Tuesday 4 September 2018 10:48am
Sam with some of his students on festival day in 2015. Photos: supplied.
After completing his own “hugely influential” experience in 2015, Department of Music, Theatre, and Performing Arts Administrator Sam Mehrtens is urging his fellow Otago colleagues to take part in international volunteer opportunities with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA).
Soon after completing his undergraduate degree, Mr Mehrtens spent 10 months volunteering in Papua New Guinea through VSA’s UniVol programme.
Based in Kabaleo Teachers’ College in PNG’s East New Britain Province, he initially assisted with the school’s sports programme, but over time, took on additional responsibilities ranging from leading research proposal writing workshops, to teaching staff and students about Microsoft Office.
“The longer I stayed, the easier it was to identify aspects of the college that I could help out in … every day was different!
“I think the best aspect of my assignment was working alongside the people, hearing their stories, and searching for aspects of sameness and difference was a lot of fun.”
He developed such a close friendship with the Kabaleo lecturer he was supporting, that he named his child after Mr Merhtens.
“That was pretty special.”
Last year, Mr Mehrtens had the opportunity to return as part of his research into the challenges of ICT in primary schools in PNG.
“Whilst doing the research was challenging – my computer died – the best part was simply picking up old friendships and seeing the development and confidence of my former colleagues teaching their new syllabus.”
"If you’re starting to get itchy feet, looking for a new challenge or simply have an urge to share your skills with others, VSA is an organisation well worth looking at."
Earlier this year, Otago and VSA signed a new Memorandum of Understanding. Alongside the longstanding Univol programme, the MOU provides for collaboration on research projects, and for Otago staff to participate as 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 the University to contribute to achieving the SDGs,” says Claire McClintock, a Business Development Manager with VSA.
Ms McClintock and VSA Business Development Officer Bridget Cassie will be on campus later this week to talk about volunteer opportunities for Otago staff.
The pair will host a drop in information session with a short presentation on VSA’s work, and the chance to talk to VSA staff and returned volunteers like Mr Mehrtens.
Though his own VSA experience is behind him now, Mr Mehrtens remains a fervent VSA advocate.
“I regularly see assignments that are applicable to pretty much every division – whether you be in property services, academia, or administration,” he says.
“If you’re starting to get itchy feet, looking for a new challenge or simply have an urge to share your skills with others, VSA is an organisation well worth looking at.”
VSA drop-in session
Fri 7 Sep, 12noon to 2pm
Room 103, 1st floor, International Office
Archway West Building
VSA offers New Zealanders the opportunity to expand their horizons through international volunteering – living and working alongside people in the Pacific and beyond for the experience of a lifetime. Both long (12 months and over) and short-term assignments are available and the agency currently works in Melanesia, Polynesia and Timor-Leste. Volunteers exchange skills and knowledge so that the changes achieved during an assignment remain long after the volunteer returns to New Zealand: transforming lives, including their own.