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Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Volunteer interviews

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Josie Orr

Why did you decide to volunteer overseas? Who or what influenced you to volunteer?
Basically I was looking for something to do after I finished my degree, (BA in Human Geography) that was related to what I had studied, so it just came at the right time really. Also was interested in traveling but wanted to do more than just go as a tourist. Growing up with both parents having done volunteer assignment made me aware of what an awesome experience it is!

jorr4How did you hear about the volunteer programme?
Through Otago uni, and a talk where VSA came and talked about it (but obviously heard of VSA, and knew about it well- (mum and dad use to hold VSA branch meetings at home when I was growing up.)

Who did you work for and what kind of work did you do?
I worked for an organisation in Port Villa, Vanuatu, called Wan Smolbag Theatre, a not for profit organisation, set up by two expats 21 years ago. They started off with just 15 voluntary actors, and now hire 100 full and part time staff. The organisation uses drama to inform, raise awareness and encourage public discussion on a range of contemporary health, lifestyle, environment and governance issues.

Five years ago they opened their youth centre, where I worked. The youth centre was established to provide out-of-school and unemployed youth who basically who had nothing to do with informal classes, workshops, and activities e.g. hip hop dance, nutrition, playing guitar, sewing, agriculture and sports. Enrolment wasn’t just for youth, with the youngest enrolled member 3 years old and the oldest 53! So activities catered for all ages.

I worked as a literacy teacher for the pikininis (children that couldn’t afford school would attend the centre), although I also helped out with other activities run by the youth, helping planning, setting up and running activities. Also helped run the kids sport programme, taught English, taught computer skills, helped out in the office, writing reports, organising field trips for the kids, basically an all round helper for whatever was needed which meant every day was different!

What were the biggest issues facing the young people you were working with over in Vanuatu? How did you work with them and the other volunteers/locals to deal with these problems?
Unemployment is a major problem for Port Vila, as many youth from the outer islands and rural areas move to Port Vila in the hope to get paid work, but with such high demand and very little jobs available, many find themselves unemployed with nothing to do, which leads to petty crime and youth turning to drugs etc. which are both becoming big issues. STIs along with teenage pregnancy is another major concern.

Basically through the activities the centre runs we were directly responding to the needs of the youth, giving children, youth and adults a chance to gain new skills, gain experience and participate in new activities. A lot of the activities would involve sexual health awareness activities, along with specific workshops held on such topics. We also provided English lessons, and helped out youth with job applications etc.josie-orr_portrait1

School fees are really high (especially as many families live a subsistence lifestyle) and hence the need to provide informal education to provide these kids with a chance to get at least some education and the steeping stones needed in life!

What is the most important lesson you learnt from volunteering?
That no matter who we are, where we live, or our backgrounds, culture or language, we really are all the same, we all experience the same situations in our lives and we can all learn from one another! Friendship is one of the most important things you can give to someone, and receive especially when you are living in another country away from those you know!

What were some of the biggest benefits to you? What did you get out of the programme?
Best experience of my life! Living in an amazingly beautiful country, and learning things I never could have really understood without having lived in Vanuatu for a year or make friendships with people who have lived there all their life!

Do you intend to volunteer again? Why? When? For how long?
Yes I hope to volunteer again – hopefully in the next two years! Ideally for 6months or more. I believe volunteering is the best way to travel. You get a real feel for the country you are visiting/living in and getting to know the locals means you get see the ‘real’ life of where you are, more so than just visiting as a tourist. As well as being able to give back and contribute (if only in a small way) to the lives of the locals.

What would you say to those who are thinking about or planning to go on an overseas volunteer experience?
Go for it! Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and that you yourself are ready for it – it can definitely be challenging at times but if you go with the right attitude, an open mind, prepared to be flexible and patient, go with the flow and expect the unexpected, it really will be an unforgettable experience. And make sure you go with a reputable organisation that will look out for you if need be.

Kathy Impey

Why did you decide to volunteer overseas? Who or what influenced you to volunteer?
I had a long standing interest in Africa generally but especially South Africa (SA), my parents had lived in SA before I was born and left at the peak of apartheid when it became too problematic for them to stay (my father was teaching at a ‘black’ township school at a time when it was made illegal for white people to enter the townships) so I grew up attending anti-apartheid marches and surrounded by stories and photos of SA. On finishing high school I studied human geography and social work at university with the intention of gaining skills and knowledge that would enable me to travel to Africa.

