Megan – wearing a Junk Wave jewel
Upasana: Where, when and what did you study at university?
Megan: I was a mature aged student. I didn’t get to uni until I was age 26. I turn 50 this year and it still seems like it was just yesterday. I originally intended to do Medicine but when I finished school, I got married and had babies instead. Eventually I was in the position to move to Cairns from Cooktown to study at the new James Cook University campus, or tafe college as it was at that time. I chose Social Work because it was the only degree I was remotely interested in that was available in Cairns.
Originally I wanted to do medicine and specialise in paediatrics so that I could work in third world countries for aid agencies. My care for helping children has always been an internal motivator – my empathy and passion are huge so everyone always knew that whatever I did it would involve helping kids. Apart from social work being an available course, I was at a loss to clearly articulate my reasons for choosing it until I watched The Power of One based on the book by Bryce Courtney. That was it!
Even as a little girl I instinctively knew that one person could make a difference. One person can change discrimination, oppression and abuse.
I was born and bred in Papua New Guinea. Juxtaposed with the beautiful natural environment were abuse, poverty and the patriarchal effect of colonial oppression…..and I hated it. In hindsight, either social work or a career in international relations was a foregone conclusion. I once told my Army Officer father that I wanted to join the diplomatic corp. He laughed and suggested that there wasn’t a diplomatic bone in my body. He was so right – I remain outspoken against injustice and critical of paternalistic policies that keep minorities oppressed.
Upasana: Could you tell me something about the course you work has taken since graduating?
Megan: I specialised in sexual assault therapy for children. I have worked across all levels of government, in the non-government sector and in the private sector. I published on the topic, wrote, practiced and taught a model of protective behaviours. I worked in child protection in London, as a court counsellor for the Australian Federal Government and in the funding branch of our local department of child safety. I managed a therapeutic house and I worked as a curriculum writer and student counsellor at a training college. I also did sessional teaching at uni.
I LOVED working in that field. But after working with it for almost 20 years I was burnt out.The challenge and excitement of new jobs no longer fed my soul and I knew that I had to move away from child sexual assault work.
But, I procrastinated and the Universe forced my hand. My husband became ill; I quit my high stress professional job to look after us all and found myself with no money. It was a very black time for all of us.
Lucky I am a worker, an innovator and an entrepreneur, and I really like working for me: no money? no problem! I decided to start a business from scratch. I just had to find potential stock that was easily accessible and cost next to nothing to turn into a saleable item.
One day, trancelike, I found myself staring at my rubbish bin (I know, sad really). The sight of the overflowing garbage had me thinking about the earth being clogged with rubbish. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the huge landfills in other parts of the world, the size of Texas (yes, really), you’ll follow my drift. Junk – I hate it! I hate landfill, I hate waste!
There, at that moment, a precariously balanced, colourful flyer flew out from the top of the pile of rubbish which was seeping out of the bin. It found me! – The idea I had been looking for! A recycled craft business.
With the help of a few friends, my recycling craft hobby developed into a sideline. That sideline developed into a program and the program developed into a business. And so my Junk Wave business was born! I now run three weaving teams and train in recycled craft across Australia. How lucky am I to earn a living doing something so enjoyable – the kind of thing most people do for fun!
Upasana: Your career has transitioned so much throughout the years. Which roles have resonated with you most?
Megan: Working as a therapist specialising in childhood sexual assault has long been my passion and reason for getting out of bed in the mornings. I felt driven to protect children against sexual assault and I strongly identified with that role. I still refer to myself as having been a child sexual assault therapist.
Writing has also been a strong pull for me. I am extremely creative and even my business writing has an element of magic and a good dose of fun in it. Publishing my children’s chapter-book was such a pinnacle point for me –it was the marriage of fiction with non-fiction, general reading with bibliotherapy.
It has taken me a while to call myself an Eco Social Worker but I absolutely identify with that role now. My people and training skills are excellent and my love of the environment makes it easy to encourage others to think about how they interact within their natural surrounds – and how the natural world is impacted when clogged and stuffed with rubbish.
Upasana: What have been the happiest memories of your working life?
Megan: This is a really hard question. There are so many highlights which I can’t share because of confidentiality reasons, however, two professional highlights sit high upon my career tree like bright shining stars. Firstly, the launch of my book Bitss of Caramel Marmalade on Toast. Against all advice, I got kids to organise the whole thing. I didn’t want boring adults and boring speeches. I wanted fun, I wanted child-focused, I wanted the kids to have a voice. So, kids were the guest speakers and the mc’s, they ran the event and organised the games and fancy dress parade. It was a BLAST!
The second highlight was working in Child Protection in London. It was a wonderful experience for me and I have nothing but encouragement for other social workers who wish to expand their practice into the international arena.
Upasana: You developed the BITSS model for use with young children of primary school age. Could you tell me about this program?
Megan: The BITSS model of Protective Behaviours took years for me to develop….and I loved doing it. It started because of a personal incident. My son was suspended from child care because he said the word “penis.” The other boys who were saying, “cock”, “willy” and “doodle” were not suspended for their bad language.
