Monday, 18 November 2013

Vernacular of the heart

Pip Bennett is a creative and passionate game changer. She embraces the ebbs and flows of life and rides them with wicked fascination and rebellious conviction. But this has only come with deep reflection and making the decision to step up. To stop thinking and acting ordinarily, and to propel head first into a life much more extraordinary. A life that can be shit scary at times, but the type of scary that leaves you wanting more. Lots more.

In her 27 years on this planet, she has learned two profound lessons - a duo of antidotes to indifference - which have helped to crack open her heart and to live a life amped up on bodacious goodness. The kind of life that is grounded in connection to self.
“Leap at every opportunity you are interested in and never doubt yourself," Pip shares.
“I dream up things I love, plan how I could possibly do it and then just go speak to people. I have probably done an above average amount of volunteer hours for my age, but I love it. It’s also my secret to how I’ve gotten to where I am. It gives me more experience and knowledge while I’m working my butt off and people see the value in my work, and witness my commitment to the cause.”

The lovely Pip herself. (Photo source: Pip Bennett)

Pip traces back and recalls growing up in New Zealand and the sense of difference that enveloped her neighbourhood. “We lived in a town with very rich and very poor people. There were stark differences between the suburbs in the town, and even more so between Māori (indigenous Kiwis) and Pākehā (Kiwis of European descent, like me). There were people who lived differently to me, worse off. I inherited a strong sense of justice from my mum. She was a police officer and the law was the law and it was something you always followed. But to me it was more than that. It was the values behind the law, people’s rights, equality and fairness, that drove the way I saw the world. If I could do anything, be anything, why couldn’t everyone else?”

When she got to high school, her inspirational geography teacher Mrs Lambert showed her that what she had seen at home was just the tip of the iceberg. “She travelled a lot and would share photos and stories of her trips. Her journey to India struck a chord with me as she taught a unit on global inequality. I couldn’t understand how or why it could be ok for millions – billions – of people to be denied their rights to a safe, happy, and healthy life. It wasn’t fair. This feeling of injustice drove me to learn more. I went to university and studied linguistics and development studies. I wanted to know more about the issues – why was the world like this? What were people doing about it? What could I do about it? I got to read the works of theorists like Arturo Escobar and Gustavo Esteva, who challenged the status quo, and even the idea of aid and development. I loved it and it challenged me to think about why I wanted to be involved in helping people and whether I really could make a difference.”

Separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. (Photo source: Pip Bennett)

Upon moving to Wellington for study however, along with the to and throws of life, Pip found herself feeling lost. “I struggled with being in a new, big city and the demands that came with growing up. I was severely depressed and not sure how to get out of it. I had a friend who was particularly energetic and inspiring who pushed me in the right way to search for what I was passionate about.” Not sure where to start, she started volunteering with a youth program and tutoring English to an Ethiopian refugee woman, which re-ignited a spark. 

A return to self.

Then the floodgates opened…

Through her involvement with the youth program, she was selected to be part of the New Zealand delegation at the Pacific Youth Festival in 2006, and a schronicity of events followed. “I applied and was selected to be one of 300 young leaders from around the world as part of the Oxfam International Youth Partnerships (OIYP). This was an amazing program that linked young globally and gave us tools and resources to work in our communities on issues that were important to us.”

Through OIYP, Pip received funding in 2009 to go to Sudan and connect with another leader in the network to foster deeper understanding and exchange among different cultures and communities. “It was amazing. My friend introduced me to a variety of people, United Nations agencies and non-government organisations. It was there that I really developed a passion for women's rights.” 

Not long after, Pip was invited to participate in a three-week program on self-discovery and identity in Israel and Palestine. “These trips opened my eyes to the importance of my thoughts, decisions and actions. I could take even small actions that could support a better existence for other people. I started buying more natural products, more New Zealand-made goods and fair trade produce. I started volunteering for my local women’s refuge. Even if I couldn’t make things better in the world, I sure as hell wasn’t going to make them worse!”

A buzzing souk (market) in Sudan. (Photo source: Pip Bennett)

Upon returning home, Pip planned out how she could make development her career. “I wanted to help people for a living. I was working for the Ministry of Justice at the time, but lept at the chance to ask a friend who worked at UNICEF New Zealand if she could help me get an internship. I started working part-time instead while I interned for six months, while also doing extramural postgraduate study. The internship was a blast. Amongst other things, I was tasked with developing a way for the organisation to engage with young people.  Before I finished the six months, we had set up a youth ambassador program, timed especially for the UN Year of Youth.”

