Tag Archives: Ukraine

Sunflower Seedlings…Lessons in Kindness.

This morning, I carefully packaged the sunflower seedlings up into a protective box. It wasn’t Fort Knox but they looked safe, especially once I’d strapped them into the back seat with a seat belt. I know this might sound over the top and I don’t know if you can be a helicopter parent to plants. However, if you’ve been following the progress of the sunflower seeds, you’ll know these aren’t any ordinary sunflowers. These sunflowers seeds came from the site of the MH17 crash in the Ukraine in 2014. They’re incredibly precious!

 

That’s also why they were in my car.I wanted to share their story with my daughter’s class. Miss goes to school 45 minutes drive away from home and with my “creative” approach to driving, that was a very long journey up along the free and through bumper-to-bumper peak hour  traffic. Slam on the brakes…ouch.

Hence the seat belt!! Moreover, you could say the cardboard box was somewhat like one of those protective car seats you sit your toddler in. I wanted them to be so safe, that I could’ve bought a Volvo.

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The Sunflower Seedlings.

Of course, I could’ve left the sunflower seedlings safely at home but I felt there was something bigger at stake. That I didn’t need to wait until the flowers actually bloomed to share their message of kindness, love and reaching out even to complete strangers when tragedy strikes. That we all start out as seeds and with love, care and nutrients and we can grow up into someone gorgeous and productive, giving our seeds back to the earth, feeding the animals and helping to wipe away the dark clouds by simply being ourselves…nothing flash. I also thought of the teachers who were onboard and how they sowed those metaphorical seeds into so many students, who went on to carry their message forward. BUT…then I also think of all those beautiful passengers whose lives were tragically cut short…every day people who were just coming home from holidays. Of course, I think of the Maslin family who lost their three beautiful children and have created a foundation to raise money for children with dyslexia. I want to help sow those seeds too. After all, words are seeds and being able to read is something most of us take for granted.

So, as I watched the sunflowers poke their heads through the soil, I came to realise that  just the fact that the seeds had sprouted, was enough for them to speak. Tell their story.

The sunflower is extraordinary and I’ve always had a connection with them but not in the same way I have now.

In August 2014, commercial flight MH17 was shot down by terrorists in the Ukraine killing everyone on board. That plane which bore the brunt of so much anger and hate, crashed into a stunning field of sunflowers, a coincidence not lost on the media. Photos and footage appeared of the ugly scar carved into the sunflowers’ heart and photographer said that the sunflowers even turned their faces away from the wreckage.

Paul McGeough is the Sydney Morning Herald’s Senior Foreign Correspondent specialising in the Middle East. He’s accustomed to reporting on horrific events around the world, the same way the rest of us eat toast for breakfast. “When most people are running away from a place, photographer Kate Geraghty can usually be found running towards it.” Yet, they were guttered by what they saw and felt drawn to bring sunflower seeds back to Australia from the crash site to give to the families and friends of the victims.  They wanted to give them something to remember and honour their loved ones who weren’t soldiers fighting in a war. There weren’t going to be any medals. They were just everyday people going on a holiday.

Nothing more, nothing less.

The children making the love hearts.

Our children making the hearts cards we sent out. They look quite young now.

I received about 40 seeds and decided to share them with our local schools to create some kind of ongoing tribute of legacy for those who died.  However, I was too anxious to plant the seeds last year but I planted the first lot of seeds ten days ago and six have sprouted.

Of course, the seedlings arrived safely at school and I ended up sharing them with my daughter’s class and a year 6 class.  I also shared the letter I’d received with them wishing”May your sunflowers bloom” and the photo of the original plant in the Ukraine. I also had one of our red hearts stuck in there.

It was a simple story with a few precious props but the kids were riveted, sitting still and absorbing it all and asking questions at the end. I spoke to them about the kindness of the journalist and photographer salvaging the seeds and bringing them back to Australia via quarantine. I spoke about how we can feel powerless when someone is going through hardship and that though we can’t change anything, we can show we care through little things like a card. I also spoke about the importance of learning and literacy. Many of the Australians killed had been teachers and a little boy from Perth, Otis, had dyslexia and his family has set up a fund to raise money for dyslexia. I wanted them to appreciate that you can plant a plain, ordinary seed and when you nurture that seed, it can grow into something big, bold and colourful.

You can tell kids to be kind, keep their hands and feet to themselves, watch their language, and you might be lucky to see some change.However, I know these kids were changed by this story…a very simple story of plucking, sowing and nurturing the seeds  and I can’t wait to witness the harvest.

It is my hope that these sunflowers and their story will truly honour all those whose lives were tragically cut short through anger and hate and somehow carry their legacy forward.

