Aboriginal kids judged below average in the Western education system, yet - how many languages can you speak?

Imagine just for one second, what it would be like; that every day you wake up, you have to go to work and speak an entirely new language, learn an entirely new way of life. A life that your family, your culture has had no idea about. Everyday as an adult, you have to learn to speak this new language because - you can’t buy supplies at the shop to feed your family, you can’t buy clothes to clothe your kids; imagine you had to do that; pretty much learn how to live, an entirely new way.

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I have just spent the week in remote North East Arnhem Land, where the locals are still caught between the two worlds. The worlds of traditional life, that has enabled their family and ancestors to thrive for the very least 65,000 years, and the world since colonisation a mere 229 years.

It is often spoken at large about, how low Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people’s, numeracy and literacy rates can be.

I delivered educational sessions during the past week, to kids as young as 5 & 6 years of age. There were times I needed one of the locals to translate my message in order for kids to understand. You see, when Ralph, a local police and education engagement officer was helping me, the kids understood with ease, you could see their eyes light up with excitement when I was relaying my message.

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Some of these kids, 5 & 6 years of age could speak up to 5 different languages. If you live in one community and they spoke a different language to your fathers community, also your mothers community, right there you pick up and learn 3 languages - throw English on top of that, often said one of the hardest languages to grasp and speak; I would consider these amazing young 5 & 6 year old students as amazingly, incredibly intelligent.

How many people reading this blog in English, go home and speak 3 or 4 different languages in your own home?

How many Non Indigenous kids at 5 & 6 years of age fluently speak up to 5 different languages; I’ll even ask - how many of Australian politicians speak up to 5 different languages as adults; the very people who sign off on the reports to say First Nation people are well below average, I ask what average?? Why are we judging young people on a western based education model that many remote communities have absolutely no concept of - this is what we call assimilation at its best.

Imagine you were out in these communities forced to live and learn their way of life; which might I add is amazing and beautiful - would you cope, would you thrive?? Forced to hunt for your own dinner, feed your family, could you do it.

I asked the kids to teach me some language, Yolngu Matha - I tried, I wasn’t very good, In fact I felt hopeless but I tried. Some kids even chuckled at my word pronunciation; in that moment, I felt what is was like for them; I felt shy, I felt embarrassed, I thought it was too hard, I wanted to revert back to what’s easy for me - English, their 4th and 5th learnt language.

I am someone who would consider myself reasonably strong in my culture, a culture that I have had to search and re learn because it was stolen and taken away from me and my ancestors in the past 229 years - I am a product of assimilation, but I am doing everything everyday to find, re learn and practice the old ways. Even though me considering myself a strong Wiradjuri man, up there, I was being taught by infants - kids that are just doing their best, surviving and thriving in two worlds.

Why do we consider these kids below average just because they don’t thrive in English & a western based system  - they are amazing and smart, and speaking multiple languages many would consider them smart.

It is time to look at the world through a different lens also.. 

Thank you North East Arnhem Land communities of Galiwinku, Yirrkala, Nhulunbuy & Gapuwayak for reaffirming to me me how extremely beautiful our culture is, and how very little I actually know about it & of course, being so loving and caring.

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I went in a leader in the western world teaching kids, but a learner in the Yolngu world, getting taught by infants.

Extremely humbled to share this experience.

Mandang Guwu (Thank You - Wiradjuri)

JW

They aren't criminals; prisoners need help with healing Mental Illness, Addictions & Trauma

Now I have your attention I would like to say it is my belief, we are looking at those incarcerated through the wrong set on of eyes. I am a huge believer in finding the root cause of people's behaviours.

I would like to see the statistics around every person who is incarcerated throughout Australia; and their relationship or links to mental illness.

I would go as far as saying, majority of people locked away, struggle with a type of mental illness.

Addictions are also now being widely talked about as a type of mental illness, and we see many who are incarcerated are inside on the back of crimes committed whilst heavily influenced by drugs or alcohol.

People are incarcerated for particular behaviours, fair enough, certain behaviours are not tolerated in society, I understand this. What if when judged on these behaviours, these individuals who are convicted and sentenced, are actually rehabilitated for their behaviours?

