2.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water—about a third of the world’s population. Imagine if the solution to this crisis was powered by the sun, fit inside a suitcase, and was affordable to boot?
Jimi Peters from Oxfam Australia and Professor Xiwang Zhang from Monash University are working in a partnership to do just that. Kate Bensen, storyteller at Today, caught up with them to chat about how we might radically shift access to safe water for some of the world’s most remote and vulnerable communities.
Kate: Jimi can we start with an introduction of yourself and what your role is at Oxfam?
Jimi: My name is Jimi Peters and I’m a proud Yorta Yorta man from the northern parts of Victoria and southern New South Wales, along the Murray River in Echuca.
I work in the First Peoples’ Program at Oxfam Australia as the National Programs Lead. We work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their organisations to develop solutions and innovative answers to the issues that they believe are the most important. Oxfam has supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination—individuals and communities—for about 40 years.
We work in the areas of advocacy and policy for practice and change; in political leadership through our women’s Straight Talk Program, and we partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to create the change they want to see. We are also exploring new initiatives in the land and water space to support community owned and driven campaigns and advocacy.
I work to look at what might be best for our mob on the ground and support our people to address issues they face on a daily basis, and to make sure they have a voice and are exercising their right to self determination.
Kate: I know you’ve had a long history in health, what were you doing before you came to Oxfam?
Jimi: Before Oxfam, I worked in health for over 25 years. I worked at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in the early 90s and then I went to VACCHO (Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation), which is the State jurisdictional peak body for Aboriginal health. I was there for 19 years and I moved around the building in various roles, growing internally. I don’t have the formal qualifications that most people do; I’ve learnt mostly from going in and being a part of things, listening and observing. I was the Public Health Research Manager at VACCHO prior to leaving and I was the previous Chair for the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and the Acting CEO at First Peoples Health and Wellbeing, which is a new Aboriginal Community Controlled health service that I helped establish.
I’ve had a long career in health. My father was one of the founders of Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative located in Shepparton in the 70s, so it was a given that I would end up in health, being his namesake.
Kate: Can you tell me about your shift from a health focus and how you made your way to Oxfam?
Jimi: I think that the experience of working in Aboriginal Community Controlled services throughout my life has given me a deep understanding of the needs of the community. I’ve lived my life alongside my community, so I’ve shared a lot of experiences. I wanted to have a break last year, so I took four months off to reassess where my journey in life was heading and how I could contribute to community in a different way. At 48 years of age, I wanted to figure out what the next 20 years of my life were going to look like.
I’m really passionate about human rights. For me it’s never been just cultural elements that have driven me, it’s the fact that I believe everyone in the world should have equality and rights. I’ve been to places like South Africa and worked over there at the 5th International HIV and AIDs conference in 1999. That was a real eye-opener for me. It made me realise what services I had access to in Australia. I found myself in another country where people had endured similar types of trauma and disadvantage to First Peoples in Australia and didn’t have access to the services that we had, which made me realise how lucky I was.
I came back a different person. I realised that I had lived in a bubble for a long time and I wanted to pop the bubble and broaden the work I was doing to empower people on the ground at a grass-roots level. Coming to Oxfam was an opportunity for me to go to Aboriginal people directly and give them the self-determination to change their lives. I wanted to make sure that everyone who crossed my path, I could put a smile on their face or I could help them in some form. I’m that crazy person that will stop and talk to anyone on the street if they look sad.
Being an Aboriginal, gay ma
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