Former volunteer Gerda Pentinga was ‘surprised and humbled’ by the reaction when she shared news of her partner’s passing. “I am living in New Zealand without my family and all the emails and messages have really helped me and made me smile. I feel so incredibly lucky,” she says. In this piece, Gerda reflects on the true value of volunteering.

Gerda Pentinga portrait

"What I have been given back is what matters": Gerda Pentinga

In mid-October my partner died after a few months dealing with leukaemia. I have always kept my private life separate from Facebook and the many contacts from my teaching career and volunteering in Kiribati and in Timor-Leste.

However I decided to publish his passing.  Much to my surprise a wave of care, gentle words and genuine interest in my wellbeing has come from all over the world, especially from Kiribati and Timor-Leste. The students, teachers and colleagues I have worked with over the past few years have made me realise that volunteering is not just a moment in a lifetime but a commitment that stretches out over many years.

Gerda Pentinga present

A parting gift from Kiribati

Not my work, but what I have been given back, is what matters. The realisation that the work we do as volunteers might not always be the easiest, it might not always show the results we would have liked, but what is returned to us by the people we worked and lived with is what really counts.

Their lives and their work continue in whatever circumstances, and we have been allowed to share that for a while before we come back to New Zealand.  When my life all of a sudden changed, they were there to help me, to soothe me and to show their care.

This would not have happened if I had not given time to VSA, because really that is what we do: we give our time. Ever since, I have been receiving back. I am humbled and very lucky.

Gerda Pentinga 1

A farewell from a Kiribati class.