A couple of months ago, I took part in a Book Fair at Richmond Library. There, amongst 30+ authors, is where I first met Anna. She introduced herself to me with a smile that lit up the entire room.
Her warmth drew me in and her personal story stirred up my curiosity. Yet another beautiful soul beyond borders, I thought to myself, as I asked her whether we could catch-up for coffee sometime.
Catch-up, we did, and that is how I discovered that Anna is a bubbly and passionate storyteller who has written and published her very own children’s book Leo’s Pet Bug! With so much in common, we chatted, shared ideas, commiserated somewhat and laughed.
Impressed and inspired, I couldn’t help but ask Anna whether she would allow me to share her story beyond borders with you all. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I do every time we meet!
1. Tell us a bit about you…
My name is Anna. I was born and raised in the Philippines where I lived for about 28 years.
The Philippines is a country made up of 7,100 islands. It is a melting pot of different cultures and influences. Growing up, I had always been interested in people and their stories. I saw them as windows to a wider world.
After working as a teacher for seven years, I felt an itch and started thinking: “this can’t be it!” A friend of mine was working in Kazakhstan at the time. I considered moving there but realised that, as a vegan, it would be really challenging for me. Another friend of mine lived in Thailand then. I discovered that they were looking for teachers there and decided to go ahead and apply for one of the positions! I expected Thailand to feel foreign yet fairly familiar but I couldn’t have been more wrong…
Shortly after relocating, I realised that I couldn’t read anything – due to the language barrier – and that, despite the fact that Thailand is a Buddhist country, vegan food options remained very hard to come by… However, I found Thailand to be a wonderful multi-cultural place and I met a lot of people who had fascinating hobbies outside of their day to day job. Hanging out with such meaning-driven people got me thinking about my own purpose.
After five years of exploring and leading a carefree life in Thailand, I began to meditate. It is during the first meditation retreat I joined that I met my partner, an Australian whose family is from Hong-Kong. Early on, we realised that we both love travelling, share a sense of wonder about the world around us and wish to find our deeper meaning.
People often ask: “why Australia?” The main driver for me was the value and care that is put in children’s programs as well as in the arts over here.
2. How did you become a storyteller?
I was a classroom teacher for 12 years after which I felt like doing something different but wasn’t sure what exactly. I had a passion for reading and also fell in love with performing on stage. That’s when I realised that I could combine the two and become a storyteller.
I guess I hadn’t thought about it before as there was no such career option growing up. It wasn’t one of the more known and popular jobs like doctor, fireman or teacher for example.
From then on, I began my storytelling journey. What I love about storytelling is that it encompasses a lot. Making it my career has turned a passion I had into a purpose and has allowed me to connect with people from all over the world.
3. How do you think your experience living beyond borders has influenced your storytelling?
I think my experience beyond borders has given me an awareness and made me conscious of the importance of using language carefully and fairly. Sometimes I actually tweak stories to make sure they are respectful and meaningful to the international audience in front of me.
What is interesting though is that I have noticed that children from all over the world – regardless of where they are from, where they are raised or where they live – absolutely love hearing stories. They are extremely curious and within minutes of me talking they get engrossed in my every word.
4. What does ‘Be Beyond Borders’ mean to you?
To me, Be Beyond Borders is an acknowledgement of who you are, where you are from and where you are going. It is a way of recognising that you have a story to tell, one that isn’t static and that you continue to write every day. It is also a call to action that encourages you to go beyond labels and create or recreate your own meaning of identity.
5. We all consume so much content on a daily basis, why do you think stories play such an important part in our lives?
Stories play such an important part in our lives because we are stories. It is part of our DNA to consume, make-up, share and recreate stories.
6. On that topic, how do you think stories can change lives and the world for that matter?
Stories carry culture, values, beliefs and every time we engage in them – whether it’d be as a teller, listener or reader – they plant a seed within us. It is a very subtle and invisible shift but I believe that when children are engaging with stories, they create an empathetic link with the characters. The more empathetic they then become, the more a fair and honest lifestyle they will later on lead.
Through this shift, the world can change and become a more compassionate place. Stories absolutely have the power to make a difference in people and in the world.
- They connect us to each other and lead to meaningful conversations.
- They allow us to experience things we might not have experienced ourselves.
- They engage both the mind and the heart which is all that is needed to move people into action.
7. After telling stories for many years, what made you decide to write your own?
Writing my own story was a way of stepping outside of my comfort zone. Having told many stories others had written, I had a lot of ideas in my head and my partner kept asking me: “when will you finally write your own?”
Eventually, I did! After drafting a few, I chose to publish Leo’s Pet Bug as I felt it carried the messages I wanted to share with both kids and adults.
8. What is or are the message(s) behind Leo’s Pet Bug?
In Leo’s Pet Bug, Leo chooses a pet that others don’t like but he stands by his decision and, encouraged by his teacher, he shares his passion in class and changes his classmates’ minds in the process.
The message behind it is around the importance of curiosity and sense of self as well as how critical it is for adults to create a safe space for both of these to occur and to be cherished.
9. Why do you think it is important for stories to carry a message?
To be honest, I can’t think of any stories without a message. As far as I know, all stories have one though it can be strong or weak, clear or confused or anything in between.
Also, it is key to remember that although as creators we might have a message in mind, once the book is with our readers, they will create their own message – hopefully, in line with what we had in mind.
10. A lot of stories are based on dreams and wishes. As a storyteller, what is your dream?
My dream is that everyone becomes a storyteller!
I wish for a time when intentional storytelling will be part of everyone’s lives with parents telling stories to their kids, teachers telling stories to their students and vice versa.
I hope to see kids grow up to love stories and see the possibilities that they can create for themselves through these stories.
11. As someone who draws inspiration from all over the world and has lived beyond borders for many years, what does “home” mean to you?
This is a tough question… Home is more than just a place, it’s an experience.
For me, it is where I was born, where I get my habits from, and where I feel the most comfortable.
Although it might sound contradictory, I feel like home is where I can just be but at the same time where I can challenge myself, where I can continue to grow and where I can impact the world from.
12. How can people get in touch with you and buy a copy of Leo’s Pet Bug?
I can’t wait to hear from you and to tell you a story!
The time I have spent with Anna has reminded me that not only do I have stories, I am actually a collection of stories. As a matter of fact, we all are.
So let’s connect, let’s share, let’s tell our stories to each other and to the world!
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