Marcus Wong was the  Charter President of the Willetton Senior High (WSHS) School Interact Club where he laid the foundations of the Club's success. This culminated in the Club receiving the 2019 Youth Group Achievement Award sponsored by the Seven West Media Group. Marcus graduated from Curtin University earlier this year after completing a double major in Screen Arts, Creative Advertising and Graphic Design. On 22 May 2019 he was named the WA Youth Volunteer of the Year for his outstanding commitment to and positive impact on the lives of impoverished and disadvantaged people in Uganda and Ethiopia. Read more of his inspiring story below.
My name is Marcus and  I have been asked to share some of my experiences from my work as a filmmaker, graphic designer and photographer. 
What I want to do today is take you on a journey, tell you some stories from my experiences living in third world countries, and I hope that those stories will shape the way you think about the world.

My dream leaving high school was to study film and become a filmmaker, telling stories, making TV shows and making films. A lot of that changed two years ago when the opportunity opened up for me to travel to Uganda, a small country in East Africa and use my skills as a filmmaker, photographer and graphic designer to volunteer at an orphanage for three months. It was my first time travelling internationally without my parents, and my first time to Africa.

I worked with a small orphanage called Rafiki Africa Ministries, who took care of 20 kids, and I fed them, clothed them, bathed them, and on the side took photos and films to help them raise both awareness and funds. The importance of photos and videos in NGO work is it brings awareness. You can’t care about something if you don’t know about it.

My work in Uganda picked up the attention of a camera company in Brisbane, and they gave me a grant to be able to travel back to East Africa, and go to Uganda and Ethiopia to make more documentaries and tell stories. I returned from Ethiopia 2 months ago, and worked in some incredible places with different organisations.

I worked with a primary school in Uganda called Buwooya, and this primary school is a school that provides education for children whose parents cannot afford to send them to school. Buwooya is a small, very rural fishing town on the edge of Lake Victoria, and most of the kids don’t go to school, their parents fish all day, and the kids have no one to look after them. When they turn 14, a lot of them join their parents and start fishing for the rest of their life. This school is run by a man called Moses, and he pays the salaries of the 6 teachers out of his own pocket, and he built the school by gathering wood from the nearby forest. All that the parents are asked to do is provide some money so they can buy flour to make porridge for lunch to feed the kids, and to provide an exercise book and pencils for the kids.

The reason why it is so hard for parents to pay for the school fees of the kids is because they live as subsistence farmers, which means that they grow in their garden is the food they eat. They do not have the resources to produce enough food to sell at the market, they live by what they produce, which means that they have no source of income. They can survive, but they are not earning any money. This makes paying for school fees very difficult, and getting out of poverty difficult as no one is educated. Often what people need is not money to feed themselves, but someone to invest in them so that they can start a small business to earn money. This gives them a sense of empowerment, and gives them control in their life. They don’t need a handout but a handup.

I lived in Buwooya for two weeks, where there was no internet, no running water, no fridge and no electricity at night. I would go outside with a bucket of water and shower at night because it was so dark. I had to use a long drop toilet for those two weeks, and I had to share it with the primary school kids.

The Ethiopian Afar

One of the documentaries I was commissioned to make was a documentary in the northern Ethiopia desert on a group of nomads. Nomads don’t have a permanent home, but instead they move from place to place to meet the needs of their flock. These people I worked with were called the Afar, and they live in the hottest inhabitable place on Earth, which has an average temperature of 38 degrees, easily reaching 50 degrees.

They face many issues with a lack of water, malnutrition, disease and death from childbirth complications. The reason they face these issues is because of a misunderstanding between the government and their nomadic lifestyle. How they function as a nomadic group is by moving 5 to 6 times a year. For example they may stay near a mountain for a few months and use the flow of water off the mountain for their animals to drink and graze, but once that resource becomes depleted, they move on to the next place, and when they return a year later, the area has rejuvenated itself and they can use that land again. However, what happens with the government, is they see that this mountain is an area that has rich potential for mining. They don’t recognise the use that the mountain has for the Afar people, and when they mine it, it can no longer rejuvenate itself. The Afar return, and can no longer live there, and must find somewhere new. This pattern keeps repeating and they are pushed into the harshest, and hottest parts of the desert that no one wants. They are then forced to either move into a harsh landscape that no one wants to occupy, or try to integrate into a non-nomadic lifestyle. Often this has so many issues, and they fall into drug or alcohol abuse.

This is the struggle that the Afar are currently facing, and when I look at their story, I can’t help but be reminded that it is a pretty similar story to how we have treated the Indigenous Australians.

I was in the Afar region for one week, and I worked with that lady Valerie Browning, and she was a nurse from Sydney, who went to Ethiopia in the 70s when there was a really bad famine, and she was so moved by the suffering that she saw that she committed herself, and her whole life to serving the Afar people. She told me that in her trip in the 70s, she was staying in a small compound surrounded by a chain link fence, and people would travel for miles to get the food they were giving out. They would all sleep around the compound, and get food the next day because the famine was so great. The next morning when Valerie would wake up, they would move through the crowds of people who camped overnight, and they would remove the dead bodies of those who had died of starvation overnight. Valerie has lived in Afar for 30 years, and her commitment to the Afar is astonishing. She lives in a concrete compound, and has a tiny room with a small TV and a few of her dresses. The other rooms around the compound are for Afar women who stay there and receive healthcare education so that they can go back to their communities and teach basic healthcare practices.

I spoke to Valerie, asking her about what she thought about Australia, as she lives in Afar, and occasionally returns to Australia to visit family. Her reply was that she is so sad for Australia, because we are trapped in our own capitalism. It always comes down to getting more, more, more. We can’t look at our phones, go down the street without seeing an advert for something. We are so surrounded by choice and luxury. When you get bread in Afar, you have one choice. Bread. If you go into a supermarket here, there are too many choices. White bread, wholemeal, wholegrain, multigrain, brown bread, rye bread, sourdough bread, tiger bread.

One of the dangers we have is become individual and independent of each other, that we don’t need each other anymore. 

If there is one reflection I want to share with you, it is this. We live in an echo chamber. Our surroundings have created a bubble. When you look around and you see that people all dress a similar way, or people drive similar priced cars. You see what kind of houses people live in, what their average salary is, if that is what you are surrounded by, that begins to become normal. When you go to the movies, and most of the films are set in the US, or the UK, you see the same things, similar houses, similar cars, same lifestyles, and that begins to become normal.

I found a great website called Dollar Street, and why this website is great, is it allows us to take a step back and look at where we sit in comparison to the world’s wealth. What Dollar Street did, was measure the world’s income, and look at what houses they had, what did their kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, toilets look like, and put it on a scale. Dollar Street imagines that the entire world lives on one street, and you get to see where on that street you live. Dollar Street also includes how much the household earns a month, and lets you see what kind of lives they live.


  • Myanmar $195 a month
  • Bangladesh $175
  • India $80
  • Haiti $39
  • Malawi $30


  • Philippines $228
  • Bolivia $180