While sowing a few seeds might not seem monumental and the sort of thing you’d ever expect to change the world, but I strongly believe they can!

Hearts Ettalong

They’re sowing the seeds in our hearts!

xx Rowena

 

 

Returning To Chernobyl- Flash Fiction.

Elena knew the streets of Pripyat by heart.

In her dreams, she’d run along these streets until she reached the Ferris Wheel, climbing back into Papa’s lap. Afraid of heights, his strong arms held her tight.

Yet, nothing could save Papa.

Thirty years on, she’d returned, carrying the same small suitcase and clutching their front door key, as though it could unlock the past and bring it back.

Yet, no key unlocks thirty years of neglect.

Reclaimed by the forest, the Ferris Wheel loomed over the abandoned fun park like a ghostly giant.

Silent, all the children were gone.

Rowena Curtin

This has been a response to a Flash Fiction prompt from Charli Mills  over at Carrot Ranch Communications

August 24, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an empty playground. Is it abandoned or are the children in school? What is it about the emptiness that might hint of deeper social issues. It can be a modern story, apocalyptic or historical. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by August 31, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

To read more about former residents returning to Pripyat, click here.

Photo credit: Sean Gallup.

 

Acceptance?

For the last few months, I have participated in a monthly blog share #1000speak at http://1000voicesspeak.org/ This is a group of bloggers who are wanting to bring out the best in humanity and somehow make a difference.

This month’s topic is acceptance.

To say that I struggle with acceptance is the greatest understatement. I am outright oppositional, rebellious and fight it with every cell I’ve got.

Not that I’m a bad person or rebellious by nature. It’s just that I believe too much in the power to change our destiny, the future, the world within us as well as the world around us just to accept the status quo. It might be hard work and quite a lonely journey going against the flow sometimes. However, somebody’s got to do it and thank goodness, I’m not alone.

For many years now, I have wrestled with acceptance and, in particular, with the first verse of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

While this prayer is the foundation of the highly successful Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Steps Program, what’s amazed me is how much I could actually change. It was way beyond the realms of what I ever considered possible.

I have a severe chronic illness and yet I was able to learn the violin. I skied. Have now had over 20,000 views on my blog. Yet, at the same time, I found that despite my best efforts, there were things I couldn’t change. Straight after skiing down Front Valley at Australia’s Perisher Resort, I developed pneumonia and my auto-immune disease flared up and I went on to have chemo shortly after. That wasn’t part of the plan but I guess it just went to show me that I can’t control everything. That life does respond to a remote control.

Over the last 12 months, my views towards acceptance have been challenged again by the impact of terrorism in our world. Just over a year ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine killing everyone on board. This event silenced the world and we were united in shock and grief. How could this happen? Once again, our sense of security was at the very least challenged and the ground beneath our feet perhaps became a bit more uncertain…especially after terrorist sieges in Sydney, Paris and more recently events in Tunisia.

What can we as mere little people do in the face of such hate? How can we reach out to those who had so tragically lost loved ones and convey our deep love and our sense of solidarity? That although we’re strangers, that we feel such love, compassion and wished there was something we could do? How can we show that we don’t accept such acts of terrorism or violence when we might not have a voice?

It’s a challenge!

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke

After the loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, the kids and I made a series of red love hearts which they cut out and taped onto paddle pop sticks, which they could stick in the ground like the red poppies we have on ANZAC Day in remembrance of those who served our country and in particular made the ultimate sacrifice. Quite a few of the Australians on board were either teachers or students and so we sent these hearts to the schools involved.

Our tribute to the victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. We posted these hearts out to their schools and communities where we could.

Our tribute to the victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. We posted these hearts out to their schools and communities where we could.

By sending these letters, we weren’t actively combating evil directly but we were doing something and I guess I made a bit of an unconscious decision not to forget those people who died on board Flight MH17. Not because I knew any of them personally but to say that it’s completely unacceptable for a civilian aircraft to be shot down NO MATTER WHAT.

But how can I do that? How can I just one little speck lost among the hundreds and thousands ever hope to make a difference when governments and political leaders with greater minds than mine struggle?!

The determination in our hearts can move mighty mountains!

The determination in our hearts can move mighty mountains!

That said, I don’t think we should ever underestimate the power of the human heart and how it can move mighty mountains and blow evil right out of the water! What the little people might lack in might, we can have in passion and determination.

Moreover, when all of us little people come together, we become a powerful force. We have days at school which require a gold coin donation and while I might put in a couple of dollars, as a school we might raise $700-$900.00.

That is people power.

Through blogging, I have also been able to see the power of “the pen” in action. Moreover, through 1000 Voices for Compassion, hundreds and indeed a thousand of us write about compassion each month and spend that time thinking and even putting goodness into action.

I have to believe that each of us is being that difference and making a stand against horrors which should never be accepted.

xx Rowena

An Oasis of Gold: Sunflower Seeds MH17

A sunflower
among sunflowers
in a sprawling field,
her face shines
brighter than the sun.
So glorious,
her luscious, golden smile
weaves its magic:
captivating poets, painters, dreamers…
as well as a wee child’s heart.

Stretching her green leaves
ever upwards,
her time has almost come.
Thousands of seeds
all set to burst
into the azure sky.
Spread their wings.
Fly around the world.
Grow new life.

Yet,
in her very prime,
when her seeds were all but ripe,
devastation hit.
Slashed from her roots,
brutally cut down,
all but decimated
by the exploding metal bird,
she was gone.

Seeds of hope.

Seeds of hope.

Her seeds scattered
across the scorched earth:
tears wrenched
from her broken heart,
fused with molten metal.
Once so filled with promise,
now,
they’re just
part of the wreckage.

Yet,
plucked from the ashes
and sheltered in the strangers’ hearts,
those precious seeds
flew to foreign fields.
Found life in the Australian soil,
where they now stand tall:
still captivating poets, painters, dreamers…
as well as a wee child’s heart.

Beneath the Southern Cross,
they stand…
Ukrainian sunflowers blooming
in the Great South Land.

Rowena Newton
19th July, 2015.

To read more about these sunflower seeds, click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/seeds-of-love-plucked-from-devastation-flight-mh17/

A personal message from Sydney Morning Herald's Chief Foreign Correspondent,  journalist Paul McGeogh & Photographer Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

Reflections: 1st Anniversary Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

Yesterday, marked the 1st Anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukraine on the 17th July, 2014.

My deepest sympathies are extended to all those who lost loved ones in this disaster and our family sends you our love. I can’t even imagine your grief and yet, I have been deeply touched by what happened and wanted to honour those who lost their lives. They were simply everyday people traveling on board a plane like most of us have done at some time. Reading, eating, sleeping…they had no inkling of what was about to transpire. Meanwhile, family and friends anticipating their arrival home with great excitement, were absolutely devastated. They still are.

As you might be aware, I have written a little about this incident and recently received sunflower seeds, grown from seeds which were salvaged from the crash site. I will plant these seeds as an ongoing tribute to those whose lives were brutally cut short as well as a reminder to carry their legacy forward.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

We usually struggle to know what we as individuals can do in the aftermath of such horror. Small and insignificant, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed. That there’s nothing we can do. Yet, when you look at a tiny, little sunflower seed and realise all that it can become, it makes the impossible seem possible.

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

After all, that tiny sunflower seed not only grows into huge, glorious, yellow flower bobbing above the horizon like the sun. That one sunflower head can produce as many as 1000-2000 seeds. Each of those seeds can then go on and produce more sunflowers and before long there is a never-ending, golden field overflowing with golden flowers, floppy leaves and hope. Those sunflowers are an unstoppable force.

So is love!

Seeds of hope.

Seeds of hope.

Indeed, each of us has the same potential as that sunflower seed to be the difference and touch our world and be touched…not only by the sun but also by the tears.

We just need to plant the seeds and keep watering them with our love.

Of course, this won’t bring back those who died in this tragedy but that love can triumph over evil and hate…could this be their ongoing legacy?

I guess that’s what planting those precious sunflower seeds means to me.

Love and God Bless,

Rowena and Family XXOO

Seeds of Love Plucked from Devastation: Flight MH17.

Two days, ago when Australia Post left a delivery card in my letterbox for a mysterious, missed package, I was stumped. As much as I wracked my brain, I no memory whatsoever of any outstanding purchases and thought that perhaps my aunt had sent me a random gift. She does this from time to time.

Anyway, when I made it into the Post Office yesterday to pick it up, my heart paused for a moment as the enormity of the package sank in. Inside, carefully protected inside its bubble-wrap blanket, there was a small metal tin. When I opened it, there was a small envelope and inside that, were a handful of sunflower seeds.

The seeds arrived in rather understated packaging. That said, it was Registered Mail.

The seeds arrived in rather understated packaging. That said, it was Registered Mail.

A handful of exceptionally precious sunflower seeds, which have their origins in those Ukrainian sunflower fields where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was brutally shot down, “murdering” all on board.

