Thoraya Abdul-Rassol was on a one year assignment as Support Officer with the Samoa Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC). She returned to New Zealand in December 2016.

Ever since I was young I’ve always wanted to volunteer. I’ve always wanted to help people in need and make a difference. So I went to Thailand in 2013 and volunteered for a month teaching English. A nice experience, but one of voluntourism, not volunteering. Upon my return to New Zealand I reflected. A lot.

Older now, I’ve thought about why I’ve always had this dream and realise that my reasoning, quite honestly, makes me extremely uncomfortable. What can I offer to help? Do I really think I’m the answer, the solution? What right do I have to say certain people are in need of help? Is my wanting to make a difference self-serving?

The answer? I don’t have any right to say who’s in need of help. But those who ask for help are those who will get it. I’m not the solution, but whatever the solution is, it has to involve those who are asking for help. I have no idea what I can offer to help. But I know that I’m willing to, and therefore, will help in any way I can. My wanting to make a difference isn’t to be noted for it, it’s to contribute to change I know is possible in the world. I want to make a difference because I know we all can.

Before I came to Samoa, a lot of people didn’t really understand what I would be doing and how it contributed to the bigger picture of development. So I figured, what better way to break everything down than in a blog?

How did I find out about this?

I majored in Development Studies and Social Policy at university and applied for Volunteer Service Abroad’s UniVol programme for Development Studies majors.

What am I doing here?

I’m volunteering at the Samoan Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (SASNOC) as a Support Officer. SASNOC is responsible for the advancement of sports and is the sole representative of all sports organisations involved in international events.

My assignment follows the VSA model, with the aim for me to transfer my skills so that when I leave, SASNOC staff will have better computer skills, know how to write press releases, understand social media and know how to maintain their web site.

How does this help?

A new CEO started at SASNOC in 2014. Since then SASNOC has been building on its sporting organisation by having all staff trained in Oceania Sports Education Programme (OSEP) courses at basic levels and making quality sports programmes widely available for everyone in Samoa. Relations with National Federations are being strengthened and maintained and capacity building of staff has begun. All staff are now trained in basic computer skills so that when people are away, work doesn't get delayed. 

How does this fit in with International Development?

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This Agenda sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Participation in sport is essential in Samoa to reduce non-communicable diseases and obesity. Non-communicable diseases are a leading cause of death in Samoa, and obesity rates exceed 50%. These diseases affect the health and productivity of Samoans, reducing the productivity of the working age population through illness, disability and premature death. An emphasis on sport will help reduce obesity and the current high national expenditure on treatment.

Simply put, my role here at SASNOC works toward Sustainable Development Goals #3 (good health and well-being), and #8 (decent work and economic growth).

Volunteering Perspective vs. Reality

So how does my perspective of volunteering match up to reality so far?

  • Those who ask for help, are those who will get it 

SASNOC applied to Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) for a volunteer to help them improve their online presence and develop the computer skills of the staff.

  •  Whatever the solution, those who asked for help need to be involved

SASNOC decided the assignment objectives, activities and indicators.

  •  I’m willing to help, and therefore can help in any way I can

I have computer and social media skills that can be transferred to the staff.

The important part of volunteering to keep in mind is, your desire to help has to support what your partner organisation wants from you. You need to build good relations with your colleagues to see what works best, and most importantly, give them ownership. You are not there to do the work for them. You are there to help support in capacity building so that the organisation can build on your assignment after you are gone.

So will this experience be different to my voluntourism experience in Thailand? It seems so, but only time will tell how my dream of volunteering will shape up.