How did you hear about the volunteer programme?
In my second year at university I had cornered the head of development studies and asked him “How can geography get me to Africa?” and he told me about the UNIVOL programme which at the time was only just being negotiated, then I had to be patient for another year until I had the chance to apply.

kathy-impey_portrait1In the articles I read about your overseas experience you said that you helped out with an activities centre in Mdantsane. Who ran the activities centre and what kind of work did you do for it? Was all your work based around organising activities?
I did a huge range of work, much of it not what I had expected to do, and most of it was just a case of getting involved and doing whatever needed doing. Officially I was a junior programmes advisor, so I worked with a team of local youth volunteers and a small core of local staff to plan, co-ordinate and run after school activities including like soccer, setting up a girls self-defence programme (I have a black belt in TKD and a sports coaching back-ground), swimming, netball, rugby, games and physical activity sessions for the elderly womens’ group, the local community run pre-school, and primary school aged children. I also facilitated coaching workshops and youth training, and occasionally got up at 5am to pump up 137 soccer balls (essential workshop preparations).

The non-sports side of the job ranged from making 500 luncheon sandwiches for children’s sport festivals, teaching basic computer skills, building a shack style kitchen out of sheets of corrugated steel, compiling training manuals, helping local youth put together CVs and job applications, and acting as a mentor and role model.

What was your biggest reservation/fear going into the volunteer programme?
That I wouldn’t actually have much to offer by way of skills or knowledge, I felt very inexperienced and worried that I might seem arrogant as a young outsider arriving there and expecting that I knew enough to be able to help. As it was my fears were silly, I had very supportive colleagues who were so accepting and positive from day one, although there were inevitably some misunderstandings, they let me learn from my own mistakes and I learnt to be guided, but also to speak up when I felt I could contribute. It was a combination of learning to watch and follow, and also when to step forward and take initiative. Most of all when a job needed doing it was important to just get in there and do it.

How did the reality of your experience differ from your initial expectations?
My expectations were fairly accurate having studied SA a lot and traveled there as a child, the last time was about 2 years after the end of apartheid. Going back I was surprised how extreme the racial segregation remained, and how much your skin still defined how you were perceived and what was expected of you. I had perhaps been a bit naïve, but being a white foreigner (and young, female, blonde etc) meant that I was very conspicuous in the townships and when I traveled. I got used to being stared at and questioned about my life, for many people it was the first time they had been spoken to as equals by a white person, so there was a lot of curiosity and attention.

Breaking down racial barriers and making human connections was one of the most rewarding aspects of being there, watching the kids in the preschool move from being initially scared of me, to climbing all over me and treating me as a huge novelty, then by the end of the year, just giving me a hug, saying hello and carrying on as normal – that transition to seeing me as just another person was a huge shift.

What is one of your fondest memories of the experience?kimpeysa1
Working with the young children was amazing, their interest and warmth was very genuine and often after a training session we would all sit down on the dusty field and just talk, the girls in particular would ask all about my life, if I had a boyfriend? Did I miss my family? What was NZ like?

On one very hot day after a soccer session I was huddled in the back of the ute with about 13 of the girls and they were singing songs in Xhosa which is the local click based language. It was incredibly hot and crowded, but we couldn’t open the windows or all the clouds of red dust would come in. Every time the car hit a bump we’d have to put our hands over our heads so we didn’t hit the ceiling too hard. As we drove the girls next to me (the two who spoke the most English) were telling me stories about the places we went past, where the church used to be, where their uncle lived etc. In the middle of all this one of the girls leaned over and hugged me and said something to the other girls that made them laugh a lot. So I asked her “U thini?” (What did you say?) and she explained that she had just told them “this white girl, she’s just like us”, in that moment the acceptance of those girls and seeing them realise that we were far more alike than we were different was extremely touching.

What sort of relationships did you develop while on the programme? Do you still maintain those relationships?

I have remained in touch with some of my colleagues and friends in SA. In five weeks time I will be going back to the same area for 3 months to do research for my Masters thesis. More than anything I can’t wait to go and visit and see everyone, I have been back in NZ for almost 1 ½ years, but I still miss SA every day.

One thing that is quite important to me is that here in NZ often people hear only about the bad things in SA, the crime, the poverty etc, those things are true in some ways, but hearing about the positive side of SA is something that happens a lot less, and I try to draw on my UNIVOL experience and speaking opportunities/interviews to get the message across that despite its problems and bad press, SA also has a very positive story to tell, and I hope this comes through in my answers to your questions.

