In late June and early July 2017, two small teams of Australian volunteers headed to Fiji and Laos as part of a unique volunteering initiative supported by the Australian Government as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.
Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange (DESE) II and III are the second and third in a series of DESE projects delivered through the AVID program. DESE is an inclusive volunteering model that aims to connect skilled Australians who have a lived experience of disability, or knowledge of the impact that a disability has on participation in society, with partners in Asia and the Pacific.
DESE supports the sharing of knowledge and develops leadership for disability empowerment across the region. The core premise of DESE is that people with disabilities are active agents of social change and development, in line with the Australian Government’s Development for All 2015-2020 strategy.
The teams represent a truly holistic approach to inclusion, bringing together people of all abilities to work towards a common goal.
Creating pathways to employment in Fiji
DESE team II in Fiji aims to enhance the participation of people with disabilities as contributors, leaders and decision makers by empowering young people and students with a disability to access the job market.
The team comprises three individuals with and without disabilities: Lara Bernardo from Tennis Australia, Connie Miari from the Royal Society for the Blind and Larissa Burke from Motivation Australia. The volunteers have experience in awareness raising, capacity building and mentoring, and are passionate about young people’s education, employment, and inclusive participation in tourism and hospitality management.
The DESE Fiji team will work to transfer skills to students living with disabilities to assist them with accessing employment as part of the disability inclusive initiative of the Work Ready Program currently provided through the Fiji Ministry of Education. The DESE Fiji team will also assist students living with disabilities to access employment and internships opportunities in the local tourism and hospitality sector, including at a major hotel and resort chain.
Supporting wheelchair basketball and women’s empowerment in Laos
DESE team III in Laos aims to enhance the participation of people with disabilities as contributors, leaders and decision makers in Vientiane by working with the Laos Disabled People’s Association (LDPA) and the Laos Disabled Women’s Development Centre (LDWDC) to empower the Lao National Wheelchair Basketball Team and young people with a disability to access the job market.
The DESE team includes a Wheelchair Basketball Mentor and Coach (athlete https://shelleychaplin.com/), a Project Development Officer (Leone Crayden from QShelter) and a Communications and Advocacy Development Officer (Nikki Harte, occupational therapist and former AVID volunteer), all overseen by a Team Leader (Chris Kerr from ATLAS Access To Leisure And Sport).
The DESE Laos team is comprised of individuals with and without disabilities with experience in sports coaching, inclusive sports development, strategic planning, communications and project management. The team will spend one month in Vientiane, helping to prepare the Lao National Wheelchair Basketball team for the 9th ASEAN Para Games in Kuala Lumpur in September, and supporting post vocational opportunities for young women with disabilities.