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Australia is a giving nation with almost six million people involved in volunteer work. Research shows that 96 per cent of those who donate their time for the greater good find more happiness in life. But for jobseekers struggling to find work, volunteering can often lay the foundation for future employment.

By
Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Friday, December 1, 2017 - 18:26
Duration
6 min 48 sec

Elsie Prieve was hopeful she could easily get a job when she first came to Queensland five years ago. She’s fluent in English, Japanese and Tagalog with years of experience in aged care, hospitality and customer service. But finding work in Australia proved harder than she expected.

“Why is that I have experiences and things like that why I cannot get a job? And you know…the frustration that you know you can do it but no one give you the opportunity.”

It’s not uncommon for volunteers to become full-time workers says Gail Kerr who heads Access Community Services - ten per cent of her staff were former volunteers of the organisation.

She decided to join local NGO Access Community Services as a volunteer receptionist. Doing unpaid work is a foreign concept to some of Elsie’s friends who initially doubted her decision.

“And I told them and they question, of course, especially, you’re doing the work and you don't get paid, but for me, doing the volunteering, you can meet people and they will see, and maybe they can offer you a job. You don't know. So, to me, rather than staying at home, you don't meet anyone, I’d rather go outside and do the volunteering.”

Elsie started by volunteering twice a week. Within three months, she was offered a full-time work placement that led to a permanent role as receptionist and administrator.

It’s not uncommon for volunteers to become full-time workers says Gail Kerr who heads Access Community Services - ten per cent of her staff were former volunteers of the organisation.

Volunteering is about giving back to the community.

“We currently have 43 volunteers in the last year, who gained employment from their volunteering contributions and experience, so the stats add up. 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 work place, just the empowerment and feeling like you’re doing something meaningful and contributing, and that you actually see that you have something to offer.”

Renkimi Bithang, a former Chin refugee from Myanmar is another volunteer at Access community Services. She helps newly arrived migrants and refugees find their bearings and shows them how to access essential services in Logan. Renkimi says her volunteering is about giving back to the community as well as gain some practice work experience in her final year of study.   

“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.” - Renkimi Bithang, a former Chin refugee from Myanmar 

Volunteering can come in all forms. Most Australians volunteer their time in sports and physical recreation, community and welfare, religious groups, parenting and childcare. Dr John Falzon, who heads St Vincent de Paul Society, more commonly known as “Vinnies”, says there’re around 60,000 volunteers working with the charity.

 “We’ve got everything ranging from fairly informal volunteer - visiting people and giving them assistance, also through our shops, right through to highly specialised services, particularly, in the area of migrants and refugees, we also have some services that are specific to those communities, including for instance, homework help for children.”

Homelessness is a problem affecting over 105,000 Australians due to reasons such as domestic violence, unaffordable housing and financial difficulties. Dr Falzon says migrants and refugees living in overcrowded housing are also considered homeless and their number is growing.

 “Overcrowded housing is an extreme problem in Australia. It’s often the case within the migrant refugee community where people are forced into situations of having to pull together their resources and share an apartment that might be completely inadequate to their needs, but they can afford nothing more than that, and they’re just accepting that situation as a roof over their heads.”

A report on health, happiness and helping others by The International Journal of Person Centred Medicine shows that 96 per cent of volunteers report being happier from their charitable work.

Dr John Falzon says simple acts of kindness can also restore dignity in those struggling with the everyday reality of life.

“Right across the Australian community, people are very generous with their time, and I like to think this not as an active charity, but as an active solidarity of simply people standing in solidarity with other people and helping each other.”

Before getting started, Volunteer Queensland’s Volunteering Services Manager Sabina Nowak recommends that both the volunteer and the organisation need to set expectations right from the start to avoid misunderstandings.

It’s also important to learn about one’s rights as a volunteer such as taking the same kinds of breaks as a paid worker and being able to take time off.

“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 or 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.”

For more information about how and where to volunteer, you can visit the Volunteering Australia website.