What if we got to these individuals before the behaviours were part of their daily habits?

See, with people, we see behaviours. We strip back the behaviours, we find substance abuse, strip back the substance substance abuse, we find trauma and illness.

Wouldn't we be better served treating these traumas and illness, rather than locking these people away?

I've known of guys who have been locked away, incarcerated, placed in a cell for up to 23hrs a day - tell me how that is rehabilitating?

The way I see the prison system as is; we see individuals locked up, do their time - on release many head back to the exact same habits, alcohol & drug use, with that leads them to behaviours that lead to incarceration.

As is, there is very little rehabilitation in behaviours because there is no addressing the root of what leads those to their behaviours - mental illness (alcohol and substance use) and trauma.

I believe, there needs to be a re vamp of the entire system - again, so many people locked up for their behaviours and no one talks about why they are producing these behaviours; strip back the behaviours, we have substance, alcohol and drug abuse; strip back the substance abuse, those who use, do so to hide a trauma or feed an addiction..

We need to treat people on their traumas & illness - rather than their behaviours, which happen from a result of covering trauma & addiction.

Heal the trauma & illness rather then locking people away and keeping it dormant for it to arise on their release...

 

JW

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Connection - A Healer

It's amazing what nature can do for the soul. This week I spent an incredible few nights on country being mindful about my self care and paying particular attention to connection. Connection to myself, to the land and everything else in between.

Personally I am lucky that it is easy for me to connect. Whether it be my First Nation culture, connectedness to self or connected to those around me. These are tools that I have been lucky enough to be taught from a young age.

What’s been a really powerful healer in the dark moments of my depression is connection. Connection to myself, my thoughts, those who impact my thoughts and situations that impact my thoughts; both positive and negative.

The key is identifying these thoughts, and giving your power to the right kind of thoughts. If we have negative moods or thoughts, don't give them power by concentrating on how bad, draining, negative they may be; find positive and give those positive thoughts weight and energy; 1% at a time - you can do this through gratitude, compassion & humility.

I am at a point in my recovery where I can identify negative situations that may lead me to be in a negative head space - that of course doesn't guarantee that I am always at optimum wellness. I was born with bipolar disorder, (which among many other mental illnesses) mine along with many, are genetically passed on from generation to the next. I have found that being aware of circumstances and situations that lead may lead us into a dark places and do your best to avoid them.

Being connected to family, friends and community is hugely important. Having those close connections not only is a benefit to you and me personally, it is usually always your close support network that identifies you your behaviours before you do.

Connection to self also means that I have to pay attention to what's best for me. My Bi Polar disorder means I am medicated. I understand not everyone is medicated, but for me personally, being compliant with my medication are  a significant part of my wellness.

During my week out bush (with no TV, no internet or phone service) I was able to connect more so with me than anything else. My head slowed down, I had a clear mind and was able to pay attention more to the little things in life that we take for granted; nature, birds, animals even the breeze.

Connection to my culture is without doubt my biggest healer; getting back to nature gives me clarity and a peace of mind.

I was able to connect with many of my cultural brothers, whom are as close as family and share some special time.

I have found that connection, any connection, self, others, culture, is key to wellness & remaining well. Mine may differ from yours; but connection is a common key to staying well. Connection plays a big part in my overall mental health and wellbeing. 

The one that is critical for me to maintain my wellness, is to stay connected to my culture, the land and everything in between.

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Don't wait for others to speak out

I have spoken openly and candidly about my struggles and my suicide attempt in 2012.

At the time no one knew the extent of the emotional pain I was going through. I hid it well. I didn't speak to anyone about the real torment and hurt I was feeling and just remained silent.

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The catalyst for my pain was the breakdown of my marriage and being separated from my family and children. The next committed relationship I was in that gave me another beautiful child also fell apart - so I was trying to navigate my way through a new life without all of my kids with me every day or at least nearby. From the heartbreak that resulted out of those few years - heartbreak I still bury down and don't speak about - words can't describe the pain and hurt I felt then for my children. 

