When a group of young Australians volunteered in Vanuatu on a cultural exchange, little did they realise how much the experience would change the way they see the world – and themselves.
A year after their return, members of the Young Australians – Cultural and Community Ambassadors (YACCA) group say the experience has given them the skills and confidence to take up a range of new opportunities.
“It definitely taught me about myself,” says 23-year-old Lilla Berry, whose experience on the YACCA initiative included working with local sporting and cultural organisations and teaching Ni-Vanuatu children about Australian indigenous culture.
“I found working with people is really integral to what I want to do,” says Lilla.
The primary school in Vanuatu where the YACCA volunteers worked adopts the Victorian curriculum, so the Ni-Vanuatu children had already been introduced to Australian indigenous culture in their lessons. Having the nine YACCA volunteers, seven of them indigenous Australians, share their cultural heritage firsthand brought the lessons to life.
Australian volunteers Nerylee and Amy warm up before a netball skills session with children from Natawa Junior and Secondary School.
The group of young Australians were hosted by the Vanuatu National Youth Council (VNYC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which aims to recognise and involve youth in development and decision-making processes. Selected through a competitive application process restricted to Australians aged 18-24, the YACCA volunteers were in Vanuatu for five weeks in mid-2015 under a pilot initiative of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program funded by the Australian Government.
Local organisations were particularly motivated by the can-do attitude of the female YACCA
“Us girls got straight into cementing by hand, filling the trenches and doing things the girls don't do at all,” says YACCA volunteer Paige Costi.
“The Ni-Vanuatu girls all spoke about it heaps and I think it opened their eyes to what girls are also capable of doing as well as the boys,” she says.
Other local organisations saw the benefit of expanding sporting programs to reach more young people.
“It has helped our youth to see the importance of actively participating in various sports as a way to keep away from risky behaviours. Sharing stories has also helped young people see the opportunity they too have to give back to their communities,” said a representative from the VNYC.
The YACCA initiative, jointly implemented by Scope Global (a delivery partner of the AVID program) and AnglicareSA, encouraged the young Australians to understand the skills and assets that they already possessed and how these could be useful in different working environments. This knowledge has continued to motivate the volunteers.
Lilla has subsequently taken part in a leadership program with the YWCA and is applying to study community and sustainable development at university.