What? Volunteering? Why should I do that? With that amount of time and energy, why don’t I find a paid job and earn some money, or just have a rest?
Those are the questions I asked myself before I started volunteering. As an international student, I have been in Australia for 3 years. Here is my experience of volunteering in Australia.
My landlady is a very active pianist at her 80s. She has volunteered to play the piano at several aged care facilities with her piano partner for years. One week after my first arrival in Australia in 2010, they went to a nursing home to perform for the residents there, and I joined them as the “page-turner”. At the end of their playing, the life coordinator there asked me whether I could play the piano. I nodded and played a solo, after which my next playing was scheduled. That’s how I started my volunteering —- in a fun and relaxing way. The people I met are so friendly. It’s nice to share something with others, and the feeling of being appreciated is great! But I would say my understanding about volunteering then still remained at the surface level.
In my 2nd year, I got participated in the Homework Support Program at ACU, helping the kids from refugee background families with their homework after school at one on one. Fitting in the Australian culture takes time, and dealing with kids from a various cultures is even more challenging. It’s always hard at the beginning: the 8-year-old boy I helped is from Africa, and he was so shy that he couldn’t help pulling his cap lower to avoid eye contact whilst talking. I tried to include some fun reading materials and even games through the tutoring. Eventually he opened up and got more willing to learn and talk. Watching him learn and grows was so rewarding.
Last year I commenced my volunteering at Victoria AIDS Council (VAC), where all the clients are people living with AIDS, and my role includes driving clients for medical appointments, together with other team members organising social activities and home visits. I can apply my nursing knowledge and skills I learnt at ACU through the volunteering, and work within a very supportive team. During my volunteering at VAC, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity for two international conferences in regards to AIDS/HIV, from both of which I obtained a great deal of updated information regarding a broad spectrum aspects of AIDS/HIV. Usually the entry fee for such conference is significant amount of money, but it’s totally free for volunteers! Also because of the volunteer work I was doing, I got the opportunities to participate in the 2013 national campaign for volunteering, which is another brand new experience for me.
These are my volunteering experiences so far, which helped me open up and improve my communication, practice my current skills, develop more confidence and problem solving skills. It also offers me a sense of belonging. The connections built up in the volunteering link to more opportunities.
I am still volunteering and will continue. Individual achievement rarely occurs without a helping hand from others, volunteering is not simply ‘doing things for free’, you gain heaps as well.