Last year at this time I was in Australia. I was invited by the good folks at Mamre, www.mamre.org.au, to share some ideas on community, social capital, and ways to assist folks with disabilities build more inclusive lives in community. Rachel Drew, Mamre director and I had met in New York City at a conference and were immediate kindred spirits. She invited me to visit them in Australia.
I had never been to Australia and after receiving Rachel's invitation, I wanted my wife, Liz, and children to join me, but given the busy schedules of life, only Liz and Santino were able to make the trek. After the long (20 hours from Pittsburgh) flight, we arrived in Sydney. We built in some additional time to see this wonderful country, touring Sydney, it's countryside, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef and finally ended up in Brisbane, Queensland, where Mamre is located.
Rachel, and her colleagues, David Isitt, Ian Hulce, and all the other fine professionals at Mamre were fantastic hosts. We had a chance to see Brisbane, and it's countryside and were so taken by the hospitality and graciousness of everyone we met. Along with the regular tourist items, Koala's, crocs, bridge tours, and the beach, we also were invited to authentic Aussie barbies!
After Liz and Santino headed back, I stayed on to share ideas and concepts with Mamre staff and many of the other disability advocacy community in and around Brisbane. I was inspired and impressed by the good work of Mamre in supporting families and individuals, and the passion of their staff. These folks understood that people (and especially people with disabilities) can be in the community, and still isolated and lonely - and that the antidote to loneliness are viable relationships - social capital.
Part of our work in Australia, was to examine community engagement patterns and so we surveyed folks with and without disabilities to get a snapshot of reality, using the Social Capital Benchmark Survey developed at Harvard. The results of this survey, and our summary paper is found at the Interdependence Network website, www.buildingsocialcapital.org. The findings, however, were the same as discovered in the US, Canada, and other parts of the world - people with disabilities are isolated and disconnected from community; Inspite of all the fine programs offered to them.
The net result of this trip to Australia, was to understand that Inspite of the distance, and differences of the culture and climate, many things are exactly the same. In the challenge of building a community where everyone participates, we all, the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia, have much to do.
So, what are you doing!