It is a privilege to be a volunteer

When I first started volunteering with the Development and Relief Agency (DARA), formerly known as Penola House, nine years ago, I set out with the aim of assisting vulnerable people in our community.

What I didn’t expect was the profound impact it would have on my own life.

My husband Shaun and I have been married for 25 years and together we have twins, Georgia and Thomas, 17 years of age.

Volunteering has, without doubt, enriched my life and that of our family.

Together we have formed new friendships, broadened our thinking and united to assist others.

Soon after Georgia and Thomas commenced at a new school I came across an advertisement in the school newsletter, seeking a volunteer to look after a baby while its young mother, attended lessons. I soon learned that the mother was a refugee supported by DARA, which at the time was referred to as Penola House.

Other volunteers from all walks of life were also inspired by the work of DARA’S Refugee Hub and together we offered support to new migrants. Many of the refugees arrive at the Hub in despair after fleeing their home country in fear of their lives, leaving behind family and friends.  They wish to contribute to our community but they often incur many barriers including language, education and access to affordable housing; all the while they are trying to heal from trauma. As volunteers, we assist them to forge local connections that support their transition to Australian life. We develop friendships based on mutual respect and compassion, celebrate their victories, and provide guidance when setbacks occur. Most of all we listen.

Within a short period of volunteering at the Refugee Hub my life had become so enriched that I asked my children, then aged 10, if they too would like to become DARA volunteers.

To the delight of Sean and me, they said yes. As a family, each Friday afternoon for the past few years we would package food that was then served to friends of DARA at Islington Park the following day.

Providing our children with the opportunity to volunteer is important to us.  It shows them that an act of caring either by packing a food parcel, serving a meal or simply speaking kind words could make the difference in someone’s day.

As a family one of the highlights of becoming involved with DARA has been to collect soccer boots so that children who have arrived here from other countries with few belongings can play soccer and become part of a team. In this vein, some years ago, with assistance from DARA staff including John Sandy and in collaboration with Tom Garnham  from the Mayfield Baptist Church, Youth with a Mission (YWAM) and the Jesmond Baptist Church we organised a soccer afternoon for refugee families. The event was a celebration of soccer, friendship and new beginnings.

There are many people who require assistance and support, and by showing them kindness, respect and sharing of time, we can make a positive difference in their lives as well as our own. I encourage all individuals and families to find a form of volunteering that aligns with their lifestyle and values; I guarantee you won’t regret it.

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