Eileen Dixon travelled to Samoa in 2023 as a UniVol. Her assignment, as Sports Development Assistant at National Rugby League Samoa, saw her engage with local communities on topics such as the benefits of physical education and how to reduce gender-based violence. She enjoyed volunteering so much, she has just returned to Samoa for a further seven-month assignment. Below, she shares a peek into her experience.

Please tell us a bit about your assignment as a Sports Development Assistant. Who is your partner organisation and what work have you done with them?

My partner organisation is National Rugby League (NRL) Samoa. Their goals are to use rugby league as a vehicle to reduce the issues of high rates of noncommunicable diseases, gender bias, and gender-based violence that Samoan communities are unfortunately accustomed to, and increase participation in physical activity and rugby league for females and people with disabilities.

Through inclusive and proactive community engagement, they educate school students and communities on healthy eating, drinking and sleeping, the importance of physical activity, and how we can work together to eliminate gender-based violence.

I helped deliver the program, share the importance of healthy lifestyle choices and reduce gender-based stereotypes. As a woman, I worked mostly with the girls at the schools and was able to be a role model for them – which is particularly important because rugby league is male-dominated and many of the girls would otherwise be too afraid to try it due to the stereotypes.

I also took photos, videos and created social media posts which helped spread NRL's important messages to the wider community. 

Eileen (centre back) with some of her colleagues in Samoa.


What was your day-to-day life while volunteering like?

Every day was different. Most days began with work. During the school term, we would head out to primary, secondary, and disability schools and present our League for Life or Voice Against Violence program.

The League for Life programme involved teaching the kids rugby league's fundamental movement and ball skills, healthy eating, sleeping and drinking habits, and training the kids up for the end-of-term interschool competition.

The Voice Against Violence program was an educational and interactive workshop in which the kids learn about the different forms of violence, the high rates of gender-based violence, why it is an issue, and how to deal with it.

After work I would usually nap because of being out in the heat! Then I would either head to the local beach for a swim or go to training. I joined a netball club and volleyball club so these kept me very busy. It was a great way to make friends, keep active, and get involved in the community! Myself and the other volunteers also began playing badminton – again, a good way to meet people and have fun. 

Eileen Dixon


What were some of the highlights of your time in Samoa?

Definitely engaging with the kids and being amongst their energy. From team chants to singing to the celebrations, Samoan culture and the spirit of these kids was so cool to be around, especially the kids with disabilities – they sure know how to hype up the place! Also seeing the character development of the kids over time. A lot of them would start off shy, lacking skills and self-belief, then become confident leaders and team players who love the game. 

My other highlight was being able to explore Samoa's beautiful islands. We adventured around both Upolu and Savai'i, getting to see stunning beaches, magical waterfalls, and other gorgeous scenes. I was also lucky enough to have my friends and family come visit so got to experience these places with them too, which was amazing.


Tell us about your decision to head back out on assignment. What will this second stint involve and what are you looking forward to?

I really enjoyed the work I was doing with NRL Samoa and the island lifestyle. My workmates and the kids made work heaps of fun, and having already built the relationships with my colleagues and having an understanding of the organisational operations means that this year will be more work-focused, with an emphasis on how we can better the programs.

I also wanted to explore other career avenues and challenge myself and for that reason, I am returning as a volunteer for both NRL Samoa and Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG). My work with SVSG will be introducing and running a physical education and health program for the kids which I am excited for! Health education and participation in physical activity for the SVSG kids is limited due to lack of resources and knowledge, so I am honoured to be able to help them out as best as I can.

A local feast enjoyed by Eileen while on assignment.


What advice would you give to those considering a UniVol assignment?

I would say go for it! The work you do can have a great impact on the people you are with, and you also get the opportunity to experience a unique culture, explore beautiful islands and try new things.

For me, I finished university but did not know what I wanted to do career-wise. Rather than rushing into hunting for a 9-5 job, this UniVol assignment allowed me to explore a potential career path, where I got to coach a different sport, work with a range of different ages, learn new things from my workmates and NRL Samoa, and also offer my knowledge and expertise to them.

There may be challenges along the way, but looking back now, I am able to see that over those 10 months, I learnt a lot about myself and positively grew as a person. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I would recommend giving it a shot!