December 5, 2013
As we approach Christmas and the season of giving, International Volunteer Day offers a timely opportunity to acknowledge the difference that volunteers make to the lives of refugees and asylum seekers living in the community.
Throughout the year, Settlement Services International’s (SSI) 340 volunteers provide practical support to refugees, such as learning how to use public transport, and putting them in touch with an established support network, to less tangible forms of giving such as offering a friendly face, a warm welcome, friendship and a sense of belonging.
“Our asylum seeker and refugee clients are vulnerable and isolated when they initially settle in the community. Our volunteers play an intrinsic role in helping people to settle more quickly and making lasting friendships,” said SSI Humanitarian Services Manager David Keegan, who addressed a gathering of around 65 SSI volunteers at Parramatta Town Hall today.
The face of volunteering is also changing with more people entering the SSI Volunteer Program, as well as other non-government organisations, to gain work experience in a variety of areas including client support and administration.
The 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics report “Voluntary Work. Australia”*, states that in 2010, more than 6 million people nationally volunteered as a way of making a contribution to their community. The volunteer rate for unemployed people represented 20% of the overall figure.
Mr Keegan noted that 75% of SSI’s volunteers came from a migrant background and the majority were refugees themselves. “About 100% of our refugee background volunteers join the program to gain work experience in an Australian workplace, as well as sharing their knowledge with more recently arrived refugees.
“The majority of our overseas born volunteers come from professional backgrounds in their country of origin. Volunteering is one way to try to overcome the barriers to finding work in Australia.
“Among our volunteer group we have an enormous pool of skills and experience including a former head of a government department, an architect, and a dentist to name just a few. We have volunteers who hold several degrees but those qualifications unfortunately are not recognised here and who are trying to find work in other areas.“We also have Australian-born volunteers who, despite holding qualifications, are finding it hard to break into their field of interest.
“Since the SSI Volunteer Program began in 2011, 76 volunteers have been able to find employment as a result of their volunteering experience at SSI. Almost 80 per cent of the housing services team are former volunteers.
“This group of people have language skills, formal qualification from TAFE but they also have special insight into the plight of our clients which makes them ideal for this role,” Mr Keegan said.
He thanked the volunteers for their valuable donation of time to SSI and for making the transition to life in Australia easier for refugees and asylum seekers.
As part of the SSI Volunteer Program, volunteers receive regular training to learn about the Australian workplace including professional boundaries, ethical and non-ethical behaviour, reporting and communication in the workplace.
*Based on results from the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted throughout Australia from August to November 2010