When Roi Burnett finished her Bachelor of Arts degree in 2017, she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do next. Serendipitously, she came across the VSA UniVol programme.

Roi became a Project Assistant with Teitoiningaina, a Catholic women’s organisation based in Tarawa, Kiribati. In her 10-month role she helped implement a nutrition project. Working with the project manager, she assisted with budgeting, planned activities with youth, visited project stakeholders, and improved computer and social media skills among other staff.

Roi loved her experience volunteering so much that she decided to return and volunteer for a second year. This time, her partner organisation was Aia Mwaea Ainen Kiribati (AMAK), the national umbrella organisation for women’s groups in Kiribati. Roi’s role involved working with AMAK to establish and coordinate youth activities.

From left to right: Aneta Mote (Former Programme Manager for Kiribati Health Champions), Roi, and Froline Tokataake (teacher for the Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition), all staff who were part of the nutrition project Teitoiningaina was implementing, in their project uniform.

In both roles, Roi says she met some amazing people. At Teitoiningaina, she worked closely with staff and the women who were participating in the project; she also visited communities along Tarawa and met with staff and leaders in the Catholic church. Meanwhile at AMAK, she grew close to the AMAK staff and worked closely with other youth organisations. ‘I got to meet lots of other youth leaders who were doing amazing things, often with limited resources,’ she says.

Outside of work, too, Roi found life in Kiribati very social. Outside of work, she spent plenty of time with friends and other volunteers. ‘Kiribati is a small place, but there’s always something happening,’ she says. Her time volunteering was particularly meaningful to Roi because she has family in Kiribati: ‘I got to spend time with my family, whom I don’t often get to see, living in New Zealand.’

Floating cinema with other volunteers; the group watched Jaws.

What were the highlights of the experience? ‘There were so many highlights!’ says Roi. ‘One of them was joining a local traditional dance group and getting to perform during the Easter dancing competition. I had danced growing up, but getting to perform in Kiribati was very special.’

Kiribati dancing group Roi (third from right) performed with.

Roi also helped organise a film screening fundraiser of Vai, a portmanteau film feature created by nine female Pacific filmmakers, that was hosted by the New Zealand High Commission. All proceeds went to AMAK, and Roi counts the experience as a real high point.

After completing her second assignment, Roi returned to Aotearoa to do a Master’s in Pacific Studies, looking at different narratives of gender and gender equality in Kiribati and how this plays a role in development. It was, she says, directly influenced by her time volunteering. To those considering applying for an assignment, she can’t recommend it enough: ‘Just take the leap and do it!’