Published on 21st November 2014
The Wellington sun shone on VSA’s annual congress on November 8, when 95 attendees gathered to hear about the past year’s work, share their stories and celebrate successes.
The keynote visiting speaker was Elizabeth Tongne, director of the Wide Bay Conservation Association (WBC) in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Volunteers Jenny and John Spencer returned from their assignment with WBC earlier this year, and joined Elizabeth in conversation with Hannah Stewart, VSA’s Manager, Programme Operations.
Elizabeth’s relationship with VSA began when she got to know former Papua New Guinea Programme Manager Camille Kirtlan, whose office was right next door. That continued when Hannah succeeded Camille in Papua New Guinea.
John and Jenny worked on human resource management and IT training. Elizabeth says WBC had previously had trouble retaining staff, and her workload was enormously high as all reporting fell to her and a lack of information management meant finding data took far longer than necessary.
Elizabeth says that now, field staff who were computer illiterate maintain their own reports, put together presentations and she is able to find information within minutes, rather than days.
WBC has just been audited, she said, “and it’s the first time in history we’ve had a very good audit report.”
Hannah said the work Elizabeth and the Spencers did together was exemplary of what VSA can achieve with its partners: Elizabeth knew exactly what she wanted from volunteers before they arrived, and “John and Jenny understood they were there to support, not to own.”
Gavin Kerr, Council president and Awi Riddell, Kaumatua, have both retired from Council this year, and Council Chair Farib Sos presented them with pounamu as thanks for their years of service. Awi spoke of the influence being able to travel with VSA had had on him, and Gavin remarked that after 44 years on Council, “The biggest gift to me has been VSA… I’ve learnt what I call ‘The Kerr Paradox’: The more you become the master, the more you become the servant.”
Presentations by staff and returned volunteers, including GHD’s Barry Potter, rounded out the day, which was followed by dinner on Oriental Parade, ideally placed to enjoy the city’s annual Guy Fawke’s Sky Show.
Jenny Spencer: “My life will never be the same after spending time with Elizabeth and the people of the Wide Bay Conservation Association.”
Barry Potter, GHD: “Real leadership development happens when people are taken out of their comfort zone and allowed to succeed there.”
Mike Stewart, returned volunteer: “There were teachers [at Vunapope International Primary School] who were scared to touch the computers. I got an email six months after I left to say VIPS is now the school that teaches the other schools IT. That means everything.”
Norah Riddick, returned volunteer: “St Francis said ‘be great in the little things’. My assignment was one of many in Bougainville, and I hope I was great in my little thing.”
Emily Stannard, returned volunteer: “Volunteering is life-changing. It’s made me more interested in other cultures, it’s made me kinder, it’s made me tougher. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”