Volunteers come from all walks of life but one thing they have in common is a generosity of spirit that drives them to give up their time to help vulnerable individuals.
This week marks National Volunteer Week, which provides a chance for the wider Australian community to reflect on the efforts of volunteers and celebrate their contribution.
Dozens of volunteers give up their time each week to help Settlement Services International (SSI) support refugees, humanitarian entrants and people seeking asylum. These volunteers provide practical support to assist individuals to engage with the community, achieve independence and realise their full potential in Australia.
Some of the activities volunteers engage in include one-to-one mentoring, community orientation, language support, and social events.
According to volunteer Natalie Tsirimokos, no day is exactly alike.
A media and advertising professional by trade, Natalie has been using her marketing and digital expertise to help budding refugee entrepreneurs establish or expand their own businesses through SSI’s Ignite Small Business Start-ups.
“We work directly with talented new arrivals, supporting them to achieve meaningful economic and social participation,” she says. “Working in media and advertising, I used to say, ‘every day is so different’, but here, every hour looks different. As soon as a client comes in, I’m focused and immersed in a new story, new culture, and new challenges and ideas. It’s humbling.”
For volunteers like Naila Yousid, volunteering is a way to give back to the community. A former refugee herself, Naila now helps to introduce other new arrivals to life in Australia and uses her experience to encourage refugees to pursue their goals here.
“When I sit with them and ask, ‘how are you?’, if I see that they are not feeling good, I tell them, ‘no – look at me!’ I tell them about my story and that I am new like them but I was encouraged by other people to do something good for myself,” she says.
Some volunteers enjoy the experience so much they decide to pursue a full-time career in related fields.
One such volunteer is Charlotte Mullens, who has spent more than a year volunteering with SSI’s Community Engagement program, which runs events and activities designed to help refugees and people seeking asylum to connect with their peers and others in the community.
Charlotte has helped to mentor young refugees and is a regular supporter of SSI’s Community Kitchen. However, the highlight of her volunteering experience has been assisting at Playtime multicultural playgroup, which gives young mothers the opportunity to bond and learn English in a relaxed environment.
“One of my fondest memories is helping the mothers to crotchet and finger knit. They really loved it and I realised that sharing such simple things really does make a difference,” says Charlotte, who is now studying community services and hopes to work in the field of community engagement.
Volunteers are one SSI’s greatest assets, and National Volunteer Week, which runs from May 9–15, is a great opportunity to say thank you for everything they contribute.
Click here to find out more about volunteering with SSI.