Why volunteers matter in our university community

Happy National Student Volunteer Week!!

This week we, like many other universities, will be celebrating our nsvw-logostudent volunteers and providing opportunities for others to get involved in volunteering within their local community. We’re incredibly proud of the huge impact that FedUni students make to improving campus life and making it a fun and safe space for all members of the university community to enjoy. As well as this, many FedUni students play an integral part of their local communities, volunteering with the CFA, local sporting groups, their kids’ schools, scouts, participating in charity fun runs…

The list is seemingly endless, and wThank you to all that have the heart and take the time to volunteer!e’re constantly surprised and impressed with the different ways that students are choosing to give back.

But why is this so impressive? What is it about volunteering that makes others think highly of you?

Simply put, volunteers create a better world. A world which values giving back over self-interest, which knows that money isn’t the only key to happiness.

For example, imagine our campus without student leaders and volunteers. Without student ambassadors to help spread the word about how great the uni is, there’d be no incoming students. Without PASS leaders, students would have a tougher time keeping up with their difficult subjects. And without volunteers, events like Gippsland campus’ weekly pancake brunch and all of the club & society events wouldn’t be possible.

So here’s to all the student volunteers at the heart of our university community. We would be much poorer for not having you!

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Volunteering – is it always a good thing?

I’m a pretty big fan of volunteering. I truly believe that volunteers have a huge impact on societies in terms of wellbeing, community health and the economy. Free labour is of course much cheaper than paying someone under the right circumstances. That being said, over the past few years I’ve been watching a new volunteering trend that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with:

Voluntourism.

I’m sure you’ve heard the word before and probably know people who’ve been voluntourists themselves. The stereotype of a voluntourist is a middle-class Westerner with a high level of education who pays a company to head over to a developing nation or a remote Indigenous community and help out by building a house/working in an orphanage/teaching English for a short period of time. Essentially wealthy do-gooders who want to get a more “authentic”  and feel-good experience out of their overseas holiday.

17a7338a-6733-4bd6-b75f-26ad6ec16fd5-620x372Voluntourism is summed up pretty well in this video by the campaign End Humanitarian Douchery, which aims to end irresponsible voluntourism.

Unfortunately, this idea that Westerners can always help out those in “less fortunate” nations no matter what our skills and as long as we can pay our way is not only wrong, but incredibly harmful to the very communities we are trying to help. It sees us fall back into the trap of colonial missionaries who felt it their duty to tame the savages and educate them in the ways of the civilised world, without considering the beliefs and culture of the community they were entering. In particular, by young foreigners paying to come and complete tasks such as building mud houses, they are unwittingly taking these jobs away from locals who may well be more qualified to complete them and who would benefit from the employment.

This also creates an unequal power dynamic between the volunteer and the host community, in which the volunteer has a large amount of power over the locals because the locals must be grateful for the “sacrifice” the volunteer is making for them.

Another key issue with voluntourism is the lack of checks and balances in place for volunteers with some agencies.

In Australia we place a huge emphasis on responsible volunteering, which often includes police and working with children checks and codes of conduct (including rules for social media) for volunteers. Yet, it’s pretty common to see photos of a voluntourist hugging a smiling African kid on facebook accompanied by pages of comments stating “omg soooo cute, ur such a good person!!”

If a stranger came into a preschool in Australia and starting hugging and taking photos of kids we’d probably call the cops. Why is it ok just because we’re overseas volunteering?

At the heart of the matter, I personally don’t want to be idolised by a young child in Africa, Asia or South America. And I don’t want them to idolise any other young Western guy who rides in as a two-week white knight.  I want them to look up to people from their own community, with their own values. I want them to see the fantastic things leaders in their own communities are achieving and think “I want to grow up to be like them”.

So does this all mean we can’t volunteer overseas or in remote Indigenous communities? Not at all!

But it does mean that we need to get smarter about HOW we volunteer overseas. We need to make sure that what we’re doing is good for everybody involved and not just ourselves.