During a short break after the internship, Pip went to Montreal as part of the Steering Committee for the CIVICUS Youth Assembly soon after coming back to New Zealand, she was offered an opening on the staff team. “I jumped at the chance and soon after quit my old job. I was to continue the work I had started as an intern and further develop a youth program. I loved the work. I got to dream up cool ways to work with other young people, pitch the idea to my bosses and then put the plans into action.” But with the exhilarating highs and excitement came testing and trialing moments. “Sometimes the ideas weren’t so great and I found it really difficult to network and speak in ‘pitches’. I didn’t want to go sell an idea to people. I just wanted to naturally connect, share ideas and see how things could work together. Plus, presentations to big groups of over 100 teenagers was pretty scary. I definitely took on things that I hated, but I got through! I learnt that sometimes being challenged and really pushed out of your comfort zone is good. I actually learnt to relish that feeling of not wanting to do something as a sign that it would probably do me some good.”

Island of you; Island of me

Pip has now been with UNICEF for four years; a critical journey of growth. “I have worked hard, but I’ve also been incredibly lucky to work with amazing and inspiring people who have trusted me and given me space to create. I tried my hand at filling my manager’s role while she was on maternity leave, which if I was to be honest, was horrible and wonderful at the same time, with amazing opportunities to go beyond youth work and look at wider development and policy issues.”

Pip is now in Suva, Fiji, on a two-month secondment with UNICEF, working in the communications team. “I am collecting and sharing stories from around the Pacific about the amazing role that sport can play in promoting healthy lifestyles, gender equality and the inclusion of people with disabilities.”

Pip says, “Connection to me is like a magnetic pull or a sense of contentment as things click into place… It makes us feel more sure of ourselves and what we are doing in our life. I think we often define ourselves by our connections too – who, what, where we love. That’s how I connect – by dreaming and doing things that I love, meeting interesting people and seeing beautiful things along the way. I still struggle with down days now and then, but one of my best friends told me that she sees it as a gift. It drives me to look for meaning and for something more, to find what I love, to get to know myself better.”

Pip on one of her many adventures around the world. (Photo source: Pip Bennett)

Pip is dancing with fear, twirling with risk and hula hooping with her comfort zone. There’s a yearning to go to Central America that she can no longer deny. “That’s the next chapter for me. To leave all I know here and go to Central America for love, freedom and doing what I am passionate about.”

You can also watch Pip as she embraces the bogas and miraculous throughout her travels on Tumblr.

Pip has reveled in the greatness of these leading ladies (wonder women!) and wishes to share them with you here:

Pema Chodron (Pema is great at helping you develop mindfulness).

Marianne Elliott (I love her because she is a Kiwi and I seriously want to be her. She was a human rights lawyer in Afghanistan for the UN and is now a yoga teacher).

Tara Mohr (She is seriously amazing. Her blog is full of great insights and advice, and I really recommend getting her workbook ‘10 Rules for Brilliant Women’).

Strength, power and determination! (Photo source: Rebelle Society)

Your turn! Can you relate to Pip’s story? Can you pin significant moments and decisions in your life that have brought you closer to you? Connected you that bit more to self? Put your fingers to the keyboard in the comment box below friends.


  1. ur such a rockstar pippo, so proud of u :) keep up all ur amazingness and keep on saving the world, u were meant for it! made my day to read this..sending u lots of hugs and wishes from DC and an email soon too :P
    love love love,

  2. Glad to hear you loved this piece all about the very lovely Pip. She is nothing short of a rock star. Well said Sudha!

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  4. Pippy, what were you doing when Jonathan Nolan was busy writing the 400 page script for The Dark Knight Rises? Ah, busy scripting your own success story. Reading which makes us a 'success' too, from the other side of the planet. Way to go! Leah, thanks to you for paper plane. It's taken a flight. Am waiting for more such dreamliners. Zack Snyder can make use of it in his Batman vs. Super(WO)man script. Keep rocking guys.

  5. Thank you Leah for sharing my story and making me sound so powerful and wonderful! I can't say that I feel like that all the time but it is lovely to read all of the nice comments. I want to also point out that Sudha, Roy, and my other friends are all amazing too - they not only encourage me to live my life the way I dream it, but they inspire me with the amazing ways they are working in their communities to improve people's lives, whether it is as a dietician, lawyer, policy maker, community worker, and so on. I don't know if you guys realise how special you are and that YOU are all helping this world be a better place. You guys are awesome and I am so glad and lucky to have you as my friends!

  6. You are powerful and wonderful Pip. Thank you for being you :)


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