Shiva’s story begins on the island of Fiji, in the poverty stricken town of Ba and it’s no coincidence that his upbringing has influenced the direction of his life, as well as his drive to make a meaningful difference. Here he shares his story, from humble beginnings to big ambitions – all in the hope of creating a better world for people in vulnerable situations.

Tell us about yourself – who are you, where are you from, and what are you passionate about?

My name is Shiva Gounden and I am a human first, Fiji-born Indian second and fortunate now to be an Australian. I’m one of four boys who was brought into this world by my parents, Sada and Kamla Gounden. I’m an identical twin, and while our visions of humanity are one and the same, our lifestyles and paths to that goal are completely different.

I lived for 15 years of my life in Fiji, completing primary schooling in the town of Lautoka, but am originally and proudly a product of the poverty stricken villages in Ba, called Wailailai and Navoli. My passion is grounded within my upbringing and extracted from my origins. I hope to be a tiny drop in the ocean that brings about change for those that are helplessly stuck in the circle of poverty, disaster and conflict. I have always believed and invested my life living by two quotes:

Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”


Muhammed Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.

When I am not doing that, my other passion is delving deep into learning different forms of art (I’m actually a closet charcoal artist!), photography, videography and anyone who knows me well, I’m an ardent sports enthusiast and also love astronomy and astrophysics.

What’s a typical day in your life look like?

Currently it’s a bit sporadic as I am in the middle of two different jobs, but let’s take a look at some of the work that I have been fortunate and grateful to be involved in. I have always tried to choose a career that is rooted in my beliefs and ethics. If I didn’t get into that career, I would volunteer full-time to make sure that my mindset and character was surrounded by those ethics.

Currently, I am employed as the Multicultural Youth Coordinator for Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) working on empowering young people. Then I am also part of ActionAid Australia‘s programs team where we focus on women’s development and livelihoods in international aid and development. Prior to that, I was working with Youth Connections at MTC Australia working with severely disengaged young people and creating meaningful programs using their culture, their strengths, their needs and amalgamating a whole lot of creativity to give it some oomph! In between all of the above, I have been working on delivering programs for Down Syndrome NSW, creating computer empowering programs for refugees, the elderly, the homeless and people with intellectual disabilities (Cyber Youth), entertainment for nursing homes, sports and value-based education programs in country Australia and internationally, post disaster and conflict relief and development, volunteering at Westmead Children’s Hospital, detention centres and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and finally creating multi-faith and cultural programs to usher a society of unity, love and humanity.

Wow, that’s a lot!! What’s been the most challenging experience in your journey so far?

Personally, I feel that the most challenging experiences have been the most helpful. Trying to get my first step into humanitarian emergency areas has been a difficult step, but the journey has shown me that I have a lot of gaps within my skill-set that I still need to improve upon and work towards. So I am continuously trying to educate myself, volunteering hours and hours, completing courses, degrees, you name it. I don’t compromise much on my goals; however, I may negotiate how I get there.

What were the most rewarding lessons?

The most rewarding lessons have definitely been taught by the people I have met within my work – be it voluntary or professional. The people I meet just constantly strengthen my passion for why I got into this field in the first place. I will always remember the simple smiles from the homeless I get to feed, the curiosity of people from refugee backgrounds touching the mouse of a computer for the first time, the uncompromising innocence of young children, the powerful voices of people who want to foster unity, the resilience of those whose houses are completely destroyed yet continue their life with love in their heart, and the earthly connections of the indigenous and culturally diverse communities. I am a sucker for all this!

What have been the biggest misconceptions? How do you feel we can address them?

If you are getting paid for this, it’s not really service.

The path that I want to take is often the least travelled. And although I would love to volunteer my whole life (not saying that I wouldn’t give everything to still do that), just like anyone, we as community practitioners do need to earn a living. Being paid for what you love is a bonus. Many within our fields have volunteered numerous hours and will continue to do so. If you have a good heart, you can make a difference.

In a way, this misconception is a bit difficult to completely explain. Let me put it this way: everyone definitely can make a difference and assist however, in the humanitarian field or even in the community sector, you still need go beyond having a good heart. It’s just like any other art – you need to train, you need to learn, and you need to continuously up-skill yourself.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking of pursing a similar pathway?

If this is your dream, aim for it and try and achieve it. I love the quote that goes something like this, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. I may be biased, but I do think Pacific Islander young people have the background, the natural nous and the personality to really succeed within the community sector. Just like every other field, it has its share of tough moments but with preparation, hard work and passion, it can be the most satisfying thing in your life. Our nations are prone to be impacted by severe natural disasters and poverty. It is our young people who can be the voice and inspirational agents of change. So my advice in short – go for it, complete your education and continue learning, volunteer wherever you can and spread your love to the communities and individuals that need it.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Margaret Sirrengo June 12, 2017, 5:27 pm

    this is truely inspiring

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