To do this, End Humanitarian Douchery has compiled a checklist of 8 things to keep in mind when looking to volunteer overseas:

  1. Ensure that you won’t be taking/displacing jobs that could be valuable to the locals of the community.
  2. Assess the impact of the organization you’ll be working with
  3. Ensure goals are LOCALLY driven.
  4. Consider the sustainability of what the organization does.
  5. Question and be wary of organizations accepting un-vetted/unqualified volunteers (& and don’t let that be YOU!)
  6. Research management and transparency of the organization
  7. Consider implications of your presence in the community (and your departure)
  8. Question organizations that are spending disproportionate amounts of resources on catering to the volunteers

So volunteer away! But make sure you do it responsibly.

Voluntourism_homepage

What are your thoughts on volunteering overseas?

Have you had any experiences with voluntourism and its positives/negatives?

– Claire.

What’s your passion? Take The Pledge…

…How can you make change with that?

Everyone has something they’re passionate about – music, sport, social justice, reading, socialising etc. So what if you could use your passions to make someone else’s life better?

You can.

Volunteering is worth more annually to the Australian economy than the entire mining industry (Over $200bn), but the word can often conjure up images that really don’t appeal to everyone. Picking up litter and serving tea to the elderly are incredibly important contributions to society, but there is a lot more to volunteering and community impact than that.

What about:

  • organising (or performing at) a charity music festival?
  • joining (or starting) a march or protest about something you feel is unfair?
  • designing a website for a local Not-For-Profit organisation?

Or:

  • teaching a friend to cook or change a tyre?
  • Sharing a community campaign through social media?
  • Writing to say thank you to someone who has inspired you?

All these things make the world a better place and we want you to think about the ways in which you can have an impact on society during 2015. We’re asking all FedUni students and staff to pledge to do something new this year – to take action (big or small) that benefits others. If there is something you think needs to change, be the one to change it. If you care about something, use your passion to change the world because if we all expect someone else to do it, no-one will!

Want to Take The Pledge? Head to http://bit.ly/FedTakeThePledge.

If you’d like to find out more about how the Leadership program can help you to follow your passions, check out our webpage: www.federation.edu.au/student-senate or contact Luke: L.icely@federation.edu.au or visit http://bit.ly/FedTakeThePledge

Take The Pledge

Why Volunteer? Boosting Skills

For National Student Volunteer Week (NSVW) 2014, we’ll be publishing a series of posts answering that perennial question – why should I volunteer?

Today, we’re looking at the skills you can gain and develop through volunteering. I’m a big fan of skills-based volunteering – In my experience volunteers often come in two main ‘shapes’: Those who are passionate about a particular cause or sector, and those who have specific skills and want to use them for social good, but may not mind who they help. Obviously there are shades of grey between these two, and some people who are both, but let’s keep things simplistic for this one! I’m going to call the first type Mary, and the second type Cal.

Mates 24 hours logoMary loves helping young people – she benefited from the support of some amazing volunteers during her tough teen years, and wants to give back to the organisations that helped her, as well as using her experience to help others. She has been volunteering for ten years with a range of youth services including Headspace, MATES Mentoring and the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), and has taken on a number of different roles within those organisations – filling gaps where they needed extra help. Mary completed a Cert 4 in Youth Work whilst volunteering, and has found that not only have the things she has learnt in her course helped her to volunteer more effectively, but that the practical work she does through volunteering has benefited her learning hugely – placements are great, but there is no substitute for working in the field on a weekly basis. She finds that her experiences actually exceed some of the criteria for the Cert 4, and she is looking at developing her caseworking skills in the future – working with different agencies to meet clients’ overall needs more effectively.

