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BNE July/August 2015 |

11

used to]. When I went shopping I had a bit of a

moment because I just wanted to choose a tub

of butter and there were so many choices. In

Kiribati there was one.

Stacey believes that without the experience

she had in Kiribati she wouldn’t have had the

confidence to do the job she has now as head

of special education at a primary school in

Narangba in Brisbane’s north. “Over there my

role was to build the capacity of others and

that’s what I’m doing now with my team and

classroom teachers working with kids with

disabilities.”

Media communications specialist Sophia

Walter spent two years based in Gaborone in

Botswana as a volunteer in the AVID program

and says the experience challenged her creativity.

Walter, now 30, worked on an environmental

conservation project and travelled widely in

her role, tasked with educating communities

about activities to improve human/wildlife

co-existence. Her audience was primarily rural

communities – some so remote she could be

on the road for two days just to get to villages.

Working with the local team she travelled with

a drama group, filmed a documentary and

organised media conferences. In the most rural

areas no one spoke English and even with a

translator Walter found she had to “renegotiate”

the way she worked. “It really opened my mind

to working out new ways to find a solution.”

Walter says she was “pretty excited” and

“lucky” to get to remote areas of Botswana but

its biggest impact on her has been the cross

cultural understanding she came home with

and the close friendships she formed while

she was away. “I don’t think I saved the entire

environment in Botswana, but I do think the

personal connections I made while I was there

made a difference. I am still in touch with at

least five friends and colleagues I met there.”

University student Aislinn Healy, 22, agrees

that the most rewarding thing she got from

her volunteering experience with Projects

Abroad has been the bonds she developed with

other people, including volunteers from other

countries and the people she met on her project

in Tanzania near the city of Arusha.

In contrast to AVI, which covers volunteers’

expenses, including travel, and pays a living

allowance, volunteers signing up with Projects

Abroad pay their own way for the duration of

their placement, which can range from two

weeks to 12 weeks or more. In Healy’s case she

lived and worked at Faraja Women’s Centre for

seven months in a gap year after leaving high

school. Today, three years later, she continues to

sponsor two of the children she worked with at

the centre, helping to fund their education at a

boarding school, and she is in regular contact

with the school to make sure they are OK.

“I think about them all the time. I am proud

that I am sponsoring them to go to school

because they probably wouldn’t be able to get an

education if it wasn’t for volunteers who help to

put them through school,” she says.

Faraja was established to help women who

are victims of poverty and abuse, many of them

pregnant as a result of their abuse. It supports

up to 60 women for a year at a time while they

take classes in English and practical skills such as

sewing and cooking so they can get jobs and take

temporary work experience placements. Healy

helped care for the children during class time

and in whatever way she could at the centre. The

experience helped her decide what she would

eventually study at university – a double degree

in nursing and public health – and she hopes to

be able to put that to use in developing countries.

In the meantime she’s been back to Faraja for

another two-month ‘placement’.

“It was great to go back. A lot of the girls had

changed because they only stay there for a year

but I did get a chance to see several I had worked

with before. A lot had got jobs or opened their

own shops, which is what they had wanted to

do, so it was good to see them happy and see the

impact that Faraja had on their lives.

“Looking back, my contribution was just

being a friend to them, especially as they were

so vulnerable at that time, and they really just

wanted someone to talk to. Through their

English classes and me learning Swahili we

managed to form a bond and that was the

hardest thing to leave … the friendships I had

made with so many people.”

Clockwise from opposite page: Volunteers

Frances Konz and Carrie Hou in Cambodia

at a community workshop for schools; a view

of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania; Tuli Stacey

learning the local dance in Kiribati; the view in

Kiribati; volunteer Peng-Sim Eng at a special

school in Vietnam; a variety of projects

are available in Vietnam; Alex Conroy on

assignment in Zambia; mokoro boats on the

Okavango Delta in Botswana. All volunteers

in these pictures took part in assignments

through Australian Volunteers International.

See

www.australianvolunteers.com

and

www.projects-abroad.com.au

“Every day is different,

you don’t know what to

expect, you experience

so many things that

you wouldn’t get in

normal everyday life”