When asked to reflect on their volunteer experience, many returned volunteers talk about the strong relationships they formed with their local colleagues, community members and other volunteers.
Three Australian volunteer midwives have done just that – formed an enduring friendship with one of their midwifery colleagues in Cambodia, Champamunny (Munny) Ven. A significant outcome of their relationship is the support and mentoring they provided Munny while she studied a Masters in Public Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne under the Australia Awards.
Adrienne White, Rachael Findlay, and Jill Moloney volunteered in Cambodia as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program through the Midwifery Education Project, where they met and worked with Munny.
The Australian volunteers supported training at Cambodia's University of Health Sciences' Technical School for Midwifery Care to ensure midwifery students graduate with the skills and knowledge required to be safe practitioners. Eleven volunteer midwifery advisers were placed at the school and four clinical sites to provide technical coaching and mentoring between 2009 and 2015.
When Australian volunteer Jill Moloney first met Munny she was already impressed by her dedication to midwifery. Munny was studying midwifery full-time and working as a night duty nurse to finance her studies. According to Jill, "Munny was determined to do well with her studies and go on to meet the challenge of reducing maternal-infant mortality in her country."
Adrienne explains that, "Munny was hugely helpful in negotiating and advising me, and others, about cultural behaviours and professional roles in Cambodia."
For Rachael, being paired with Munny was one of the most positive aspects of the project because of the close bond she formed. "We're like sisters now!" says Rachael.
The Australian volunteers encouraged Munny to continue her studies by applying for an Australia Awards scholarship to undertake her Master's Degree in Australia. Munny's application, supported by a reference from Jill, was successful and she completed her Masters in December 2016.
Each of the volunteers mentored Munny in a different way while she studied in Australia. Rachael describes the support she provided as "much more like family". She explains that, "we figured out public transport, markets and the phone companies. We went to see kangaroos and koalas and ate Western food. I was her shoulder to cry on and encouraged her to keep going when homesickness was overwhelming. She had done the same things for me in Cambodia."
Working in remote Australia, Jill was able to provide advice and feedback on Munny's study and assignments via email and Skype. Reviewing Munny's work helped Jill keep up-to-date with current Australian public health issues.
Adrienne provided face-to-face mentoring and supported Munny to get work experience at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. "Munny has been an exceptional student and a joy to mentor," Adrienne explains.
Munny is now working as a midwife for a non-government organisation in Phnom Penh.
Reflecting on the importance of her relationships with Jill, Rachael and Adrienne, Munny says, "these relationships have shaped and changed my life. They have built my network, career and confidence to perform well in my midwifery career and my Master of Public Health. Without knowing them, I would not even know about the Australia Awards scholarships. It is my privilege to be surrounded and advised by all of them."
Adrienne, Rachael and Jill's volunteering assignments were part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. Munny's study in Australia was supported by an Australia Awards scholarship.