I'm holding a foreign aid forum in the Griffin Centre at 12.30pm today (details). In that spirit, here's a column I wrote recently for the local Chronicle newspaper.
Overseas Volunteering Benefits Canberra Too
Some kids who grow up with parents in the military refer to themselves as ‘army brats’. As a child whose parents worked on AusAID projects, I like to think of myself as an ‘aid brat’. Living in Banda Aceh, in the north of Indonesia, I had the experience of being the only white kid in the class, appreciating the generosity of local villagers, and seeing the indignity of poverty. As your federal MP, they’re memories I regularly draw upon.
On 28 September, I had the chance to farewell the latest crop of Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development on behalf of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. The AYADs are leaving to work for a year in a developing country. Headed for countries such as East Timor, Cambodia, and the Solomon Islands, they’ll be doing everything from teaching school children to building houses.
Having helped raise living standards abroad, our overseas volunteers will come home to enrich Australia. This tradition goes back to the pioneer of Australia’s international volunteering programs, Herb Feith, who worked in Indonesia in the 1950s. A Jewish refugee from Austria, Herb was the kind of person for whom volunteering was part of a life fully lived. In Indonesia, he rode a bicycle and ate simply.
Returning home, Herb wrote to the Australian Prime Minister and Indonesian President suggesting the establishment of an international volunteering program. In 1952, when the bilateral agreement was signed, Herb was just 22 years old. Later on, he was active in campaigns to abolish the White Australia Policy, and to encourage deeper engagement with Asia. I like to think that Herb is one of the reasons that my eldest son attends a primary school where he will learn Indonesian.
If you’d like to volunteer abroad, check out www.ausaidvolunteers.gov.au. Whether you’re a tradesperson, an entrepreneur, or fresh out of school, there’s a volunteering opportunity that’s right for you.
When volunteers return, all of us in Canberra benefit from their new skills and ideas. One of the things I love about Canberra is our internationalism. Ours is a city where your local school’s Mandarin teacher may have worked in Shanghai, your local travel doctor may have practiced in Hanoi, and the worker who supports newly arrived refugees may have lived in Rangoon. International volunteering supports the maxim ‘Charity begins at home – but doesn’t end there.’
Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser.
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