finance1Cal is a finance guy – he worked in a bank in the year before Uni, and is now about to finish a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance. He is passionate about making money work for people, and just as passionate about helping other people to make great financial decisions. During his first year of Uni, Cal started applying for internships and work experience in the corporate financial sector, but repeatedly found himself up against hundreds of other candidates even for data entry positions. Realising that a) He only stood a slim chance of landing a role and b) Even if he did it would most likely be mundane work which didn’t utilise his skills effectively, he headed to the Uni Careers Service, who pointed him in the direction of the Volunteer Program. With their help, Cal found a local disability support organisation who were looking for someone 2 days a week to develop an ICT-based accounting system, to replace the mass of receipts and hand-written records they currently had. Cal found that what he had learnt in his first year enabled him to test, demonstrate and recommend different accounting packages to the board, who gave him the go ahead to train others across the organisation to use it. Not only did his resume look in better shape as a result, but he decided to spend the next summer working with another local organisation who, impressed by what they had heard about him, offered Cal the chance to join them as a volunteer financial adviser, meeting with the board on a weekly basis. When he leaves Uni, not only will Cal have an impressive array of high-level (for his age) experience on the resume, but he has pledged to do Pro Bono work for at least 4 days a month at a Not-For-Profit financial management organisation.

Media Cov SBV How can it work for youCal and Mary are not real people, of course, but they are based on real and realistic experiences of those who choose to volunteer – not only can you find a great volunteer role which uses your ‘day job’ skills and interests, but if you do a bit of research and talk to the right people, you can even find a role which enhances them.

For National Student Volunteer Week, we wanted students to have the chance to ‘upskill’ a little – We have run workshops on personal/social values and leadership and supporting asylum seekers/refugees in the community. We have also persuaded some of our awesome staff to volunteer their time to teach students new skills – knitting and playing the ukulele!

If you have an experience of a time when volunteering has boosted your skills in some way (could be for a job, or even a hobby), We’d love to hear about them.

If you’re a FedUni student looking for a volunteer role which truly uses your skills, or which will develop new ones, get in touch at L.icely@federation.edu.au.

– Luke

After LeadOn: Lead on!

LeadOnOn Friday, LeadOn Ballarat announced the sad news that they are closing down at the end of the year.

LeadOn have worked tirelessly for 8 years to engage the young people of Ballarat in community-based projects, and skills development. Amongst others, they have run the L2P program, enabling young people to gain Lead-On-Logo-NEW-2008-357x250hours of supervised driving for free and several public arts projects, which not only have breathed new life into neglected spaces, but have given budding street artists a legal outlet for their creativity. They have also run film projects, built websites for community groups and developed a youth-led magazine, and much more.

The closure of LeadOn could leave a bit of a hole in youth provision in the Ballarat area. So what other organisations provide opportunities for young people to engage with their community and develop leadership skills?

Byou_LogoBYOU: Ballarat Youth, run by the City of Ballarat, has a vision “…for young people in Ballarat to be actively engaged, valued and respected citizens, realising their potential”. They run a variety of programs, including the Youth Council, Zaque (a social support group for Ballarat’s GLBTIQ youth, planning and coordinating community awareness activities) and the Urban Diversity Choir. Head to http://www.youthservicesballarat.com.au/ to see how you can get involved.


hllen logoHLLEN: Highlands Local Learning and Employment Network,
works with young people, employer, training providers and community groups to provide a range of learning opportunities for young people, aiding transition between school and the workplace. For more info, go to: http://www.highlandsllen.org


YMCAYMCA:
The YMCA is a great opportunity to develop leadership skills, whether through their dedicated Leadership Workshops, or through volunteering to run their after school or holiday activities. www.ballarat.ymca.org.au

 

 

 


CMY_logotypeCMY:
Centre for Multicultural Youth provides services and advocacy for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. They connect with vulnerable young people, offering mentoring, sports and recreation activities and access to other local services, in order to foster better community integration. http://www.cmy.net.au/

These are just some of the awesome youth-focused community groups that we are privileged to have in Ballarat. They are always looking for motivated individuals to help them out, so get in touch! If you would like to suggest other similar groups that are not on this list, please post some details in the comments section, including a weblink!

– Luke