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Meet a few volunteers currently in Samoa

Volunteers come from far and wide to immerse themselves in Samoa and its culture. 

They give their time and energy, and in return are rewarded with a lifelong experience, deep connections and new skills. 

From the five organisations present at their volunteer fun-day yesterday, meet some of the people visiting Samoa to try and make an impact.

Prudence Raine is a United Nations Volunteer in the United Nations Development Programme. Apart from a full suitcase of Samoan clothes, she said she’s leaving with lots of friends, good memories, and a wide network for her future career.

It didn’t take long for Ms Raine to feel like her volunteer role was going to make a difference here in Samoa.

“We really hit the ground running. Day one, you’re welcomed into the office and into the team,” she said.

“I’m most proud of my work with the Green Climate Fund. We got US$57 million for an integrated flood management program for the Vaisigano River Catchment, and I worked with a team of consultants and the U.N to facilitate the funding proposal for that, which was then accepted.

“I know everyone who worked on that project, from outside to the government, is really happy we were able to secure that funding, which was needed.”

Trina Upperton is from Volunteer Services Abroad, from New Zealand. She arrived to do horticultural training, and today works with farmers in Savaii to develop a seedling nursery and teaching them how to compost effectively. 

“It’s nice to be in a different culture, and climate, and soil. I’m very interested in the tropical plants that grow here and I just think it’s like the Garden of Eden,” Ms Upperton said.

Her work to bring composting to farmer’s daily lives is something she’s proud of, because it can help sustain production under rapidly changing conditions.

“Samoa’s soils are potentially very rich but they are struggling, especially when the climate goes from very dry to very wet within a short space of time; the soil and the life within them struggles.”

“By compositing it brings a bit of life back in and makes them more fertile.”

The adage that volunteers get as much as they give is true for her, she added.

“It’s been an important lesson to listen very hard to the people that I work with,” said Ms Upperton.

“And I guess I can get a bit project focused, so it’s been a good learning for me to realise it’s not all about the result, it’s about who is coming along with you.”

 

Koki Iinuma is a volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (J.I.C.A), and has been assigned to the Small Grants Program of the United Nations. 

He said he’s excited to work in an international agency to learn to work with different people from across the world.

“Coexisting with other cultures will be the biggest challenge and the most wonderful experience for me.

“I am from Japan which is extremely homogenous. Maybe 96 per cent of the population is Japanese.”

Learning to rest on Sundays and slow down with Samoa has been, and will continue to be a learning curve for Mr Iinuma, but he is enjoying it.

 

Sarah Reid is from the United States Peace Corp program. She’s had a touch of culture shock as she adjusts to the Samoan way of life.

“We were welcomed here with an ava ceremony, then we went to our villages and had evening prayer for the whole village, then curfew. It’s been a bit different to adjust to.

She is an English literacy volunteer, and said she can already see the impact she is having on the children at school.

“We spent two months [in a training village] and you can see a big difference in the short time we were there.

“They maybe had four words in their vocabulary when we came, and when we left they probably had about 25. The benefits are going both ways, I’m learning Samoan from the family and we’re practicing English too.”

Ms Reid will be in Samoa for two years, and she already knows she’ll be leaving with a happy heart.

“I’m just happy to have made a difference somewhere. It’s a small area where we are placed but the impact is pretty large.”

Julie Bright is from Australian Volunteers International (A.V.I). She said she’s more worried about a culture shock going back to Australia in two weeks than any culture shock she experienced on her arrival.

“Living here felt pretty easy, we were well supported by the A.V.I who helped us do orientation and find somewhere to live. The boys were already enrolled in school and it was all really straight-forward.”

Ms Bright is an environmental engineer and has been working as a water, sanitation and hygiene advisor with the Independent Water Schemes Association.

She primarily supports the I.W.S.A in training and capacity building to manage water supplies in rural villages, and bringing water treatment where it’s needed most. 

“Most water supplies schemes the communities manage don’t have any form of treatment, so there can be some concerns with the water quality.”

Following from the work of her predecessor, Ms Bright has been trialling home water treatment and training village water committees in the ways of water quality how to install the home treatment units.

“I also helped my organisation submit a funding application to install UV filters in all government schools in our schemes.

“We’re in the procurement phase but we got the funding. The intention is that each school will have treated water!”

The A.V.I program matches skilled Australians to organisations across 30 countries, and is funded by the Australian department of foreign affairs and trade and AusAID.

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