In 2012 when I had my suicide attempt, I went through a number of stages and situations that bought me directly to that point. The day I was in the biggest fight of my life with my mind when I wrote my suicide note. I wrote that note and placed it directly next to my phone, before attempting to take my life. I left the note directly next to my phone - what does that tell you?? I was in the fight of my life, I wrote my note and placed it directly next to a device that had everyone's number in it - my parents, my friends, my kids - but I couldn't pick it up to call, I was in too much pain.

The thing is the day I attempted suicide, I didn't want to die - I just wanted the pain to go away, the pain to end & I felt that be me not being here anymore, was the only way to do so.

I have travelled the world sharing my story to raise awareness for mental illness and suicide. I have been privileged to hear many other mental health advocates say the same thing as what I do when it comes to tough time. That it is imperative that you talk to people about it. I just wish it was that easy to talk about.  

In times of despair, whether it be from the mildest of depression, to the frightening times of talking yourself away from suicide; the last thing on your mind is talking about it to someone. It is important that you do and I 100% agree with that. What needs to be known though is that when you are in that black hole so deep and are in complete  times of desperation, you go through steps before hand. I know from my perspective that I can't pick up a phone, text message or call someone who might be able to help. In these critical times, we are just trying to win the battle that is right in front of our face, the immediate thing on our mind, is to stay alive.

Here's the challenge. Let's not wait for people to talk about their pain. Let's not wait for people to tell you they need help or are suffering in silence, let's go to them.

We live in a world where we are so caught up in our own problems and our own worries. A world where we don't care to pay attention of others behaviours. Even when our loved ones and friends are hurting, we don't notice because we are so caught up in what is going on in our own world.

I believe the most effective way to reduce an already crippling suicide rate around the world, is to pay attention to each other. It is about connectedness! In many situations we don't see hard times coming because we just aren't paying attention. We might think we are, but are we really?

When someone is struggling mentally, they can only pretend for so long. A person will begin to exhibit physical behaviours that make it obvious to those around them that they aren't in a good place. Behaviours like isolating themselves, lack of appetite, mood swings, sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, being unable to control their emotions (eg. crying all the time) or unable to get out of bed at all. We just have to be paying attention to see these signs or hear them. Whether it be through their words or physical behaviours, we/they can only pretend for so long. Their words will show, their behaviours will show.

We can not rely solely on our communities to speak up in their times of desperation, because knowing from my own experience, it wasn't through fear of judgement, or thinking that I was showing a sign of weakness. It was purely because the depression and suicidal ideation I was suffering were so blinding to me that it clouded my judgement. I believed I was a burden, that I was worthless. I was literally fighting for my life and I could not reach for help. I also felt that people probably didn't care so why bother asking for help?

Looking back of course I know I should have reached out, but I was too busy fighting to stay alive. It would have been so much easier if someone close to me, had noticed my behaviours, noticed that me isolating and withdrawing from community and those close.

Have a think about the people in your community - your circle of friends - are there friends or family you usually hang out with that are withdrawing from social situations, isolating themselves or showing signs of deeper emotional or mental pain? If they are, what are you doing about it?

My good friend from USA Kevin Hines attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000 - on the bus on traveling to the bridge, he was crying his eyes out, visibly upset and crying; not one person took 30 seconds to ask him is he ok???

There is so much to learn from in that sentence alone.

How many times have we walked passed someone we can tell is upset? How many times have seen something written online and ignored it?

Not only is it the one who is going through tough times, responsibility to speak up, tell you they are going through the tough times, it's everyone's responsibility to notice the smallest of changes in behaviours and help those talk about them.

The greatest thing you can ever say to someone is - 'what can I do to help' ?

Don't take the risk in letting someone 'snap out of it themselves' - suicide is forever and it is everyone's responsibility to help save the life of someone who believes they don't deserve to be here. 

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My daily fight - I won't give up


Have you ever heard the song  by Kate Miller-Heidke called 'Last Day on Earth'? I'll get to why it's important shortly.

I have been in a real internal fight with myself recently. It has been for a few different reasons, triggers that set them off, but for the most part I believe it's because I have been taking lower doses of my medication. I am doing this under the care of my psychiatrist so that I can go onto another medication.

