Dana MacDiarmid is now a VSA Council Member. How did she get there and what did her volunteer assignment do for her?

Any VSA volunteer will tell you the assignment you embark on isn’t always quite the one you end up doing. But for Dana MacDiarmid heading into Timor-Leste to do a communications assignment led to a longer stay than she had anticipated, a change of career focus, and to building skills that are now helping many Kiwis when they are at their most vulnerable.

Dana now works as a senior emergency management advisor with the Planning team at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Put simply, her job is to make sure that people caught up in national emergencies have the support they need.

She says her time in Timor-Leste was a turning point in her career. “I did a one-year VSA assignment with a grassroots NGO called Empreza Di’ak which focused on communications.

“I did do some of the traditional marketing and communications work - writing plans and strategies, managing social media as well as a lot of
training, but I also got some great extra exposure into things like social enterprise and small business development, gender-based violence
programs and empowerment.

“The unexpected bit was that at the end of my assignment, and because of the relationships I’d built during it, I got an opportunity to do a six-month maternity cover contract at the New Zealand Embassy in Dili
as a local staff member.”

“The embassy role was covering for the Deputy Head of Mission - it’s a very small mission and so the work included a bit of everything; it was managing the finance team and then it was trying to source a brand-new work car and then managing the residences and then policy advice and meeting with businesspeople or politicians...

“So it was really broad and one piece of it was doing a revision of the contingency plans for emergency evacuation. When I came back to New Zealand and wanted to do something new I was able to draw on that experience to shift into what I do now in peacetime and during emergencies.

“That’s basically coordinating and working with agencies to support people that have been affected by national emergencies and provide them that emergency relief and safety net when they need it. Working to ensure we have more resilient communities and provide support to those in need really aligns with VSA’s values.

“I’m also on the VSA Council so I’m getting to see how other volunteers are also contributing back through public service here - the work just keeps giving and giving. I think that’s really special and really good for our volunteers and also for Aotearoa New Zealand.”

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Dana with colleagues at NGO, Empreza Di’ak, in Timor-Leste

VSA is currently seeking nominations for its Council. If you would like to know more about what this means please click here.