Shiva Gounden, Making a Meaningful Difference through Humanitarian Aid

What I love most about Talanoa is the amazing people I meet. People like Shiva, a true humanitarian who’s dedicated his life to the service of others, and to making this planet a little bit better than it was before. His story begins on the island of Fiji, in a poverty stricken Ba. It’s no coincidence that his upbringing influenced his direction in life and his drive to make a meaningful difference. I am deeply inspired by his story, and honoured to share Shiva and I’s talanoa session with you. 

Tell us about yourself – who are you, where are you from, and what are you passionate about?

I’m one of four boys brought onto this planet by Sada and Kamla Gounden. I am an identical twin (though our visions of humanity is the one and the same, our lifestyles and paths to that goal is completely different). My name is Shiva Gounden and I am a human first, Fiji born Indian next and fortunate to be an Australian.

I lived 15 years of my life in Fiji, completing Primary schooling in the town of Lautoka but originally and proudly a product of poverty stricken villages in Ba (Wailailai and Navoli). My passion is grounded within my upbringing and extracted from my origins. I hope to be a tiny drop in that ocean that brings about change for those that are helplessly stuck in the circle of poverty, disaster and conflict. I have always believed and invested my life living by two quotes:

Mahatma Gandhi – “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”

Muhammed Ali – “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.

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When I am not doing that, my other passion is delving deep into learning different forms of art (closet charcoal artist), photography, videography and anyone who knows me knows very well that I am an ardent sports enthusiast and love astronomy and astrophysics.

What’s a typical day in the life of you look like? 

Currently it’s a bit sporadic as I am in the middle of two different jobs. But let’s take a look at some of the work that I have been fortunate and grateful to be involved in. I have always tried to choose a career that is rooted in my beliefs and ethics. If I didn’t get into that career, I would volunteer full-time to make sure that my mindset and character is always surrounded by those ethics.

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Currently, I have been employed as the Multicultural Youth Coordinator for PCYC working on empowering young people. In conjunction, I am part of the Program’s team at ActionAid Australia who do such amazing work in putting women’s development and livelihoods at the centre of discussion in International Aid and Development. Prior to that I was working with Youth Connections at MTC Australia working with severely disengaged young people and creating meaningful programs using their culture, their strengths, their needs and amalgamating a whole lot of creativity to give it some oomph.

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In between all of the above, I have been working on delivering programs for Down Syndrome NSW, creating computer empowering programs for refugees, elderly, homeless and people with intellectual disability (Cyber Youth), entertainment for nursing homes, sports and value based education programs in country Australia and internationally, post disaster and conflict relief and development, volunteering at Westmead Children’s Hospital, detention centres and IDP camps and finally creating multi-faith and cultural programs to usher a society of unity, love and humanity.

What’s been the most challenging experience in your journey so far? 

Personally, I feel that the most challenging experiences have been the most helpful. Trying to get my first step into humanitarian emergency areas has been a difficult step but the journey has shown me that I have a lot of gaps within my skill-set that I still need to improve upon and work towards. So I am continuously trying to educate myself, volunteering hours and hours, completing courses, degrees, you name it. I don’t compromise much on my goals; however, I may negotiate how I get there.

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What were the most rewarding lessons?

The most rewarding lessons have definitely been taught by the people I meet within my work – be it voluntary or professional. The people I meet just constantly strengthen my passion on why I got into this field from my very first experience. I will always remember the simple smiles from the homeless I get to feed, the curiosity of people from refugee backgrounds touching the mouse for the first time, the uncompromising innocence of young children, the powerful voices of people who want to foster unity, the resilience of those whose houses are completely destroyed and continue their life with love in their heart, the smile on the children whose parents have been in IDP camps for generations and earthly connections of the indigenous and culturally dynamic individuals and communities. I am a sucker for all this!

What have been the biggest misconceptions? How do you feel we can address them?

If you are getting paid for this, it’s not really service.

The path that I want to take is often the least travelled. And although I would love to volunteer my whole life (not saying that I wouldn’t give everything to still do that), just like anyone we as community practitioners do need to earn a living. Being paid for what you love is a bonus. Many within our fields have volunteered numerous hours and will continue to do so.

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If you have a good heart, you can make a difference.

In a way this misconception is a bit difficult to completely explain. Let’s put it this way, everyone definitely can make a difference and assist however, in the humanitarian field or even in the community sector, you still need go beyond just a good heart. It’s just like any other art – you need to train, you need to learn, and you need to continuously up skill yourself.

What advice do you have for young Pacific people who are thinking of pursing a similar pathway?

If this is your dream, aim for it and try and achieve it. I love the quote that goes something like this, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. I may be biased but I do think Pacific Islander young people have the background, the natural nous and the personality to really succeed within the community sector. Just like every other field, it has its share of tough moments but with preparation, hard work and passion it can be the most satisfying thing in your life. Our nations are prone to be impacted by severe natural disasters and poverty. It is our young people who can be the voice and inspirational agents of change. So my advice in short – go for it, complete your education (continue learning – I’ve lost count on how many degrees I have completed), volunteer wherever you can and spread your love to the communities and individuals that need it.

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How can we support you and your work?

If anyone ever wants to be part of a program that I coordinate or wants to know more of what I do and how to get involved, please do not hesitate to contact me on shiva.gounden@gmail.com or on my phone 0425 202 280.

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What an honour it is to share Shiva’s story. Thank you for sharing a part of you with us. We look forward to what the future holds and we wish you all the very best! 

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Arieta Tora Rika is a Tongan-Fijian Freelance Writer, Digital Communications Specialist, and Talanoa’s Founder and Creative Director. Born in Darlinghurst in the late 80s, she spent most of her childhood in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and all of her teen years in Tonga. She now lives in Western Sydney with her husband Josese.