Farewell to Australian Volunteers for International Development

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

Old Parliament House, Canberra

5 March 2014

Introduction

Excellencies

Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be here tonight to farewell our Australian Volunteers for International Development.

More than 100 of you have been in Canberra this week preparing for your assignments, and I hope we can give you a great send-off this evening.

It’s also a pleasure to see members of the diplomatic community here. Without you and the support of your governments, we would not have Australian Volunteers for International Development – the ‘AVID’ program.

I’m particularly pleased to see His Excellency Mr Lemalu Samau Tate Simi (pronounced Mr Leh-mah-loo Sah-mow Tah-teh Sim-eee) Samoa’s High Commissioner to Australia with us this evening. His Excellency will be addressing us shortly.

I would also like to thank the AVID partner organisations – Austraining International, Australian Red Cross and Australian Volunteers International.

We greatly appreciate your knowledge, time and efforts into making the AVID program the great success that it is.

And to the Australian NGOs and businesses that partner with our program we thank you for your support and I welcome you this evening.

Contribution of volunteers to the aid program

As I look out at the audience this evening I see a group of remarkable Australians.

Australians who are outward looking, Australians who want to make a difference, Australians who want to work towards a world with less poverty and more prosperity.

You are remarkable as you are giving of yourselves to help others.

You are making a commitment to serve others that will take you away from your life in Australia, and from your friends and families.

A commitment that will lead to a life-changing experience – both for you and for those you will work with in developing communities.

You are joining a league of Australian volunteers who do extraordinary work and make a real difference to people’s lives. A real-life League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – and Ladies – far more exciting than the fictional one.

You will be placed on assignments to help build skills and expertise in international organisations and local NGOs, in humanitarian operations, in government, in schools and universities, in training facilities and in the private sector.

The work that many of you do will often touch small communities, but just as often, the ripple effect from your efforts will reach and touch many.

Those of you who have watched that great Spielberg movie, “Schindler’s List”, will remember the great quote from the central text of Judaism, Talmud, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” You can be sure that what you do will leave a lasting impact and change great many lives.

Contribution

Your bring experience and expertise in a diverse range of fields – business, communications, education, community and social development, tourism and health.

For example, over the past ten years, the Sanglah Hospital (in Bali) has hosted 16 Australian volunteers, who’ve helped improve both the general health and trauma services available to the community.

Often the work of our volunteers is not easy; they can be placed in vulnerable and remote communities.

Yet, despite the challenges, they show their adaptability, resilience, and the capacity to work with people from different cultures to help achieve positive outcomes.

For young people in particular, their experience as a volunteer can change the course of their future.

Equally, for older volunteers, the opportunity to use their professional experience for the benefit of others can be immensely rewarding.

Public diplomacy

But the impact our volunteers have goes well beyond their everyday work.

They are, to many people, the public face of Australia.

The bonds they form help to strengthen the relationships between Australia and the developing countries in our neighbourhood.

You are all ambassadors for Australia, you represent all of us when you are overseas. You are what I like to refer to as, ‘Australia in action’.

Conclusion

 

Late last year it was my privilege to participate in the International Volunteer Day celebration at Parliament House.

After the official part was over, I spoke to many of the volunteers. I remember being struck by their spirit and their attitude to life and work: the awareness of their skill but also of their limitations, their good humour, compassion and commitment.

As you prepare for your volunteering assignments, I thank you for your unwavering commitment, I congratulate you for the work you will do for Australia, and I look forward to hearing your success stories when you return.

As the great champion Mohammad Ali said “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

What you do matters. And Australia and the world are so much richer for the rent you pay.

I wish you all the very best in the future.

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