This post is the first of a series of posts about my travel experiences between March 2015 – March 2016 to New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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Filed under Christianity, Engineering, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam