By JESSICA WHITING
Each year hundreds of young Australians travel to developing countries to help communities less fortunate than ours. But these passionate individuals are not building orphanages or painting school classrooms; they’re helping create IT systems, train teachers and up-skill nurses, physiotherapists and speech pathologists.
Through the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) Program, an Australian Government initiative, 18 to 30 year olds are supported on volunteer assignments of up to 12 months in Asia, the Pacific or Africa. These passionate Australians are placed in local organisations where they share their skills and knowledge with their colleagues. This ‘capacity building’ approach means that volunteers are contributing to change that will make a difference to these host organisations long after they return home.
Victorian nurse Kate Witcombe is one example of how AYADs can make a difference in developing country communities. Kate spent a year in Kiribati, a remote, Pacific island nation, training students at the Kiribati School of Nursing. In a country with no neurosurgeon, no intensive care unit and no CT scanner, Kate had to use her imagination to help teach her second-year nursing students.
“It was a year which saw me using a coconut instead of a skull in explaining what happens to the brain when there is increased intracranial pressure,” Kate explains.
“I taught the students how to use the nursing belts from their uniforms to control an arterial bleed in a hospital without tourniquets. I learnt to adjust my scope of practice to reflect what was available and found my hands-on basic nursing skills invaluable.
“I learnt as much from my students as I taught them, and in turn learnt about myself and my own ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment. I shared the lives of people I would describe as the happiest on earth who find something to smile and laugh about each day despite living in poverty.”
NSW information technology professional Riza de la Cruz recently completed a 12 month stint in Samoa, where she put her skills to good use by volunteering with the Samoa Law and Justice Sector Secretariat.
“My assignment was to build a sector-wide centralised crime statistics database,” Riza says.
“I was able to lead the project from start to finish applying my business analyst experience, test analyst experience and database experience as and when necessary.
“Volunteering is an enriching experience for those who are willing to learn the culture and are open to new experiences.”
The theme for this year’s International Volunteer Day is Young.Global.Active. which pays special tribute to the contribution of youth volunteers in global peace and sustainable human development. On 5 December, 2013 the global community joins together to recognise all volunteers’ commitment and applaud hundreds of millions of people who volunteer to make the world a better place.
The Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development (AYAD) Program is an Australian Government initiative which is managed by Austraining International.
For more information on International Volunteer Day visit www.volunteeractioncounts.org