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Almost six million Australians are involved in volunteer work. And nearly 30 per cent of all volunteers were born overseas.
There are many reasons why people choose to give it a go.
Finding work in a new country is hard; you have little experience in the country and few connections.
By volunteering, you can gain work experience in Australia that will interest employers. You’ll also meet new people and make connections. An employment opportunity could arise where you volunteer, but either way, you’ll have something valuable to add to your CV.
Gail Kerr heads Access Community Services, where 10 per cent of her staff started out as volunteers of the organisation. She says it’s not uncommon for volunteers to become employees.
“We currently have 43 volunteers in the last year, who gained employment from their volunteering contributions and experience, so the stats add up," says Kerr.
"But it’s also that socialisation, and many times getting a job are those networks – it’s who you know, the links and the networks that people can offer, just developing that competency to use language more competently in a workplace, just the empowerment and feeling like you’re doing something meaningful and contributing, and that you actually see that you have something to offer."
You can use volunteering as an opportunity to learn a new skill or even as a way to change career and get your foot in the door in a new industry. It’s also a chance to improve your English. Even if you speak it well, there are so many Australian idioms and expressions that you can only learn by speaking to other Australians.
Giving back and happiness
Being able to give back is an amazing feeling. Renkimi Bithang, a former Chin refugee from Myanmar is a volunteer at Access Community Services where she helps newly arrived migrants and refugees find their bearings.
She knows how it feels to arrive in Australia and feel lost, so she wants to help out other new arrivals, "Coming from a refugee background, I faced a lot of challenges."
"We struggled a lot when we just arrived here - not knowing anything about the country and not knowing the language and all those stuff.
"So I struggled a lot when I start my high school here, so I want to help out the new arrivals here.”
And not only will you be doing a good deed by volunteering, you’ll also feel better yourself.
A report by The International Journal of Person Centred Medicine reveals that 96 per cent of volunteers report feeling happier from their charitable work.
Another research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that people who volunteer feel like they have more time because they feel more capable, confident and useful.
And that’s not it! Volunteering is even good for your health. American studies have found that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates and lower rates of depressions later in life compared to those who don’t volunteer.
Knowing your rights
One of the beauties of volunteering is that you can find something that fits what you want. You can volunteer several hours a week or only once for a special event. It can be for a religious group or a community organization. It’s your choice.
But no matter what you pick, it’s important that expectations are clear from the start and that your rights are respected.
Sabina Nowak from Volunteering Queensland says the rights of volunteers are similar to those of workers. “They shouldn’t be set off to do work without training or without knowing what’s safe - so their safety is important the same way as if they were going off on a paid work site."
"They should have insurance coverage by the organisations.
"We also have a code of practice that says volunteers shouldn’t work more than 16 hours a week, so if they’re being asked to work more than 2 days in a volunteer role, they definitely have the right to say no.”
The new series of Struggle Street offers a raw and unflinching portrayal of struggle and hardship in Australia.
Struggle Street is a two-week event airing Tuesday-Thursday from 28 November at 8.30pm on SBS and then streaming at SBS OnDemand. Watch the first episode now: