I spoke in parliament today about some terrific Canberrans who’ve spent their time volunteering in developing countries.
International Volunteering, 21 March 2013
On 19 February I held a morning tea for volunteers in my electorate who have worked with various international development programs. They shared their experiences and stories of the rewards, frustrations and challenges of volunteering in a developing country.
Roger Butler worked with the National Narcotics Board in Indonesia and was involved with the health and drug therapeutic community division. An important aspect of the division was to support those undergoing drug rehabilitation programs, including many in and recently released from Indonesian gaols. He worked to reduce the prevalence of HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis with this population.
Tracie Ennis worked as a data manager with Women’s Empowerment, an NGO based in Jakarta, in Indonesia.
Tom Tanhchareun was based in Hanoi, Vietnam. He worked with a United Nations agency in tackling human trafficking.
Lisa Brown worked with an organisation that supported children who survived by having to scavenge from the city dump in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia. She told the group stories about the extreme deprivation of those children and how, upon her return to Australia, no smell can any longer assail her nostrils.
Edward Boydell was based in Hanoi in Vietnam. He worked on empowering Vietnamese youth on environmental issues and climate change through an NGO called Live and Learn. The aim of Live and Learn is to help create a space for Vietnamese youth to be vocal in public debate. They support movements created by young people to apply for funding with various NGOs. Edward also helped organise a youth forum discussing environmental issues.
Although each of the volunteers expressed moments that they described as ‘wanting to pull your hair out’, they all recommended volunteering as a positive experience, making a difference to overseas communities and in their own lives. They spoke about how their experience had broadened their world view and helped to put their own nation into a global context. They felt that the strong commitment of volunteering overseas helped them to better evaluate the views and opinions of others and to develop strong negotiation and problem-solving skills.
Over the last 45 years the Australian government has supported more than 15,000 Australians as volunteers. People intending to volunteer can now go to a single access point through the AVID program—www.ausaid.gov.au/volunteer. The smiles and laughter around the table at my volunteering morning tea were testament to the positive experiences of volunteering and I would encourage any Australian of any age who is thinking about volunteering to seize the opportunity.