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.’