I realised we were in great trouble if early childhood educators could not use correct body- part terminology. However, when you consider the prevalent statistics which tell us that one in three girls are sexually assaulted by the age of 18, it makes sense that perhaps one in three early educators have their own issues when it comes to addressing sexual topics.
My research discovered that most protective behaviour programs were delivered at school by external personnel rather than by their own teachers. And the information was being taught in such a way that apparently made it difficult for children to generalise the information they were given about protection to their lives at home, away from the school yard. Given that 85% of childhood sexual assault is perpetrated by a family member or somebody well known to the child, it became clear to me that the way protection was taught at schools was not working well enough to make a difference. Further, while some educators remain unable to say ”penis” or “vagina” there was no hope of having externally delivered programs reinforced by those teachers.
I designed the BITSS model to be taught to children by parents and carers as a set of games and activities to be played anytime, anywhere and from any age.
The program is now used around the world by parents and foster carers. Whereas once I used to sell the model as a tutorial for parents, it is now available free as a download to people who sign up for my recycled craft newsletter:
I still train in the area too. I can run a 4 hour BITSS workshop for teachers, parents, carers, or who ever wants to come, and they can walk away knowing exactly what they have to do to keep their kids as safe as possible from sexual predators.
Upasana: Is the Junk Wave project governed by any particular model or framework? How has it been informed by your social work background?
The development of The Junk Wave into a global project of individual empowerment is most definitely inspired from and encouraged by my social work training and work background. I LOVE working with women and I love frameworks of empowerment. Further, protecting the environment is another form of child protection….we protect it to make sure our kids have safe places to go – where they can interact with nature.
The Junk Wave’s business model is all about making the micro macro: mass action of individual home based effort. By working with passionate women crafters to help them reframe waste as art, I am on a sustainable journey that is good for people, good for the planet and good for profit (not just mine but all of the women I assist to start their own cottage industry).
I absolutely love what I do at The Junk Wave and I am very grateful to crafters the world over who share my mission, vision and aim: to make junk precious.
Through intentional teaching and ‘teachable moments’ -taking opportunities such as this one, to explain the project and vision, we spread our recycling passion to protect oceans and landfill from toxic household waste so that tomorrow’s children can experience a healthy and safe, animal rich, environment.
Upasana: what sorts of activities does the Junk Wave offer?
Megan: We create and sell fashion hand bags made from recycled food packets; we hold recycled craft workshops for both adults and kids and support recycled craft cottage industries and creative incomes for members of our global recycling craft communities.
We aim to raise awareness of landfill alternatives and encourage international momentum for people to turn household waste into craft treasures.
I am also motivated and influenced by the Fair Trade organisations around the world. Their models of turning nothing into something for the co-operative members makes good sense fo me. I am so interested in them that I am applying for a Churchill Fellowship to study them and to bring the model back to women in Australia as a way helping them find a way out of their poverty.
Upasana: Megan, you seem to put a great deal of time, energy and passion into the work you do. Through your experience, particularly in the difficult areas you have worked in, what have you learned about creating a life balance?
Work/life balance is something I have been very bad at. I used to be a workaholic and that behaviour helped to destroy one of my marriages. Once somebody pointed out to me that workaholism was nothing more than a respectable addiction, I dropped my madness. There was no way I wanted to be seen as an addictive personality or “holic” of any kind.
It has taken me years and a period of burn out to discover how very important work/life balance is. In retrospect, the blackness that I was always working with in the sexual assault field needed to be set against a palette of bright. For a long time I stopped doing craft – I did NOTHING but work. I dried up. The colour left my life and my eyes may as well have been blind.
But, my marriage break up, my burn out and my poverty, were blessings. They gave me a new path and I was forced to draw upon only that which was already inside me.
Through rest and introspection, I rediscovered the colour. I rediscovered my ability to create and I rediscovered my tenacity. I had stood at the edge of a black abyss and I didn’t like it……I backed away real quick.
I am reminded here that part of the definition of poverty is the inability to make choices. When I was working long hours in a dreadfully stressful area, I was impoverished. I couldn’t make nice choices. I had no time to. I just worked. Once I quit, I could make choices…..and my life has continued to get better and better.
These days I belong to a group of people all reading and growing in the personal development and leadership field. I read books that may once have been negatively referred to as pop psychology but which for me have become life blood. I discuss the books and their learnings with people who are neither client or professional – just real people wanting to make a real difference to the world by becoming the best they can become. It is this that keeps me grounded and in touch with my past education.
It is from this guided reading program that my most valuable quote came to my attention: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (Orrin Woodward).
I care deeply about our environment and about our children. I care that my grandchildren have the opportunity to grow up to see birds, fish and trees…..and I will do everything I can to encourage other people to make their own changes for their own kids or grand kids.
Finally, I care enough to keep talking garbage. So I do.
creating useable art from recycled materials.