The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View - By DEREK PARKER

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

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