These sunflower seeds were, in effect, the offspring of the sunflower seeds collected by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, Paul McGeogh and a five-time Walkley Award wiining Photographer Kate Geraghty, while they were covering the incident. Rushing round with the kids and on our way to Sydney for a medical appointment, I respectfully put the package in the boot and decided to open it today while the kids were at Vacation Care so I could give this moment the respect that it deserved.

I have to tell you just how incredibly touched I was by receiving this precious gift and also how much love and heartfelt respect went into putting this package together. I assume that most of the people who requested the seeds, were actually family and friends of those who died in the tragedy and so the package was put together accordingly.

It was beautiful and it’s simplicity spoke volumes!

The first thing I noticed when I opened the envelope, was a small, silver, metal tin: perfectly simple, stainless-steel and almost elegant. Even by itself, it almost told a story. I was intrigued. What was this? What was inside? I was completely mystified.

Then, once I opened the tin, suddenly I knew.

These were the sunflower seeds. The long awaited sunflower seeds.

Seeds of hope.

Seeds of hope.

As a little person of no consequence but a big heart and a deep sense of connection to those who had lost loved ones on board, I’d requested some seeds and for some reason, I was considered worthy. I was incredibly touched and really appreciated that someone else “got” how powerful the love of a random stranger can become. While it might not make sense, it can become an incredibly powerful force and that somehow we need to harness that if we are ever to have a hope of overcoming such awful deeds of destruction.

Our tribute to the victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. We posted these hearts out to their schools and communities where we could.

Our tribute to the victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. We posted these hearts out to their schools and communities where we could.

Moreover, it reflected my belief that making a difference isn’t just about the big and powerful doing something. Indeed, it’s even more about the little people joining together and marching those feet somewhere together for good, instead of evil.

After all, there are far more little people than big wigs in this world and if we could only join together, I know we could move mountains!

Carefully packaged inside the tin, was a small, very plain envelope containing the seeds. It wasn’t flashy or covered in pictures but again, incredibly simple. No doubt, it came from Quarantine where they’d planted the original seeds, tested them for bugs and viability before releasing their “offspring” for distribution. They reminded me of how my grandfather, an avid backyard fruit and veggie grower, used to collect and store his seeds in similar small, Church offering envelopes.

In addition to the tin of sunflower seeds, there was also a photo of a huge sunflower head standing tall over the mass of green floppy leaves and dotted with golden faces. This photo was taken by Kate Geraghty on location after the crash. It is a simple photograph but that sunflower head really towers over the field like the sun and it’s petals radiate out like beams of light.

What is it saying?

On one hand, it says that even in the midst of darkest tragedy and despair, that there is always light. That the sun hasn’t set completely. That there is hope. This is obviously a very hard call for those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

It also says that you can choose to completely overlook and ignore evil in our world and just bask in the sunshine and “turn a blind eye”. While I’m not a professional photographer, I am still a photographer and I know how you can manipulate a shot and zoom in on one very small part of the overall picture and make it loom larger than life. We all know that just metres from where this photograph was taken, there was all the brutality of the crash site and yet in this photo, there isn’t even a hint of a cloud in the sky.

To me it also offers some comfort perhaps to the families of those who lost loved ones there. We are all familiar with those awful images of carnage which appeared all over the news but the last thing those people saw perhaps was those beautiful fields of sunflowers. They offer a sense of love and respect amidst absolute devastation.

“In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.”
Edward Burke.

Finally, I am personally deeply, deeply touched that Paul McGeogh and Kate Geraghty stopped, paused and collected those seeds. That they responded so compassionately and maybe even with the faintest sense of hope, despite such cruel despair. That they wanted to give bereaving loved ones something to hold onto when they had lost all but the very beat of their own heart. The media runs at such a frenetic pace and we must also remember this was a war zone where even removing a few seemingly harmless sunflowers would have meant placing their own lives at risk. Such altruistic courage and bravery speaks more to me than a Pulitzer Prize. It does. Since then, they have been part of a lengthy process to get the seeds through quarantine and to ensure they could grow. Apparently, sunflower seeds need to be picked at the right time to be able to germinate.So, even getting the sunflowers through quarantine and mailed out, was a story in itself.

There were also detailed instructions not only about how to plant your sunflower seeds, but also how to grow, protect and nurture them and re-grow them year after year. That is just as important as receiving your seeds. You need them to flourish…especially given those precious loved ones they represent.

Perhaps, what meant most to me personally, however, was a signed note with a beautiful, very heart-warming message: “May your sunflowers bloom”.