For me, suicidal ideation is a daily battle. It might be intense for a little bit, then I use my coping mechanisms and strategies I have learnt and they pass. Lately however, the ideations have been crippling - to the point where I can't get out of bed, I can't talk to people and at times before one of my education sessions, I felt I couldn't go on stage. I was behind the curtain sobbing like a baby - petrified to talk to anyone.

The past few months I have been in a real struggle, the biggest and most constant fight I have ever been in. That song I mentioned has been playing through my head, literally every morning as soon as I wake up. The chatter and noise starts in my mind and I have genuinely believed this will be my last day on earth. I have to fight the mental pain that wants to take me away.

With the effects of CTE and concussions over the years, there is every chance this illness I go through, these tough times, may get worse. But I am not ready to go out yet. I'm not ready for my life to be over. So I promise I will fight tooth and nail to make sure I am here; especially for my kids and my loved ones. I will stay in this fight!!

Each day that I have this internal battle, it's tough. I want it to go away and sometimes I get to the point where I've had enough. But it's this battle that makes me who I am. That makes me resilient and a fighter.

I have to thank my friends who have been quite persistent in checking in and making sure I am ok lately, as I know I isolate and try do it alone.

During the tough times I know it's beneficial to talk. I know it's beneficial to get the mess out of my body and my mind - even writing it down helps; but it's just so hard.

I can't do it alone. I need my doctor, my friends and my loved ones to stay close - even though I push everyone away, I need them to stay close!! If it were up to me, I would push everyone away - but I know that's not the right thing to do for me to stay well, I know that verbalising the pain helps.

Minute by minute, moment by moment, one day at a time - I promise to stay in this fight.

 

It may battle me; but it won't beat me

 

 https://youtu.be/KhQ5seprs6s

Last Day On Earth - Kate Miller

 

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Self Care - A Priority

Working in the field of suicide Prevention and wellbeing, I have learnt that it is vital to pay particular mind to my own wellbeing. A quote from my original short film The Enemy Within, 'I have to keep my own cup full, so I can help others too' rings loud and clear every time I feel myself starting to get a little tired and rundown.

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This past week particular, was a meaningful time in the road for me. I have been feeling a significant cultural 'pull' dragging me toward the red centre of the country - Uluru.

Uluru is one of, if not the biggest tourist destination in Australia but to our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people it is much more than that. To many of our people it is known as the 'heartbeat' of our country, Mothers heart.

During my life there have been more than one occasion where I was supposed to travel to the 'heartbeat' but looking back there have been certain 'road blocks' put in the way.

There was a time I was supposed to go for work related time & another occasion I broke my thumb playing football and required surgery pulling me out of the trip. I believe everything happens for a reason, and it wasn't my time until now.

If I were to travel back then, I would not have been equipped mentally to understand the cultural significance of the land mark and I don't believe I would've enjoyed the spiritual beauty as much as I have this trip; this is where the opening paragraph of this piece comes in.

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I have been rather busy of late, pretty much traveling from one community to the next, delivering my story of survival through a suicide attempt, and living my life with fairly severe mental illness.

I always have play particular close attention to my wellbeing because what I do, telling my story of suicide attempt survival and he daily struggle of living with Bi Polar disorder & suicidal ideation; it takes a toll. The long days and constant travel takes not only a physical toll but a mental toll also.

Being in Uluru the last week, there was a spiritual feel in the air; one of power & soft beauty. Being able to watch the sunset and the amazement of the colours being projected across the evening skyline & the sunrise as the sun brings to life the colours of the landscape, is truly something I'll never forget.

I have come back to NSW to continue my tour not with an empty tank, but a heart and soul full of spirit & softness ready to again help more people achieve their wellness; I can only do that if I am well within myself.

Remember to take care of you as your number one priority, because without helping you, there's no helping anyone else...

JW 

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A voice tells me to end my life, every single day

I have lived with this for as long as I can remember - since I was just a kid...

