Monday 28 May 2018 12:28pm
Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) CEO Stephen Goodman and University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne shake hands after signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations in Wellington last week.
An initiative that has enabled more than 100 students, many from Otago, to carry out voluntary work abroad since 2006 has been given a new lease on life, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne and Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) CEO Stephen Goodman in Wellington last week.
The UniVol programme at Otago allows third-year and postgraduate students to go to Pacific region countries on 10-month placements to gain hands-on experience of working in communities in developing countries in the wider Pacific region.
Professor Hayne says the retention of this very successful programme and signing of the MOU means ongoing fantastic and important life-changing experiences for Otago students.
"I believe the relationship between Otago and VSA can only go from strength-to-strength. The possibility of undertaking future collaborative research projects is particularly exciting," she says.
"The programme is a highlight of my career, and has been praised for its effectiveness by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, students and the host placements."
Mr Goodman says the UniVol Programme has seen many talented young people exchange skills and experience with people and communities in the countries where VSA works.
“Our volunteers become truly connected with the communities where they live and work, and they bring those connections home with them. UniVols go on to develop great careers in New Zealand, often in development-related fields, and they tell us that their host countries remain close to their hearts.”
Geography Professor Tony Binns, who played a leading role in setting up the UniVol Programme during 2005 and 2006, says he is proud of the programme's success, and delighted that VSA wants to continue it.
"The signing of a new MOU reinforces and widens the collaborative relationship between Otago and VSA. The programme is a highlight of my career, and has been praised for its effectiveness by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, students and the host placements," he says.
"The success of the UniVol programme has recently been underscored in the Otago Geography Department PhD Thesis of Sam McLachlan, Relationships Matter: The role and impact of younger international development volunteers. Mr McLachlan was himself a UniVol based in East London, South Africa (2008) and his thesis represents a detailed and objective evaluation of the UniVol programme and its impact on host communities and volunteers."
For the first five years of the programme, UniVols came only from the Geography Department at Otago, but it was then agreed to include Geography and Development Studies students from Victoria (Wellington), Massey and Auckland universities.
"We are excited to expand the agreement to allow for collaboration on research projects, particularly in the Pacific, and access the wide range of highly skilled professionals at Otago as potential volunteers."
Professor Binns says that a 10-month overseas placement to a developing country often changes the lives and perceptions of young people and helps to develop empathy and understanding for people and situations frequently very much worse off than here in New Zealand.
"Returned volunteers report on having experiences which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Many of the volunteers develop long-lasting relationships and continue to visit their overseas friends long after their placement is over."
The MOU for the first time provides for collaboration on research projects, and for Otago staff to participate as volunteers.
Stephen Goodman says: “We are excited to expand the agreement to allow for collaboration on research projects, particularly in the Pacific, and access the wide range of highly skilled professionals at Otago as potential volunteers. Otago is the first New Zealand University to sign the international Sustainable Development Goals Accord, and we’re delighted to be able to work alongside them to contribute to the achievement of these.”