The Volunteer Position and its Realities

23 May

I am pleased to introduce our new guest blogger Lyn Drummond, who is sharing today an apart from her article Volunteering in Chuuk, Micronesia. Lyn is a journalist who has also worked in public affairs with overseas Australian embassies in Brussels and Budapest.  She completed her Masters in International Relations degree at Macquarie University in December, 2010.  She has worked on two volunteer assigments, in Chuuk, Micronesia, in 2002 and in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010 with a group from Macquarie University.

I went to Chuuk, one of the four administrative divisions of the Federated States of Micronesia in the South Pacific Ocean, to work as a volunteer. I had been offered the 3-month contract through an aid agency which places business volunteers mainly in Asia and North and South Pacific countries for short term assignments lasting from a few weeks to a maximum of six months. I took three months leave without pay from my job and set off.  I settled into a small but comfortable room at the Truk Stop. Next door was the “office” where I worked, occupied by my client, who slept there, one or two staff, and me.

Resources scarcely existed. My employer had a laptop which she loaned me while she went overseas for five weeks, leaving me to figure out what she actually wanted me to do. Not quite what I expected from the job description which specified that all necessary resources would be provided for my work, including a computer and a client who would be present.

Back in Sydney, the job had sounded intriguing. It included training Chuukese women in public relations, holding relevant workshops, producing a newsletter, and initiating various gender awareness campaigns. The reality was quite different. I was led to believe my employer was a women’s network, but in fact it was only one woman who was campaigning to get into Federal politics

Upon her return from various trips my employer’s views about my role constantly changed. Ultimately I had no idea what was required. I could have returned to Australia immediately as the resource criteria had not been met, particularly after a vicious cyclone devastated the island a few weeks into my arrival, causing landslides which flattened many flimsy homes and killed hundreds, including some of my client’s relatives.

The aid agency asked me if I would consider returning to Australia, but I was challenged and involved by then, and wanted to stay. An imminent threat of cholera almost changed my mind but luckily the disease held off. I helped with cyclone relief work, delivering food supplies to the stricken islanders who had pitched tents beside the rubble of their homes, or where they used to stand—now buried under the landslides.

I returned to Australia from Chuuk sad that I had not completed the extent of the work I had hoped, but with potent memories of friendships, a greater understanding of my own and other’s fallibilities, and memories of the special excitement of unexpectedly finding things which meant so little back home—like baked beans and coconut cakes.

P.S. Lyn’s recently published book “Where to Go For a Seven-year Cycle” will be launched at Gleebooks on Saturday 25th of June at 3:30 pm.

Where to Go For a 7 year Cycle is a philosophical, often off the main tourist beat travel book based on the author Lyn Drummond’s seven years travel experiences working mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. The book’s title is based on a Jung philosophy that 7 years of our lives represent a particular cycle and she has just completed such a cycle.

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