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International Volunteer Day - how Aussies can make a difference

Larissa and two girls from the Peace Balika home

Do you want to make a difference overseas but don’t know how? On the cusp of International Volunteer Day, read about how your skills-set could be useful to developing communities around the globe.  

Many Australians are unaware they have the knowledge and experience needed to tackle poverty overseas. From speech pathologists to education professionals and lawyers, there is no end to the skills that can have an impact at the grassroots level in developing countries.

Men and women from all walks of life are currently lending their expertise to local people and organisations through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

An Australian Government, AusAID initiative, the Australian Volunteers program deploys skilled Australians to live and work in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the overseas aid program.

Take Zoe Davidson, a marketing professional from North Sydney.

Zoe is volunteering with in northern Thailand with The Mirror Foundation, a grassroots organisation which works with local ethnic groups known as Hilltribe communities. The foundation established a handicrafts project after noticing the rich Hilltribe cultural was beginning to be lost.

Zoe’s role is to help the women working on the handicraft project develop branding, marketing and public relations skills so they can sell their locally made products and materials. Project workers receive a fair wage, benefit from learning new skills in business and production and take English lessons.

“During my time here I have seen so many improvements. I love my work and the women I am helping!” Zoe says.

Younger professionals can also contribute their skills through the program’s youth stream, Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, which provides volunteer opportunities for 18-30 year olds.

Child protection worker Larissa Rossen recently returned from volunteering in Nepal. There, she worked with the Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) which advocates for children’s’ rights and fights against child abuse.

Larissa helped the organisation to introduce clear, simple and easy-to-use tools for staff to use when making caring for children at risk to ensure the best possible outcomes. It is hoped that the tools and subsequent manual Larissa developed will be used as a resource for other child protection organisations across South Asia.

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Larissa with the CWIN girls dressed for a dance performance in Pokhara, Nepal

“It has been an incredible privilege to work towards better outcomes for Nepalese children alongside the staff of CWIN,” Larissa says.

“Their passion to ensure the ongoing safety and wellbeing of the children they work with is inspiring.”

Australian Volunteers positions, or assignments, are created based on the needs of people in the countries in which the program works. Assignments are centred on sustainable development – with a focus on training and advising local people – which is called ‘capacity building’. Those participating in the Australian Volunteers for International Development program can be assured their volunteer position is not replacing a local person’s job.

To successfully apply for an Australian Volunteers assignment, applicants need to demonstrate they have the necessary skills and experience to fulfil the assignment, just like applying for a job in Australia.

Other criteria include flexibility, willingness to exchange knowledge, and an understanding of the challenges of working in a diverse cross-cultural environment.

Australian Volunteers are well supported prior to, during and after their assignment to ensure their safety, well-being and that they can meet the outcomes of their placement.

The program provides pre-departure training, and covers costs for medicals, vaccinations, comprehensive insurances and flights to and from their host country. In-country, volunteers receive an initial orientation and some language training, support throughout the course of their assignment, and living and accommodation allowances.

Volunteers can register to attend a debrief in Australia on completion of their assignment, which provides an opportunity to reflect on their experience and help with resettlement.

This year’s International Volunteers Day (IVD) theme is ‘Celebrate volunteering’, encouraging the global community to join to celebrate the commitment and impact that volunteers bring to making the world a better place. Why not celebrate by considering if your skills and experience could make an impact?

To find out more about Australian Volunteers for International Development visit www.ausaid.gov.au/volunteer