Introduction by Lorenzo Strano, DFAT’s Northern Territory State Director
When I was asked to write the forward to the next Returned Australian Volunteer Network (RAVN) newsletter I was n’t sure what I should focus on. Should it be the value that Australian volunteers take to their adopted country? Should it be about the personal growth opportunity for each volunteer? Or perhaps I should discuss how each volunteer increases the level of goodwill and positive image of Australia? But, as I have two primary school aged children, I decided that I would focus on the important impact that sharing the experience an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) assignment can have on other Australians.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many talented Australians are willing to give up their time to become part of the AVID program. The Australian Government has been supporting international volunteers for more than 60 years. Around 13,000 volunteers have dedicated their time and skills on AVID assignments. I have had the great pleasure of working with some of these volunteers overseas, as a diplomat in Lao PDR and Samoa. Without exception, these volunteers brought energy and new skills to their adopted home, as well as differing perspectives. They also acted as a cultural sponge, soaking up the local culture while sharing Australian culture with those in their adopted country.
Through my current role I have learned that the power of the AVID program is far reaching and multi-dimensional. I always knew that volunteers provide assistance on the ground in their host country and they build enduring friendships along the way, but I didn’t know what these volunteers did when they returned to Australia. Did they engage with wider Australia to share their experiences?
I’ve recently been fortunate enough to meet with returned volunteers at RAVN networking events in Darwin and Alice Springs. I learned that they wanted to share their experiences but didn’t feel there was an avenue for them to continue the important work which they had started while overseas so I encouraged them to engage with the Australian community about their experience as an international volunteer. I think this is vital for the program to reach its true potential.
Those returned volunteers who choose to share their international experience with other Australians will be providing others with a first person insight into another culture. They can help motivate other Australians to learn about another country, or perhaps even guide them to the international volunteers program, regenerating the volunteer cycle in the process.
The ways to engage are so varied they seem endless. Whether it is through speaking engagements, becoming a mentor, telling your story through social media, providing valuable insights to DFAT for the future Australian Volunteers program, becoming a member of the RAVN LinkedIn group or attending RAVN events, I encourage every returned volunteer to maximise the benefits of their experience by continuing to share them after they return.
In my current role I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet many returned Australian volunteers, hear their stories and learn first-hand about their experiences how they have changed their lives. I am fascinated by their stories and experiences and I don’t want other Australians to miss out, including my two young daughters.
Lorenzo Strano is the Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Northern Territory Office in Darwin. He has served as a diplomat with DFAT in Lao PDR, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Italy and the USA.