Project Friendship

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

In August, people across New Zealand will be buying $3 colourful, hand-woven friendship bracelets and wearing them to support the work of Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA) volunteers in developing countries This year Project Friendship is focusing on youth. Money from each sale will support VSA volunteers who are working with young people on issues such as children’s rights, HIV and AIDS and the environment.

Find out how you can get involved at:

So you want to be a voluntourist?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Lily Morrissey


Photo by L Shave @ flickr

In our times of cheap air travel, ergonomically designed backpacks, and heightened social consciousness, increasing numbers of young people from western countries are mixing their travels with volunteer work.

Voluntourism has exploded over the last few decades, with the voluntourist market now peaking at US$2.6bn per year. Like shopping for a new shampoo, would-be volunteers can peruse thousands of online Volunteer Sending Organisations (VSOs) for programs all over the developing world. From rescuing miniature monkeys in the Amazon to teaching orphans English in Somalia, voluntourist programs have been lavished with praise from outlets as diverse as CNN and National Geographic Traveller.

Why the love affair?

The general consensus to date has been that volunteer tourism is good for everyone because it:

  • Fosters selflessness and cultural awareness
  • Brings people from different parts of the global village together
  • Brings revenue to the developing community
  • Utilizes volunteer labor for underfunded projects
  • and Promotes ecological sustainability.

One participant in the US based Earthwatch Programme which toured conservation projects of central America sums it up in her voluntourist diary:

‘Volunteers obviously provide free manpower to the scientists, but more importantly, upon our return home, we can raise awareness of the issues we witnessed with our own eyes’.


Photo by bertrudestein @ flickr

Sounds great! So what’s the problem?

You are a child living in an orphanage in Thailand that is dependent on the funds and labour of voluntourists. They come to teach you English for several weeks each, comically and monotonously repeating the same introductory lessons over and over. You have a perfect grasp of ‘Hi, how are you’, and ‘My name is’, but you never have the same teacher long enough to get any further. You don’t understand these people, and you have learned not to get too attached. Why do they all keep trying to teach you the same thing? And where are they going in such a hurry? Unfortunately, I didn’t make this story up; according to Pierre De Hanscutter, president of SJVietnam (a youth non-profit VSO) it’s being written into chapter one of thousands of lives right now. His is just one of a number of critical voices which are raising themselves above the top of the warm and fuzzy clamour. These voices say that voluntourism can result in:

  • Programs which ignore locals’ real wants and needs
  • Work being left unfinished or done badly due to voluntourists lack of skills
  • Voluntourists taking jobs from locals and creating dependance on foreign donors
  • Feelings of differences being reinforced rather than broken down because of the obvious gap in wealth and power between volunteers and people they are ‘helping’.
  • Voluntourists coming away from the experience feeling as though they have ‘done their bit’ and don’t need to do any more, either in their own country or elsewhere.
  • The presence of volunteers changing the local culture and economy so that communities lose their culture and traditions.
  • Volunteers feeding corrupt practises by handing cash over to dodgy organisations.

Development volunteer and journalist J.B MacKinnon worries that voluntourism is becoming a ‘consumer experience’ catering to the needs of the paying volunteer. After a quick glance at a couple of VSO websites I could see his point. Rather than talk about the needs of communities and matching skills to positions, they promise an easy ‘adventure experience’ so you can be ‘doing something different’ and pursuing ‘personal development’. The alarm bells started ringing: exactly who is this industry working for?

volun-money1For a few enterprising people, it’s working very, very well. Many voluntourism programs come with a hefty price tag attached, and few programs have transparent systems of accountability. Take Sarah’s account of her experience in Ghana.

She and 17 others each contributed AU$1500 to build toilets over six weeks, pooling a budget of $27,000 in a community where the average villager earns $5 per month. ‘So imagine how I felt’, she writes, ‘when I discovered that our accommodation was not paid for, the utilities were not paid for, the builder’s time was unpaid, and the only thing our budget seemed to be used for was to purchase a couple of effluent pipes…So, what happened to the $27,000? You tell me… If you contacted a Chief or Assembly Man in a local community in a country like Ghana…you could use your $1500 to help those who really needed it’.


You Can Save the Planet

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

by Jacquie Wines and Sarah Horne

This book introduces and explains massive global problems that need to be addressed now. It’s packed full of useful things you can do to make your homes, schools, and neighbourhoods more environmentally friendly. Including:planet_photo1

  • How to save water around your house.
  • How to persuade your local supermarket to reduce the number of plastic bags used.
  • Ways to organise your household recycling that really work.
  • How to spread the word on saving the planet.