Every single day I face an attack on my brain. Thoughts planted into my mind, convincing me I am not worthy to live any longer; I am worthless and that I should end my life.

I could be driving down a freeway, a voice tells me to swerve into oncoming traffic, to jump from my car, jump in front of cars when walking along a busy street - all this on any regular day.

I live with paranoia - that everyone is thinking negative thoughts about me, wanting me to fail & waiting for me to stuff up - this is the main reason I don't let people into my close knit circle.

I have very few friends & find it near impossible to trust; anybody!!

Despite all this, I have lived my entire life, fighting this illness to not get the better of me. There are tough times, when I want to give up, but I find that 1% I need to grip onto life. Some days I'm a mental wreck, aggressive, and short fused; these are the days I must fight hardest to beat the demons and find that inner me, the real me who's peaceful, loving and kind.

Their have been days where I'm a sports star, a profiled community member, days when I am traveling Australia, the world helping others, days where my life looks perfect..

There's also the days when I'm a poor family man, not the Dad I should be, and hardly a friend to anyone..

But believe me I'm trying my best. Not only am I trying my best to be a good man, Dad, Fiancé, family man & friend - the one thing I'm trying my hardest to do....

 

Is stay alive....

It May Battle Me; It Won't Beat Me

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What I learnt about Dylan Voller

I first heard the name Dylan Voller, like most Australians; when his treatment in the Dondale Detention Centre was aired on the 4 corners program late 2016; what I saw was a kid who was acting out with behaviours that would've initially led him to incarceration; behaviours that most would deem unacceptable - not me!!

What I have learnt in all my years of working with youth and adults is that, what traumas have occurred to lead this child to acting out the way he does. I also have learnt that everyone is a victim of a past or current trauma; that acts as either a cover or protection mechanism, that enables us to act out or behave the way we do.

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It is clear cut Dylan is a survivor or some horrendous trauma; all be it, physical, emotional and mental - over many many years.

Dylan didn't do very well at school, he was incarcerated for a lot of it in his early teens, so for this young man to be as articulate and emotionally strong as he is, is a credit to himself and his 'street smart' intelligence.

I've learnt that Dylan threatened suicide many times during his incarceration and he also self harmed, working in the field of mental health, this screams mental and emotional trauma to me. The one major tool I have been taught in my suicide Prevention training is that 'if someone is making a threat of suicide or self harm for attention' then that's what they need, ATTENTION - attention that, something much deeper is going on than the actions on the surface; it is like a cry for help - so why aren't we giving this help???

I sat through Dylan's hearing at the Royal Commission today (Thursday 20th April) and to hear the defence lawyer continually question this already vulnerable & still quite traumatised young man about his truths about whether he was 'lying' about wanting suicide (or the thought of) or self harm, I felt was completely uneducated and even harmful of the fact it would most certainly bring up certain traumas again. This went on for almost the final hour of which I sat through.

I understand the representative had a job to do in trying to find holes in Dylan's statements and behaviours, but with suicide & traumatic mental health, we are talking about life or death. The more we know about trauma & genetics is that, trauma can impact or stay in an individuals genetics for up to 5 or 6 generations - my point being is, if Dylan Voller is lucky enough to build a resilience to what he has endured over the past 8 or so years, the trauma he has been exposed to, will stay within his genetics for up to another 6 generations....

Do we not have a responsibility to this kid, or any kid for that matter as a society, to help heal trauma to affectively heal the young person???

We can't lock these kids up and abuse them, physically, emotionally or mentally - we need to work on the trauma, get to the route of what's going on and treat that.

What Dylan Voller did to land himself inside the walls of detention is beyond our control right now, but it is In my personal opinion; that we act to help rebuild a young person who has been a victim of many, many traumas.

What any person does as an act to land themselves incarcerated, is an outcry of another trauma, a behaviour referring from a past traumatic experience.

Let's find that trauma, & heal it - not build on it to create further problems.

Good luck young brother, Dylan I hope you grow and become a young leader as you have every right to be

Learning & Connection

By the time I will have posted this; it will be read in the past tense, I wrote this when I was out bush in central NSW, with no signal on my phone, social media & pretty much cut off from the outside world.

