In November 2018, Finn Egan took over VSA's Instagram and Facebook pages to post his reflections on his assignment. If you missed it, here are his posts in one handy space.
Hi everyone and welcome to what will be a week of takeover by yours truly. My name is Finn and I was a UniVol with VSA at Kabaleo Campus, Divine Word University, in Kokopo, East New Britain, from 2016-17. To say I fell into volunteering would be an understatement, but it's been one of the most rewarding things of my relatively short lifespan and has led me into experiences and opportunities to support people in a community in Papua New Guinea that I love. Join me this week as I tell you the story of a guy, a girl, some Sisters, a bunch of friends and a REALLY long walk with refuge at the end.
I'm lucky enough to be in Tonga this week and to have had the opportunity to spend the better part of Sunday with the VSA and Australian Tonga volunteer group. The palm trees and baking heat are bringing back memories of my time in Papua New Guinea. The thing that strikes me is that the same hospitality greets you, regardless of country or how long you've known each other. Julie sums it up brilliantly: "we're all different but there's a commonality of thought that we all seem to have". Tina and the gang are warm and interested to hear about us, and it's cool to hear some of the wonderful community work they are involved with. Great to meet you all and great to hear about the skills you're all passing on to people! Reminds me of my own gang back in PNG.
One of the most rewarding achievements following my time as a volunteer was in supporting the establishment of the Kokopo Meri Saif Haus (women's refuge). The Catholic FMI Sister's convent had made a commitment to supporting women and children in violent situations and had identified the need for training in gender-based violence and a safe space for people to be protected. Laura Barnett, a VSA volunteer and good friend, suggested we use my Te Araroa Trail journey as a means to raise awareness and funds, and an idea was born! From August 2017 - February 2018, I walked from Cape Reinga in the far north of New Zealand to the southernmost point at Bluff. Through our combined efforts, and support from a number of areas, we raised just over $24,000 for the refuge, to begin construction of the buildings. Whilst not enough to cover the full costs, it was enough to bring the work of the FMI Sister's to a greater audience, and VSA was kind enough to go on and fund the remaining building costs for the project. We often look at the tangible things, like buildings, but it is important to acknowledge the foundational knowledge and internal networks that were developed alongside this effort. In particular, the tireless work of Laura and Sisters Gerarda, Kostika, Willie and Serah gave me constant purpose and belief in what has turned in to an amazing initiative.
Pictured: 1) Laura, and Sisters Kostika, Gerarda, Willie and Serah 2) The beginning of my Te Araroa journey at Cape Reinga, 3) Paul Bluett, one of our many generous donors, presenting Sister Willie with a donation for the Saif Haus, 4) Me, significantly skinnier and fitter, at Bluff (celebratory beers not included in pic), 5) part of the new Safe House.
As a final post for the week-long Instagram takeover, I wanted to take the opportunity to share what my UniVol assignment with VSA has led me into. At present, I am a Programme Activities Assistant at Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, where I am particularly involved in Humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery work all around the world. The skills and connections that I was able to further develop during my time in Papua New Guinea have been incredibly helpful in relating to the perspectives of the partners I engage with in my day to day job (at no expense to myself, might I add!). I'm privileged to again be travelling in the Pacific, this time representing Caritas at the Polynesian Logistics Cluster in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. They've already roped me in to present to the delegates on stock mapping, through a new programme that has only recently been developed (seems I can't escape the teaching even in development). My experience as a UniVol has also been an amazing source of practical knowledge for me in my ongoing work towards a Master's of Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. I often find myself being able to give context to the concepts we discuss and am able to better input on their relevance to what actually happens in real life. None of this would have been possible without the foot in the door I got through my VSA experience, and it's been a privilege being able to share my journey with you all this week. Kia Ora tatou, Malo aupito, Tenk yu tru olgeta. Em tasol (that's all).
Pictured: 1) Graeme, Red Cross NZ, and myself present on humanitarian stock mapping at the cluster workshop, 2) The Caritas team at the cluster workshop; Myself from Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, Salote from Caritas Tonga and Rosa from Caritas Samoa, 3) Sneaky beach selfie for good measure