Alex and Simon met through the young adult migrant English course offered by Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. Both young men have been balancing work and fulltime study since they migrated to Australia; Simon from China just over two years ago and Alex from Vietnam in 2006.
During the course of their studies, Alex and Simon took the opportunity to volunteer for the first time as part of Activ8, a Red Cross program designed to assist young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. The program gives people between the ages of 18 and 35 the skills to achieve their education and employment goals through volunteering in the community.
Given the opportunity to choose the type of facility they would visit one day a week over a six-week period, Alex and Simon chose Churinga Development Service, an adult training and support service offering day programs for people with a disability. Neither Alex nor Simon had volunteered in the past.
'I didn't know about volunteering before the Red Cross people came out to talk to our class,' Simon said.
'I wanted to help people in China because I often saw many people living on the streets without food or shelter, but I didn't know I could help them by becoming a volunteer. I decided to volunteer with the Activ8 program because I wanted to do something - to give something back,' he said.
Activ8 volunteer Simon (left) chats with Churinga client Matthew. Photo: Lisa Fitzgerald
Scott and Activ8 volunteer Alex (right) dring a ceramics class at Churinga. Photo: Lisa Fitzgerald
Thirteen of Alex and Simon's classmates also volunteered as part of the Activ8 program. Volunteers were placed across Melbourne in aged care facilities and Red Cross retail outlets, and with programs including Riding for the Disabled and cooking meals for disadvantaged people. Alex said that he and Simon were keen to work at Churinga because working with people with a disability would be a new experience for both of them.
'I don't believe people with disabilities should be separated from the community - they should be part of it,' Alex said. 'By having us there, the people at Churinga had the opportunity to speak to different people,' he said, a sentiment shared by Churinga Program Coordinator and the volunteers' supervisor, Peter Guatta.
'It's very good to have people coming in and out of our client's lives,' Peter said. 'They enjoy meeting new people just as much as everyone else does. Most of our instructors here are older, so it is always good to have people at their age level to chat with.'
'A lot of our clients live in an area that's not particularly multicultural. It was great to provide them with exposure to that diversity through Alex and Simon,' he said.
For Alex and Simon, working with people with a disability wasn't the only novel experience. 'I hadn't done many of the activities like ceramics and working with clay, so that was really good for me too,' Alex said. 'The interaction with clients also helped us with our English,' he said.
Red Cross program coordinator Tammy Byrne said the program, the second in an ongoing series, was a success.
'It's great to see the volunteers really come out of their shell and engage with such a wide variety of people in the community,' Tammy said.
'They have often faced cultural and language barriers, so the program has provided a good break from the day-to-day struggles of being in a new country,' she said.
Unable to commute to Churinga without a car, Alex has started volunteering at an aged care facility closer to home.
'I much prefer spending my time volunteering than going to the pub or playing video games,' Alex said. 'This experience has really made me appreciate what I have and I am keen to keep giving back.'
Alex and Simon joined their classmates at a graduation ceremony held on 5 November to celebrate the completion of the Activ8 program. Activ8 is funded by the Victorian Department of Planning and Community Development.
Interview / Photo Opportunity
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Interview / Photo Opportunity
Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Officer, James Gardener.