otswana, Kiribati, Cambodia, Vietnam,
Tanzania – they’re the sort of places
people put on their bucket list as a must-
see travel destination, but not everyone who
goes there is just passing through. Thousands
of people are heading for places like these every
year to give a helping hand to local communities
and contribute to projects from environmental
conservation to health care.
Australian Volunteers International (AVI)
began when university graduates were inspired
by a delegate at a world conference asking for
technical experts to work in Indonesia. But
he also asked for something else – he not only
wanted them to share their knowledge, he also
wanted them to participate in community life
in what then was a newly independent society.
That was back in 1950 and the first student
took his placement as a translator in 1951.
Many others followed his footsteps and today
AVI offers several volunteering programs,
including the government-funded Australian
Volunteers for International Development
(AVID), and there are currently about 400
volunteers working on projects in 35 countries.
AVI matches assignments to skilled applicants
who take up their placements for periods up to
two years – and while the initial concept may
have appealed to university students in the early
days, now the average age of AVI volunteers is
more likely to be 40-something.
Tuli Stacey is typical of many applicants
approaching AVI today.
“[Volunteering] is something I wanted to do
since I first went to university. I came across
an ad for a pre-school teacher in Vanuatu once
but it just wasn’t the right time so I kept that
in the back of my mind for a while. I really
enjoy trying new things and I thought it would
be a really good opportunity to combine my
professional background with that desire to be
immersed in a different culture at the same time.
“It took me a while. I saw that ad probably
about 20 years ago and it was always brewing in
the back of my mind until the right time and
the right opportunity came up,” she says.
That opportunity did come up and Stacey
spent a year on the Pacific island of Kiribati as
a teacher trainer at a special school for children
and young adults with disabilities. By then
she had qualifications and experience in early
childhood learning and special education.
Stacey saw the assignment advertised on
the AVI website and applied. The process is
just like getting a job – including interviews
and personality assessments – to make sure
candidates are the right fit for assignments
and the adjustments of living in often remote
Stacey found her role broadened once she
arrived in Kiribati and she was thrilled. “Initially
my role was to work with the teachers of
children who were hearing impaired but when
I got there it expanded to working with all the
teachers at the school, building knowledge,
working with kids (from prep to young adult-
age) and determining what sort of strategies and
resources we could use.
“It was more than I expected and different
to what I expected in a good way. It was an
amazing experience as well because you are
working in local communities, you’re on the
ground, every day is different, you don’t know
what to expect every day and your role becomes
very varied so you become involved in a lot of
things you don’t think you would be part of.
“For example, I was invited to work with
other NGOs and volunteers on child protection
policy and I probably wouldn’t have had
the opportunity to do that otherwise. You
experience so many different things that you
wouldn’t get in your normal everyday life.”
Stacey also found other benefits. “It helped
me in problem solving and made me more
resourceful. When you don’t have access to
all the resources you have at home you say,
‘what can I do instead’ and I think that’s what
I brought back home. You think differently;
outside the box.
“I got quite a culture shock coming back to
Australia, rather than the other way around.
Things like traffic noise and watching TV with
all the ads blaring at you [took a bit of getting
More people are finding that travelling for a cause is an enriching
| BNE July/August 2015