Sandy portraitNelson returned volunteer Sandy Stephens was delighted to be awarded life membership at VSA’s AGM last November for more than 50 years’ involvement in development work.

Sandy on assignment in Fiji 1969

Sandy on assignment in Fiji, 1969.

‘’It was a great honour,” she says. “It came out of the blue because I didn’t know the VSA branch people were working on it behind the scenes.”

Her first stint overseas was captured in this 1969 film of VSA volunteers in the Pacific. Sandy, originally a nutritionist, is shown 6min 20sec into the film talking to her students about the food value of different vegetables.

A World Food Day speech at the FAO in Rome 1988

A World Food Day speech at the FAO in Rome, 1988.

Living far from home in pre-internet days was a very different experience, she says.  “Volunteers in Wellington used to write letters to us, send us Listeners and newspaper clippings. We used to call them ‘grandmothers’. It was very kind because we had really been thrown in the deep end and left to fend for ourselves.”

After the coup Liberia 1980

After a coup in Liberia, 1980.

On her return to New Zealand, the Department of Foreign Affairs offered Sandy a position with the Colombo Plan in Malaysia. After four years there, she went on to spend a further 30 years out of the country, working for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the UNDP.

Now retired, Sandy has served on the Oxfam Board of Trustees and VSA Council. She chairs the board of a trust that awards tertiary education scholarships for those experiencing financial hardship, drives a van for Age Concern, and is on the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust board, coordinating volunteers who plant along the Abel Tasman track.

Sandy life membership acceptance

Sandy accepts her life membership at VSA's Congress, November 2018.

Sandy’s interest in VSA has continued unabated from her school days when she first heard the organisation had been set up. Over many years she’s rotated between chair and secretary of the Top of the South branch.

“We’re mainly social. We love getting together and sharing stories. We’ve just had a dinner to let a newly selected volunteer for Vanuatu meet five of us who have already worked there. These are always great meetings of minds and memories.”