The purpose of a Happy Box is not only to provide products to those in need but to spread kindness, happiness and love. It can be a ritual performed by the giver, who can know happily that they are making a difference, as there is a direct and intimate connection between the person donating and the person receiving.
We are so proud to partner with them, and wanted to learn more about Emma, why she started the initiative and what International Women's Day means to her.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you have grown up?
I am mum to two beautiful kids, a dog and three cheeky chickens and am lucky enough to juggle it all with my husband Ryan. We live on beautiful Gumbaynggirr Country and are so fortunate to have both the rainforest and the ocean at our doorstep.
I spent five years working, living and learning in remote communities in the Northern Territory as a teacher, youth mentor, family educator and leader in trauma-informed practice in the classroom. It was during this time I realised how difficult it was to access basic needs such as food and toiletries.
I had an incredibly privileged upbringing, one which entailed weekends spent on the beach with friends or in the bush making cubby houses. My childhood was simple and fun and free. My parents worked extremely hard to ensure my brothers and I were able to chase every dream and seize any opportunity that came our way.
The happy boxes project is a beautiful initiative, would you like to tell us what inspired you to start this initiative?
The Happy Boxes Project was not something I had planned to start. It happened very naturally and organically and grew to what it is today because of the beautiful humans all around Australia that have supported it over the years.
It all started when I was working in a remote community in the NT. This community had a population of 340 at the time. We were 460km from the closest Woolworths and 760km from the closest Kmart. The community was teeming with vibrant, beautiful, intelligent women both young and old and I had the pleasure of teaching some of them at the local school. After a few months it became evident that the girls were often experiencing trauma and as a result their friendships suffered. The community faced hardships due to a lack of services and resources, low employment opportunities and a housing shortage which left families no choice but to live in overcrowded situations. The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing states that overcrowded housing has detrimental effects on health and wellbeing.
Due to the school’s location we were lucky to see a school councillor once a term (for one day). So I decided to start a girl’s wellbeing program. We met once a week after school to hang out and chat. The girls would talk about their struggles and how they were feeling, we’d cook and do craft, play sport and dance to music.
As the group spent more time together they started paying more attention to how their friends might be feeling, and had a better idea of how to listen and support each other. Lifting each other up was their priority and gifting each other handpicked wildflowers, love letters and drawings became the norm. One day we decided to put all of these treasured items into a box. We printed off photos and decorated the outside. They coined it as their ‘Happy Box’. After talking about the importance of self-care and holding a pampering session, we decided that each Happy Box needed products so the girls could do self-pampering at home. However, this became difficult when the local shop charged ridiculous prices for basic toiletries. We had to get creative.
I reached out to my friends and family and asked them to hunt around their bathrooms for any beauty products that weren’t being used. And the response was incredible. Many were eager to help and started posting packages to us. The word spread to other circles of friends and the donations kept rolling in! We were gifted so many products we were able to fill a Happy Box for all the women in town and gave them out on International Women’s Day. But when the products kept coming and I was able to witness the joy it brought, I knew I was on to something pretty special, and hence the Happy Boxes Project was born.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
To me, it is about having a beautiful excuse to get together with the women in my life to revel in how incredible we are! A day to celebrate everything we stand for. The Happy Boxes was essentially born from an IWD event my students held at a women’s safe house.
We put together special Happy Boxes to gift to all their aunties, mothers and grandmothers. With each Happy Box that was gifted the girls simply said “this is for you because you are amazing and because you deserve it.” The result was a room full of women beaming from ear to ear.
However, the day does feel bittersweet as inequality is alive and well, particularly for First Nations Women.
Share a women's empowerment moment that has inspired you?
There are so many it is so hard to choose just one! One of our mottos is empowered women, empower women. I believe this to be so powerful when trying to find where to start when looking at the crippling disadvantage women face in our country, particularly those living in remote communities. If we look after women, then all women will benefit.
One story I will share is that of one of our directors. She used her Instagram platform to generate money for a young Aboriginal mother who was having a really tough time. She gave this money to the mumma with no strings attached, just wanting to help her get back on her feet. A month or so passed and the mum our director had supported messages her to say she had transferred the money back. She had used it to get herself on track, then saved the money to then repay what she had been given. There was no expectation for her to do this but she explained, she wanted to be able to pay it forward for the next woman that may need a helping hand. This story is so beautiful and inspiring and is a true testament to what it means to support women and the power of lifting women up.
Giving to others is a wonderful feeling that all should have the opportunity to experience.
How could you contribute your wisdom, expertise and ideas to empower others?
This year's International Women's Day theme is #breakthebias, tell us how can the Happy Boxes Project help influence this?
This year’s theme is a great one. I see bias against women every day, on the news, in our social media feeds, in our workplaces and even in families. Gender roles are so embedded that we sometimes forget to question a lot of them. Racism plays a massive role in the bias that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience day today. Even to the point that some of our directors are regularly followed by security the minute they walk into a store, purely because of their appearance. Imagine how infuriating this must feel, to have such negative assumptions made about you because of your nationality. We at the Happy Boxes are committed to talking about the systemic racism that is faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We regularly share empowering stories of the incredible, strong, compassionate and brave women who we support in an attempt to change the bias that may be placed on them by the wider society. We celebrate all the powerful and positive contributions they make to their communities and country.