WORKS IN PROGRESS
◗ ◗ WORKING I N THE DEVELOPING WORLD: A REPORT HIGHLIGHTING THE OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE TO AUSTRALIANS KEEN ON ASSISTING EMERGING ECONOMIES REACH THEIR POTENTIAL
THE NUMBER of Australians interested in working overseas in volunteer roles is steadily increasing, according to Christine Crosby of Australian Volunteers International, a non- profit organisation that links skilled volunteers with a range of partner organisations.
‘‘ The trend is definitely upwards, although not necessarily smooth,’’ she says. ‘‘ There was a surge in interest after the 2004 tsunami and then a bit of a drop in the following 18 months, but Australians are currently displaying a lift in enthusiasm to contribute to international devel- opment through volunteering.’’ Ms Crosby notes that while most volunteers are young, an increasing proportion is over 50. ‘‘ We are seeing people who have accrued skills in their life, are financially stable and have successfully raised their own family,’’ she says.
‘‘ They see this as an opportunity to get out into the world in a way which is much more meaningful than a holiday. A sense of altruism remains the most common reason for volunteering overseas, closely followed by personal growth and learning.
‘‘ There is also the Australian sense of adventure that is a key motivating factor for doing an AVI assignment. Some younger people see it as an aspect of career development, and as a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained through university study.’’
Many volunteers are from fields such as education or social work, although there are also people with managerial, financial and legal skills. Nurses are well- represented, but Ms Crosby says that more medical specialists are needed, and more people with IT skills would be welcome. There is a huge demand for media and communications professionals in some countries.
There is a wide range of organisations, from professional to faith- based, that utilise the services of volunteers: AustCARE, Australian Business Volunteers, Australian Council for International Development, CARE Australia, Engineers Without Borders, International Women’s Development Agency, Oxfam Australia, TEAR Australia, and World Vision.
A program that is particularly active in community work overseas is the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program. AYAD, established 10 years ago by AusAID, the Australian Government’s international development assistance agency, sends about 400 skilled young Australians every year to work in the Asia- Pacific region.
Youth Ambassadors, chosen from around two thousand applicants, must be between the ages of 18 and 30, and are selected on the basis of skills, experience and temperament. The program provides financial support to cover living allowances and travel expenses as well as welfare support while on assignment.
One person who can testify to the value of the program is James Allsop, a Victorian who worked in Papua New Guinea in 2006 and 2007. Mr Allsop says he was a bit surprised to be selected for the AYAD program, although he notes that he was nominated for the program by his church group, which also provided an important link to community projects in PNG.
‘‘ I had always thought that the AYAD program
was more for people with advanced university qualifications, and I’m just a carpenter,’’ he says.
‘‘ But as it turned out, the trade skills I had proved to be very valuable. One project I worked on was the maintenance and extension of a local health centre, including the installation of water tanks, pumps and sinks, especially for labour wards.
‘‘ As a result of the work we were doing, some more funds - about $ 30,000 - were given for an ambulance shed, because the donors saw that things were starting to happen at the site.
‘‘ It will make a big difference to the local community. It was a good feeling seeing pregnant mothers who will benefit from having access to health care in the immediate future.’’
Mr Allsop also found himself in the position of trainer and mentor, even while he had to adapt to the working conditions and habits of the Papuans.
‘‘ When we were preparing a team for each job I always tried to get a mix of workers, some with building skills and others with absolutely none,’’ he says. ‘‘ It was a good way to ensure that two outcomes were achieved: the work got done and a broader range of people in the community learned new skills.
‘‘ There was no shortage of problems. One project was so isolated that the nearest source of supplies was 10 hours away by boat, so you couldn’t afford to forget anything. In most cases, there was no electricity available, so I had to transport a portable generator with me to power the building tools.
‘‘ The most valuable thing I came back with is the knowledge of what can be achieved with perseverance and hard work. That, and the recognition that skilled people can make a huge contribution in a developing country.
‘‘ Did participating in the program mean that there was a new problem every day? Of course. Was the whole experience incredibly challenging and difficult? Of course. Was it worth it? Of course.’’
Christine Crosby believes that the sense of having met and overcome challenges is a unifying theme for volunteers: ‘‘ You learn some special things about the world. And, along the way, you learn about yourself.’’
Australian Volunteers International will be conducting a volunteer recruitment drive and a series of information sessions in May. Further information is available from the website:
www. australianvolunteers. com.
Cultural contrasts: An Indian woman carries wood for fuel. Despite the subcontinent’s dynamic economic emergence, vast areas still rely on aid volunteers for vital assistance