The power of the voice

12 Sep 2016   |   Blog   |   Poverty   |   Women   |   Nepal

Tags:  empowerment, women, community   |   No comments

Julieann Caffery at the recent Forum anniversary event

Julieann Caffery is from Dalby, Queensland and State President of Forum Communicators Association, an organisation who helps people become confident and effective communicators for their professional and personal lives. In 2013, Julieann participated in Caritas Australia’s immersion to Nepal. She has continued to be an active volunteer with the agency since. On the recent 75th anniversary of Forum, Julieann gave her Presidential address to Forum Queensland delegates. She has shared an excerpt of her speech with us.

‘Voiceless in the community’ is such a poignant phrase and conjures up thoughts of silence, of helplessness and of inability to speak and articulate what needs to be said. I know what the inner workings of a voiceless person are like: wanting to speak out but not capable of doing so; frustrated with our inability and inadequacies; through our very silence we become invisible members of our society.

On the other hand, when we use our voice to express our thoughts and feelings; when we use words as tools to communicate with; when we start using our voices - powerful things can happen. Our voices reflect our personal power. We have all heard the voice that is strong, energetic and compelling. We have heard the voice that is clear, articulate and resonates with confidence. This is the person who is seen differently by others: they are the leaders in their communities who can advocate on behalf of others who feel disempowered. The use of their voice becomes a powerful tool.

Let me tell you a story from Nepal. In 2013, I went to Nepal to observe, listen and learn about the work of Caritas Australia with the marginalised, the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable in Nepali society. Mostly these are women, who live in impoverished rural areas that are very difficult to access. One community I visited was only 23 km from a major city but it took us over three hours to reach, including a half hour walk. There are very few men in these communities as they live and work overseas in order to support their families. The women become the farmers, usually with less than 0.5 ha of land, totally reliant on rainfall. Consequently, women could only feed their families for nine months of the year. I expected to find communities who were voiceless in their society and being a patriarchal society, women who were voiceless in their community. But what I found was so unexpected. I found public speaking.

Through the act of public speaking, these women were seen as the true leaders in their communities. Their voices empowered the marginalised, the frightened, and the ‘voiceless’."
Julieann Caffery

One of the Caritas capacity-building programs provides agronomists who educate and assist the farmers increase their crop yield and it was outstandingly successful. The women who could now feed their families for 12 months of the year were so eager to tell us their stories that without hesitation they took to the portable microphone and through a translator recounted their successes. They spoke of their successes and their pride in their ability to fully feed their families.

I was in awe of these women and three years later, their stories remain with me. Mostly they were poorly or uneducated (no university degrees here), had very little money and practised subsistence agriculture. They lived in a difficult mountainous environment and lived a life with no privileges.  And yet, without hesitation they took the microphone and through the simple act of speaking in public, through the power of their voices, confidently told their stories. There was such power in their stories. Through the act of public speaking, these women were seen as the true leaders in their communities. Their voices empowered the marginalised, the frightened, and the ‘voiceless’.

My involvement in CA has given me a rigorous understanding and a profound appreciation of the quality and depth of Caritas’ work as an international aid and development agency. Caritas’ support of educators with their excellent resources impacts within classrooms and curriculum. I believe Caritas is working for the best interests and understanding of those in need and therefore, I am honoured to be a volunteer with the organisation for the past three years.

Your voice is a powerful tool. How do you use yours?

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