The Blogspiration Project: Chantelle Baxter

More Blogspiration Project, yay! Today’s features the wonderful Chantelle Baxter, co-founder of One Girl. Follow Chantelle on Twitter here, find out more about One Girl here, and read the other Blogspiration Project posts here. Enjoy! x

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m a born and bred Melbourne girl, and I grew up with my parents and my two little sisters. I had what I would consider a pretty privileged upbringing – private schools, overseas holidays, and never really wanting much materially.

On the other side of the coin – my childhood was pretty rough. By the time I’d left high school, my life had been affected by domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse and suicide attempts. I was a pretty messed up kid – and I left school believing that the only way I’d ever be happy, was if I made a lot of money.

After a short stint at university studying web design, I decided it was time to leave. I wanted MONEY – NOW! After I started a small web company with a friend of mine, and we did pretty well in our first year. But after shopping, drinking and partying my life away – I realized my that money was not the key to my happiness. I was miserable. I needed a change.

A mentor of mine suggested I sign up some leadership programs. So I did. A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Sierra Leone, West Africa. And that’s where my life REALLY began. I lived in a remote community in Sierra Leone for a month – no electricity, no running water, no supermarkets. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it through the first week. I’d barely even been camping before, and now I was being asked to do manual labour in 35 degree heat. I hated it. And I cried, a lot.

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A couple of weeks in and I hit my breaking point. I needed to go home. I decided to ring my mentor and tell him that I was giving up. During the call, he said the one thing I needed to hear. He said..

This isn’t an accident. You are there for a reason. Rather than focusing on everything that you hate, I want you to give me the reason WHY you are in Sierra Leone.

I stopped crying and thought about it. It became obvious, I was there for the kids. I’d fallen completely in love with the children living in the village – and they became my reason. By the end of the month, I didn’t want to come home. (But obviously I had too).

When I came back to Melbourne, I attempted to pick up my old partying / shopping / drinking ways. But after 6 angry months, I realised I didn’t fit in anymore. I couldn’t go back. I was different, and it was time my life reflected that.

In early 2009, I gave up it all up – my boyfriend, my business, my apartment. I pressed the reset button on my life. Not long after, I met David Dixon and together we co-founded One Girl. We work in Sierra Leone, which is considered one of the worst places on earth to be born a girl. Since we began, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1350 women and girls and by the end of 2014, that will be more than 2600. I’m blown away by what our community has achieved.

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The Blogspiration Project: Clementine Ford

Yay, time for some more of the Blogspiration Project! Today’s edition is with Clementine Ford.  You can follow Clementine on Twitter here, and read her column on Daily Life here. You can read other posts from the Blogspiration Project here, if you fancy doing so. A huge thank you to Clementine for answering my questions and being a part of the Blogspiration Project! I’m so excited with how the series has gone so far. Read on, and have a lovely day! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Some people may disagree with this, but I actually don’t like talking about myself that much. It’s useful for background or context in articles, but in conversations I generally prefer to ask questions or discuss ideas. Talking about myself makes me feel a little self-conscious. However, a very short precis is this: I’m 32 years old. I’m what’s known as a ‘third culture kid’ , meaning I grew up in a culture that didn’t belong to that of my parents (in my case, it was the Middle East). My sister is the most important woman in my life. I live in Melbourne, in an apartment with a mustachioed manfriend who looks like Burt Reynolds. I enjoy the kind of pop music cool people find embarrassing. And I’m a card shark.

How did you first get involved in online journalism & writing? Was it a natural transition from writing for print publications?

I sort of fell into writing as a career. I like to say that I went to university to study student media, because I spent more of my time in the newspaper office than I did in my lectures. Working at On Dit was invaluable – if you’re still at university, get involved with your student paper. Not only are they part of a long and glorious tradition, but they’re really one of the best stepping stones into journalism as a career. They teach you how to write to deadlines, to find your voice and to discover an audience.

When I left university, I missed the regularity of writing week to week. So I started a blog (this was 2005, pre facebook – everyone was doing it). Again, I can’t recommend enough the practice you get from having a blog or website that you regularly update. It’s a great way to find a wider audience and to become a better writer. Writing isn’t something people naturally excel at. You may have an innate talent, but you need to nurture that and develop it just as you would any skill. I nurtured my writing for a couple of years at my first blog and from that scored an entirely unexpected column in the Sunday Mail, Adelaide’s Sunday tabloid. It was my first paid writing gig, and I am enormously grateful for it even though I ultimately moved on 18 months later.

From there, it was a slow, hard slog trying to get other publications – some online, some print – to pay any attention to me. I began writing irregular pieces for ABC’s The Drum, which I still recommend to anyone trying to break into the writing business. It’s a baptism of fire in regards to online commenters and a good way to build a portfolio that has respected, professional credentials behind it. Eventually, I scrabbled together enough of a reputation that I was asked to write for Fairfax’s Daily Life. The wonderful team behind DL have been essential to my career progression in the last couple of years. They provided me with a regular, national audience and a platform to say the things that are most important to me. And gratifyingly, they proved to be important to a large number of readers too.

And so here I am, grateful, humble and hard working. Writing is nothing if not a slog. It isn’t glamorous and it certainly isn’t lucrative for most people. To write for a living, you must be prepared (and able) to write often and broadly. But if you can do that, and you have a voice people want to hear, you are in for a marvellous ride.

Do you have a favourite and least favourite thing about using social media, such as Twitter?

My favourite thing is that it’s able to connect you with people all over the world, whom you might otherwise never cross paths with. My least favourite thing is that it’s a time suck, and the illusion of availability means people (especially those who just want to fight with you) think they own that time and are agitated when you don’t give it to them.

Would you consider the internet & online environment as a platform that has empowered feminism and women’s rights, or hindered it?

Despite the pus laden boil that can be online feedback and bullying, the internet has absolutely empowered feminism and women’s rights. No longer will women be told that feminism is over, that no one cares about it any more. You can’t deny a millions of women connecting online and sharing their struggles and battles, both personal and political. Information is power, and sharing information empowers.

Any advice you’d like to give in regards to having an online presence?

Be authentic, but don’t give all of yourself. You have to keep some parts for you and the people you love. Don’t feel like you have to respond to everyone and everything. Remember that you only operate in a small corridor in the giant anthill that is the internet – what is causing strife and flame wars in your part of the colony is completely irrelevant to the broader scheme of things. Be realistic about what you can and can’t control – you cannot control the environment you’re in, only the way you respond to it. Don’t get involved in online stoushes unless it’s really, really important to you. Don’t bully. Go to bed proud of yourself, and never write anything you wouldn’t want your parents or boss to read.