I am laying in an open swag, under the stars with nothing but the sounds of nature. It's more than what I wanted, it's what I needed.

The bush is my university, where I learn the most & learn mostly about myself.

I was coming off a fairly tough week & had come to some realisations have been navigating me through the path life. Getting away from the bright lights and connecting to myself is what I needed.

As you know I struggle with horrific Suicidal ideation, but my biggest healer, my medicine, is connecting to country, Mother Earth and my culture.

As I sit around the fire this evening, staring deep into the flames; the head noise eases and I am back to my safe place.

Sitting and sharing stories, learning from respected uncles learning about the old ways and how they will help mend a united future, & the reassurance of how love respect & sharing is the key to unity.

I ask myself, why wouldn't anybody want that? Surely everyone wants a caring love and respect for all???

My wellness has been great the past month or so but I hit a hurdle, these hiccups can hinder us, or help us - I'm determined to have mine help; to learn and to grow..

Each bad day, I find gratefulness and I find a lesson; on how can I learn from it.

I'm learning from those bad days, and in learning from those bad moments, I find strength.

In learning, and growing, you realise you can do it - no matter how many times I feel myself slip back down, it's never as low as it once was - in that I'm reminded me of my strength and willingness to forgive the day, and rip in again tomorrow.

 

As I always say - it tries every single day;

 

It May Battle Me; But Won't Beat Me

 

JW

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The daily battle that continues to build my resilience

As the plane taxied toward the runway I glance out the window and see our First Nations Aboriginal flag flying proudly in the wind; for a second it takes my attention away, and almost like a sign; don't panic, the old people, my ancestors have my back.

It's back, my heart beats ferociously, where I can physically see the movement against my shirt; with that my mind begins to race again.

Lately, it has been every time I get on a flight, do I begin to have these mini anxiety attacks where I am short of breath, struggle to breathe and like there is a net around my heart n lungs slowly squeezing the breath out've me.

I begin to practice what I preach, mindfulness. I slowly rub my index finger and my thumb together bringing my mind back to present. My mind is frantically running through every possible worst case scenario I can think of; I scan the female flight attendant, up and down to see if she could be possibly concealing a gun to plot a terror attack, I am seated in the very front seat of the plane so I am constantly peering over my shoulder as if the passenger behind me will try stick a knife into my neck at any moment. A little shake of my head, as if to bring me back to reality.

The next thought is, as if I am facing my own death with the plane crashing. Will my family know that I love them? Will I get to hug Court & the kids again? What will my funeral be like? Will anyone even come?

Again, I am to breathing deep, 4,7,8 inhale 4 seconds hold that breath for 7 seconds and then exhale for 8 seconds.

I am terrified, tears begin to well in my eyes, but in the surface I look calm as can be, cool as a cucumber; but on the inside I'm a nervous wreck, gasping for air and clinging to life.

The reality is, none of this is real, none of these thoughts can hurt me and hopefully the plane doesn't go down and I can live another day.

These are the tricks my brain plays on my almost daily. I know I can't control what goes into my brain, but I know and as I breathe through it; I CAN control the outcome.

This happened to me today, everything that you read above went through my mind whilst I was on the plane from Dubbo to Sydney. Whilst doing my 4,7,8 I literally sat and counted the 'seconds hand' on my wrist watch for 17 minutes during the flight. That's 1,020 seconds (yes I can count that high) and I would of went longer if I had to & if that's what I had to do to bring my heart rate down and my head back to present. That very step is what directly contributes to my resilience.

I am now sitting at Sydney airport, waiting to board another flight, this one longer - to Perth. Will it happen again? Who knows but I know I have the tools to get through it...

Many might ask, but why would you put yourself through that sort of mental chaos by living a life that involves many flights? I mean, I've travelled to 5 states in Australia & 30 states around USA delivering The Enemy Within - 100s of flights, why continue to do it?????

Yeah I love doing what I do, but there really is only one answer - helping people, helps me. By helping other people in my travels, I am helping myself.

 

One day at a time;

 

It May Battle Me; It Won't Beat Me

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