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

Ship for World Youth

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

What is it?

The Ship for World Youth (SWY) is a global youth exchange program in which nearly 4,000 people from 62 countries have participated. Organised by the Japanese government, the purposes of the  program are:

- to broaden the global view of Japanese young people

- to promote mutual understanding and friendship between Japanese and foreign youth

- to cultivate the spirit of international cooperation and the competence to practice it

- to foster young people with the capability of showing leadership in various areas of international society

The Ship sails each year, carrying 120 Hapanese youth and 150 youth from other countries. Living together with youth from different countries on board the ship for 50 days, participants engage in discussions and lectures by specialists as well as arrange various events such as national presentation and club activities. SWY visits eastbound regions (Oceania, North, Central and South American regions) and westbound regions (Southwest Asian, African, and Middle Eastern regions) countries every other year.

How can I get involved?


Each year, the New Zealand Government waits to hear if it has been invited to participate. If so, it posts the invitation out to all youth organisations that have registered interest with the Ministry of Youth Development. It also puts the application form on the Ministry of Youth Development web site, and the New Zealand Ship for World Youth Alumni Association ‘NZSWYAA’ will also have the application and information available on this web site.

After the invitation has been received, which will give the number of positions available, the dates for the program and the route, the Ministry then invites applications from young people involved in youth activity, you don’t have to be member of a youth organisation, but you need to show that you are actively involved with youth. After that the Ministry and the SWY alumni will short list the applicants, and members of the Alumni will interview those on the short list. The successful applicants will be notified of their success, and will begin to prepare for the program. You can also email us at the NZSWYAA to find out more if you have specific queries.

Free Hugs Campaign

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

‘Free hugs’ is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann,  a man whose sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives.  In this age of social disconnectivity and lack of human contact, the effects of the Free Hugs campaign became phenomenal.

Freehugs troops are now mobilising all over the globe. From Sydney to Helsinki. From LA to Tokyo, from London and Paris. To find out when a free hug event is organised in your area, check out the campaign website here.


Monday, March 16th, 2009


Gomad is a volunteer networking site ( created by ‘GOOD’ magazine to connect volunteers around NZ and bring change.

Once signed up you can network with other like-minded people and find volunteer opportunities round NZ.

World Vision

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome extreme poverty and injustice. World Vision New Zealand currently supports more than 70 projects in more than 25 countries.

How can I get involved?

  • Sponsoring a Child
  • Getting involved in a Charity Challenge (biking round Cambodia or climbing Mt Kilamanjaro are a few examples)
  • Volunteer to help run World Vision programmes in NZ
  • Participating in/running a 40-hour Famine
  • Donating directly
  • Getting involved in World Vision advocacy campaigns
  • Joining/starting a World Vision group at your school or university

VSA (Volunteer Service Abroad)

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
VSA recruits and sends skilled New Zealanders to work as volunteers with communities in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.

How can I get involved?
Volunteer overseas! VSA has formed an alliance with Students Partnerships Worldwide (SPW) and is recruiting now for 18-28 year olds looking for a 9-11 month experience in Africa. You will go through a training programme, where you’ll learn new and fun ways of teaching messages about health and the environment. Then you will be posted to a community with local volunteers, where you will be supported by SPW to work on one of three key themes: health (and in particular HIV/AIDS education), the environment, or community development.


Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
TEAR Fund is a Christian humanitarian organization set up to provide long-term sustainable solutions to the desperately poor and lift them out of poverty with dignity and hope.

How can I get involved?
Become an advocate – Advocates help to promote, support and organise TEAR Fund programmes in their local communities, churches, small groups, youth groups and at events. By becoming an advocate you reach out to the poor and oppressed through practical expressions of love. You also meet like-minded people, concerned about social justice.
Sponsor a child – TEAR Funds Child Sponsorship programme is Christ-centred, child-focused and church-based.
Donate - To any of TEAR Fund’s programmes, including micro-enterprise and development projects and disaster response.
Join an Insight tour – TEAR Fund run regular trips to their projects in developing countries These trips broaden your understanding of poverty and its solutions, and are very inspiring.

Join ‘Uprising’ – ‘Uprising’ is the youth arm of the Micah Challenge - a global campaign to mobilise Christians against poverty. As of September 2008, Uprising is still in its infancy.. but check out the TEAR Fund website to see where it’s at.