Talking Peace

Leanne Simon – Loganholme’s Rotary Peace Fellow

Recently the guest speaker at our Toondah Probus Club was Leanne Simon, Rotary’s Peace Fellow for 2016/17 who spoke about her life and how she became an ambassador for communicating for peace.

Of Native American, Greek, and Irish Quaker backgrounds, Leanne was born in North Carolina and grew up in West Virginia in an impoverished family. She escaped from her poor home life by reading books, and developed her own writing to communicate with adults. At the age of 14 she left home and was homeless for the next decade, during which time she travelled across the US,

Canada, and the UK sharing both good and bad experiences with people she met on the way. She learned that her sharing of stories, skills, and information served to humanise her and to bring her together with other people. As well as communicating to others, Leanne also learned to listen to them as well.

The birth of her son was an epiphany in her life and she went to a women’s shelter where she was put into the care of a Social Worker named Travis. Theirs was a combative relationship for the first month, then in just one day, after a session of talking frankly about their own pasts, they both suddenly learnt about the way we each view other people, and their differences we resolved.

Then Leanne met her future husband and had another baby. She joined the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and went back to school where she obtained two degrees in Spanish and Child Rights. She then did an internship in the subject of Child Labour in the US, and realised the power of narrative through her newspaper articles and films, in particular on the international impacts of US policies. Her “Story Harvesting” has taken her to Mexico and many South American countries, Fiji, and now Australia. Story telling, she maintains, is what separates us from beasts, is how we pass on knowledge, and is what forms our identity. If wars can start with stories, then so can peace. Leanne is currently working on homelessness and housing in Logan. Her future projects include Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

Leanne finished with a memorable line: ‘I didn’t set out to write my life’s story, my life’s story wrote me.’

Play It Forward


Mac Millar's book - Play it Forward
Mac Millar’s book – Play it Forward

At our Toondah Probus meeting this month’s topic ‘Play It Forward’ was presented by Mac Millar, who at 13 years of age must surely be our youngest guest speaker yet. Mac is also one of most experienced, for over the last three years, as a Rotary speaker, he has raised enough money to be able to present 4,000 soccer balls to underprivileged children in 22 countries around the world. Mac began his talk by showing the audience his specially signed soccer ball – not by soccer stars, but by children from the Refugee Immigration Centre in Brisbane.

Mac demonstrated that when you kick a soccer ball to someone they will kick it back: it has its own universal language, The idea for Mac’s project began in Afghanistan with the encouragement of the Australian Army, who presented the balls to the children in local schools. This was followed up by the Salvation Army in the detention centres on Manus and Nauru Islands. All Mac’s projects are carried out under the auspices of Rotary International.

Other children to benefit from Mac’s soccer ball programme include Syrian refugees in Jordan, orphanages in North Korea, 50 schools in Gaza, Papua New Guinea (with the help of the Australian Federal Police). Mac has also conducted extensive speaking tours of China and India: in India alone he visited 8 schools a day and spoke each night for 2 weeks.

Mac has also written a book, aimed at 10 year olds and upwards, to help fund his passion: soccer. Copies of it are now included in the Disaster and International Family Survival kits.

Mac likes to quote British philosopher Bertrand Russell: ‘War does not determine who is right – only who is left.’

Mac ended with a challenge to his audience: ‘Soccer is my passion. How can you use your passion to make a difference in the world?’