Photo: Front Row Row: Samuelu Puleiata, Faleolo Levaomana Leo , H.E. David Nicholson , Gill Dowson, Kirsty Naish, Verity Smith, Norma Matautia, Solomona Taualofai.
Back Row: Reupena Leasuleasu, David Graham, Deputy High Commisoner, Mike Walsh, Kalameli Ah Mu, John Marsh, Lagi Natanielu, Damian Buckley.
International Volunteer Day last Monday was an opportunity to celebrate the many millions of people around the world who give their time and skills, both at home and overseas.
New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad (V.S.A.) has been sending Kiwi volunteers to Samoa since 1963 — longer than any other country in which V.S.A. works.
While the first volunteers, 53 years ago, were most likely to be teachers, today V.S.A sends volunteers focused on promoting economic development and building local capacity in the agricultural, small business and tourism sectors, as supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme and other partnerships.
V.S.A volunteers in Samoa celebrated International Volunteer Day at the New Zealand High Commission Residence, Letava, hosted by New Zealand High Commissioner to Samoa, David Nicholson, Deputy High Commissioner, Mike Walsh, First Secretary, Verity Smith, and Development Programme Coordinator, Kalameli Ah Mu.
In his welcoming speech, Mr. Nicholson, thanked the volunteers for making the life changing decision to volunteer, and for bringing their skills and expertise to assist with the development of Samoa.
“The thing I like about the V.S.A. programme is that you don’t come to Samoa to just do the work; you come to help build the capacity of the staff at your host organisation so they are able to do the work when your time as a volunteer is complete,” he said.
V.S.A C.E.O., Stephen Goodman, said, “What has struck me, since I joined V.S.A. this year, is the sense of service to others that is common to volunteers.”
“The UN’s theme for International Volunteer Day this year is ‘Volunteers act first. Here. Everywhere.’ This celebrates the idea of volunteers as first responders and of course, if and when there is a disaster, volunteers will find what needs to be done. But volunteers work every day to make communities more resilient, so they can deal better with disaster before it comes. They are there long after the humanitarian urgency has passed.”
Volunteers have created indelible ties between the two countries, as hundreds of former volunteers to Samoa have found themselves with a new ‘family’ with whom they’ve kept in touch for decades.
“The concept of volunteering is doing something for a cause greater than oneself. This comes so naturally to people in Samoa — which is why I love this paradise,” said Kirsty Naish, who is volunteering with the Small Business Enterprise Centre.
David Graham, volunteering with Kolene Tikeri at Samoa Water Authority, adds: “The life experiences, skills, understanding and friendships you get from volunteering certainly match, and probably exceed, the contribution you make. It’s a privilege to do it.”
Gill Dowson, volunteering at Loto Taumafai Society for People with Disabilities, echoes this, saying: “In NZ we have a concept called Ako, in which teaching and learning are the same thing. If we teach we are also learning and if we learn we are also teaching.
“My year in Samoa volunteering with Loto Taumafai has been all about Ako. I came to volunteer my professional skills and knowledge but I have learnt so much; so much about myself, my profession and what it means in the Samoan context and so much about beautiful Samoa.”
Damian Buckley, volunteering with the Savai’i Coconut Farmers Association, says: “The role of the volunteer is multi-dimensional. The personal growth and satisfaction that we get from volunteering to support a distant community is huge.”