Published on 25th February 2014
This year, world leaders will come together to plan the next stage in creating better lives for people in developing countries. The Millennium Development Goals – the last set of targets, set in 2000 – come to an end in 2015 and what is clear moving forward, VSA CEO Gill Greer says, “is we must do development differently.”
Volunteering is a cornerstone of the process, she says. The gains already made under the MDGs would have been impossible without international volunteers.
But it’s not just about achieving those targets. The benefits of volunteering “ripple out across communities and generations”, Greer argues. VSA volunteer Ken Lewis, who recently embarked on his assignment with The Nature Conservancy in the Solomon Islands, says, “We volunteers are selected because of specific skills and background knowledge. Those are important, but just as vital are less tangible assets like being able to see a problem in the context of a different culture, showing humility, laughing at yourself.”
In just the last few months, we’ve seen ample evidence of the ripple effect at VSA: a new school was opened in Santo, Vanuatu, thanks to the success of the Millennium Cave Tours, which VSA has partnered for two years and sent five volunteers. Simon Donald, who recently returned from Vanuatu, helped to set up a cutting-edge disaster response system, but also left a set of remote, spread-out islands more connected than they’ve ever been.
In Timor-Leste, a series of VSA volunteers have worked with Empreza Di’ak, an organisation lifting communities out of poverty by setting up small businesses – while connecting with remote villages and conserving ancient, traditional skills.
Yet, as UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has noted, “Volunteerism is a two-way street. Even as volunteers help generate positive change for others, their own lives are often transformed by the act of volunteering itself.”
Rosie Paterson, a UniVol who recently returned from Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, agrees. “The rewards of my assignment far outweighed the challenges. The empowerment of VSA entrusting a young graduate to go and build capacity and share skills was amazing. This has given me practical skills to go on to a career in development.”
Watch this space for more news of how VSA is connecting people and transforming lives across the wider Pacific and Timor-Leste.