Published on 24th May 2017
Volunteering abroad offers people a chance to become immersed in another culture, change lives, and have their own lives changed in return. But what about the spouses and partners who up sticks with their loved ones to somewhere where they may not even speak the language?
For Tony Bovill, his time in Timor-Leste as an accompanying partner has been a great experience: “You could write a book! It has certainly been a life-changing experience that I am so grateful to VSA to have had,” he says.
One of Tony’s side lines is his role as microlet guru. He’s become the go-to for learning how to navigate the sometimes baffling system of small vans that comprise Timor’s public transport system. “I travel the length of Dili twice daily and so using microlets is my mode of transport. Over the time that I've been here I've learnt where to 'change' from one route to another,” says Tony.
“From showing visiting relatives and friends around the sites of Dili, which I did by microlet, it’s grown to becoming a part of new VSAers’ induction and introduction to Dili. I've also taken embassy staff from both the New Zealand and Australian embassies and the spouses of New Zealand Police and Army people based here.”
Tony’s advice for would-be microleteers is plain-spoken: “Start by joining and alighting from the street level and not from the footpath – otherwise you're bound to crack your skull!”
Fortunately, his advice for accompanying partners comes in warmer tones. “I'd recommend enclosed sandals, a broadbrimmed hat, a camera and, most importantly a sense of humour, adventure, common sense and empathy and you'll love it.”
Mike Tate, who’s accompanying his partner Pauline Dennehy in the Cook Islands, agrees. “Get involved with the partner organisations, with the locals, and with the community. Put yourself out there. I’ve found sports, especially waka ama, to be a good way to get involved and meet the locals.
“I’d been a kayaker before I came here and when I got here I joined a waka ama team. They had an international event and a couple of evenings a week would do training. There was a junior competition between different schools that had a programme of six weeks’ prep, so I’d come down to the lagoon and coach kids from Tereora College,” says Mike.
“It was just about giving them the technique and then helping through the regatta over a couple of days. Working with the kids was a really good way to meet with locals.”