Australia

The migrant volunteers helping to contribute $290 billion to our 'social good'

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The one-in-three adult Australians who regularly volunteer are being acknowledged as part of National Volunteer Week, including those from migrant communities.

From an Ethiopian camp to a Melbourne asylum seeker centre, Akuol Garang understands the refugee experience more than most.

Ms Garang was displaced for the first 11 years of her life before settling in Australia.

Now in a bid to give back, the Sudanese refugee splits her time between her studies in human rights law and providing free legal advice at Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. 

The 26-year-old said she was inspired to volunteer by her mother who always found time to help others despite working and raising eight children.

"Through her experiences and the volunteering work that she’s done she inspired me to go out there and do as much as I can to give back to the community that once gave back to them,” Ms Garang said.

Akuol Garang's family walked from Sudan to Ethiopia.
Akuol Garang's family walked from Sudan to Ethiopia.

Volunteering Victoria says one in three Australians volunteer in some capacity, making an estimated annual contribution of $290 billion to our economic and social good.

But tracking the unpaid activities of Australia’s migrant and refugee communities can be difficult to quantify.

While many participate in organised, registered voluntary activities such as street outreach and emergency services, others donate their time to less formal community-based roles, such as cultural sewing and cooking classes.

“It is a little harder to put some numbers on that because a lot of people don't even consider it volunteering they just think it's helping out. It's what they do. They help out their neighbours they help out their friends in their community,” said Marijke Fotia from Volunteering Victoria.

In Melbourne’s north, a highly-organised group of young volunteers of Somali heritage meets weekly to discuss their contributions. Their work varies from sports coaching and tutoring to legal advice and event organising.

Akuol Garang volunteers her time.
Akuol Garang volunteers her time.
SBS News

Youth worker Mahad Abdirahman says the unpaid work is rewarding.

“It could be something as small as setting up a bank account or it could be something as big as going before the courts seeking support,” he said.

“Being from Somali background I see the value of volunteering. Circumstances can always change, and that very person that you're helping one day could be the person helping you on the next."

Ms Garang says when she graduates, she'll continue to split her time between paid and unpaid work.

"Maybe become a refugee lawyer and to be able to use the knowledge that I’ve got through my volunteering to help everybody else that’s been through the same shoes as me and give back to the community," she said.

National Volunteer Week takes place across Australia from 21 to 27 May.

 

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