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Matt Lambie, BA: Geography a springboard into international development work

Matt Lambie
Matt Lambie.

Matt majored in Human Geography and in 2017 he was a University of Otago Division of Humanities Ambassador. He was chosen for the Volunteer Service Abroad Te Tūao Tāwāhi (VSA) UniVol Programme in 2018, and spent two years volunteering in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. In 2023, he returned to Bougainville to continue his work with VSA, this time as Programme Manager, where he brings skilled New Zealand volunteers in to build the capacity and knowledge of local organisations in a variety of sectors.

questions and answer 'Q What was your reaction to receiving the award, and what does it mean to you?

I must admit my first thought was whether this was real! I hadn’t heard anything about a nomination, so it came as a complete surprise to me. I had to actually call the University to confirm this.

I am incredibly grateful to be in the field of work that I am, but I really regard it as just doing the job I am here to do, and it doesn’t feel necessary for that to be recognised. However, I acknowledge that others see this differently and I am really humbled to receive this award. The individuals and communities I work with enable me to do what I do, and if it wasn’t for their support this wouldn’t have been possible.

questions and answer 'Q What have you done since graduation and what are you doing now?

I spent the first two years after my bachelor’s degree volunteering with VSA in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea (PNG) in an agriculture role. During the COVID years I was back in New Zealand working for the Office of the Ombudsman in an engagement and support role for the Pacific Island Ombudsmen and Human Rights Institutions.

In 2023 I returned to Bougainville, to take up the role of Programme Manager for VSA. I oversee the running of the New Zealand volunteer programme here, working to place skilled Kiwis into roles that build the capacity and knowledge of local partner organisations in a range of sectors including health, education, and community development.

questions and answer 'Q What inspires and motivates you to work in the areas you are involved with? Do you have plans for the future?

Here in PNG, the numerous change makers, proactive communities, and other groups I work with are a constant source of inspiration. What they achieve in the challenging situations this country faces is remarkable, and really reminds me of what is important and what is possible.

Closer to home, my family has always been, and continues to be, a source of inspiration and motivation for me. They are all incredible professionals in their fields of mental health and community health, in roles that are focused on service and support for those that have fallen on hard times.

questions and answer 'Q What were the highlights of your time at Otago, and has it helped or influenced you in your career and following your interests?

Definitely the relationships I formed with staff in the Geography department, that has been instrumental in directing me on the path I have taken. All the staff were leaders in their respective areas and I am grateful for the connections they helped me to make towards the end of my studies.

I was also fortunate to have been in the department at a time when it was filled with an extremely talented group of students, many of whom I still keep in contact with today and regularly cross paths with in my working life.

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