Published on 25th June 2014
Several VSA staff members are undertaking research this year to broaden our understanding of the work we do and continue to improve the way we deliver our programmes.
While we know a lot about the benefits of volunteering to the communities we work with, VSA Recruitment Manager Carolyn Mark says “we've always been interested in the benefits to New Zealand, and how volunteers’ experiences might impact on their working lives back here.”
Researcher Sheena Hudson, who completed her PhD on the motivations of VSA volunteers and who has acted as a VSA selection adviser for a number of years, will undertake the study as a volunteer.
The research, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, will involve interviews and surveys of a cross-section of our returned volunteers.
What makes it different to other similar research, Carolyn says, is that employers and family members of the returned volunteers will be interviewed too, giving a fuller picture of the benefits to volunteers themselves, as well is their employers and communities in New Zealand. Carolyn says we’re “really looking at the wider impact.”
VSA Communications Manager Lesley Smeardon will oversee another study looking at the added value volunteers bring to their host communities above and beyond their assignments.
We know that our volunteers do so much more than their job while they’re on a VSA assignment. As they are living in the community, sometimes for as long as two years, they tend to try to get as involved as they would do back in New Zealand.
Our volunteers in the past have coached rugby teams, taught English at the weekends, assisted the local fire service, and helped communities where they are volunteering make connections with groups back in New Zealand. North Otago Rugby Union for example, donated a whole set of rugby kit to the Bulls rugby team in East New Britain thanks to returned volunteer Bill Kingan.
Equally, the work that our accompanying partners do while their partner is volunteering is immense, tapping into their considerable professional experience. Programme Manager in Timor-Leste Karen Horton comments, “Partners are always getting involved and encouraged to volunteer themselves with local groups where their skills can be used. In Timor-Leste alone we’ve had writers teaching English and blogging, artists running drawing classes for young artists, and professional photographers taking on small projects for other local NGOs.”
Lesley says: “The research we are planning to conduct later in the year is about trying to quantify and qualify this ‘added value work’ of volunteers and their partners. We know it’s being done on a daily basis but we haven’t looked back and seen just how significant this contribution is over the past five years. It’s one of the key things in my view that gives added value for in-country partners and the communities they support.”
This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of VSA's magazine Vista.