It is the middle of Winter here in Australia. My fingers are cold, freezing and turning a shade of purply-grey while I type. This week, the weather has been so dull, cold and gloomy with a smattering of rain and the sun has certainly gone on what feels like an extended vacation, even though we’ve had a pretty sunny Winter. I have been fighting a cough which sounds like I’m in my last death throws, even though it seems to be nothing sinister. This has truly rattled the kids who, instead of coming to my rescue, have you could say: “exploded”.

After all, you may recall that I live with a severe life-threatening auto-immune disease and have had a few close calls. Naturally, this is what makes me empathise with people who lose loved ones as even though we have been blessed or lucky so far, I’m doing so much better than it could have been.

So, when I read that simple line: “May your sunflowers bloom”, it went way beyond seeing those sunflowers growing in out garden and seeing their bright, sunny faces smiling in my garden, I was thinking about all that is good in our world and naturally, my kids.

These words meant so much to me today. Not just because I desperately want to see those actual seeds grow up and flower, I want my kids and all our kids to do the same.

These words meant so much to me today. Not just because I desperately want to see those actual seeds grow up and flower, I want my kids and all our kids to do the same.

May my sunflowers bloom…Yours too!

By the way, I haven’t decided where I’m going to plant this first generation of sunflowers so I’ll keep you posted. Need to be sure they’re not only going to grow but will also flower and produce more seeds. Then, I will set aside part of my garden and plant the next generation of seeds. I have developed a bit of a brown thumb of late and definitely can’t let these seeds to die.

Love and blessings, especially to anyone who was touched by this horrendous tragedy. You are in our hearts!

Rowena and family

Our children making the hearts we sent out. We wrote: "we send you our love" on the sticks.

Our children making the hearts we sent out. We wrote: “we send you our love” on the sticks.

By the way, coincidentally, my sunflower seeds arrived on 7th July, 2015 on the 10th Anniversary of the 7/7 London’s worst terrorist bombing. My heart goes out to all affected by that event as well as those in places all around the world, especially Tunisia. Since MH17, even Sydney has been rocked by terrorism. These awful events aren’t just headlines which flash by for those directly involved and they stay with them for life. I was particularly struck by the words of Emma Craig, who was just 14 when she was caught up in the Aldgate blast. She wept as she gave a tearful address to the crowd, telling those assembled: ”The fact is it may not have broken London, but it did break some of us. Sometimes I feel that people are so hell bent on saying terrorism not breaking us that they forget about all the people who got caught up in it.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3151879/Never-forget-David-Cameron-Boris-Johnson-7-7-memorial-Hyde-Park-start-day-remembrance-10-years-security-chief-warns-threat-currently-face.html#ixzz3fJX0BCRy

Infinite Love…MH17.

Our family would like to send our love to all those affected by the horrific shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17. We feel so much love for you and we also want to express our outrage at this heinous crime.

Last Saturday, our children made red love hearts, which we taped onto paddle pop sticks and we sent these to some of the schools affected by the tragedy. This was something that I felt inspired to do. In other words, this wasn’t an idea that came from myself.

The children making the love hearts.

The children making the love hearts.

I suspect these hearts were inspired by the red poppies the children make every ANZAC Day at school to honor our service people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The children draw poppies onto red paper and then cut them out and sticky tape them onto paddlepop sticks. A poppy from each class is then planted in the memorial garden underneath the Australian and Aboriginal flags.

As someone who didn’t lose a loved one in this incident, it is hard to know whether to respond publicly or to remain silent out of respect. But I feel in a sense compelled to step out beyond my comfort zone. We couldn’t send these hearts to everyone we wanted to. The task was beyond us but I guess I thought that by sharing the photos I took of the hearts, that they might help someone somewhere. That it might help someone grieving in Amsterdam, or Melbourne, Perth or Malaysia that families they’ve never met in a different place, are holding them in their hearts and really and truly care. Quite frankly, you’d have to be a lump of stone not to.

Also, as much as we might struggle to find the words to say the right thing, what is the alternative?

Silence?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing- Edmund Burke.

I don’t know if fields of red love hearts can grow beyond the realms of my imagination but we have sown the seeds of love and hope they can provide some comfort to those who mourn.

Love Flowers

Love Flowers.

Before we posted the hearts out, I photographed the hearts in the grass at home and also at the local waterfront and I’ve shared them here. You will notice the hearts cast a shadow…the heartache of those who are grieving their loss.

Love & Shadows

Love & Shadows

For all those who are grieving, particularly the families and friends of the victims but also those who never knew the victims in life but also feel, we send you our love. I have experienced the love of a stranger at particularly hard times in my own life and it really touched my heart. It is genuine and real. We send you that love.

Love and God’s richest blessings,

Rowena, Geoff, Mister and Miss xx oo

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