Volunteering helps new arrivals develop a sense of belonging in Australia
29 May 2019 at 5:12 pm
Australia’s refugee and migrant communities are embracing volunteering as a way to combat feelings of isolation, despite many organisations lacking the resources to offer suitable training and support, new research shows.
A survey by the Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA) and Volunteering Australia found 65 per cent of new arrivals to Australia engaged in volunteering within 18 months of entering the country.
This compares to 31 per cent of Australians overall who volunteer, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The report noted the high uptake of volunteering in migrant communities reflected a desire for new arrivals to contribute to society, make friends, improve their English or gain local work experience.
“There are many factors that motivate migrants to volunteer,” SCoA CEO Tammy Wolffs told Pro Bono News.
“Importantly, many migrants recognise how volunteering can help their future employment prospects and reduce their feelings of isolation.”
The survey – taken from those involved in the settlement sector – found that migrants using these services enjoyed being supported by volunteers who have been through the service themselves.
“They are much more likely to feel understood and to see what their future journey looks like,” Wolffs said.
But the report noted that more support was needed to engage volunteers from diverse backgrounds.
Out-of-pocket expenses were identified as a barrier to volunteering for people from a migrant or refugee background, with 53 per cent of organisations reporting they did not reimburse their volunteers for general expenses incurred while volunteering.
Additionally, 88 per cent of respondents said they wanted greater support through funding, culturally appropriate training programs, new partnerships and resource sharing.
SCoA and Volunteering Australia said in the report that future research, consultation and collaboration with the volunteering and settlement sectors was needed to develop more culturally appropriate training materials and models.
Wolffs said while organisations highly valued their volunteers and the support they could offer other migrants, many lacked the resources to offer them the training and support they needed.
“This can mean, in some cases, that they have to refuse migrants the opportunity to volunteer,” she said.
“Funding to the settlement sector to support volunteers often does not account for the additional training needs of migrant volunteers.”
Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone agreed, arguing that more formal support and funding for volunteers and organisations would enable safe, effective and sustainable volunteering in the settlement sector.
Picone told Pro Bono News the capacity of volunteer involving organisations was greatly enhanced by the large number of migrant volunteers, who in turn benefitted significantly from the experience.
“Volunteering is a way for migrants to participate, build relationships and networks, and experience a sense of belonging in their new country,” Picone said.
One survey respondent said volunteering was particularly valuable in helping migrants to engage with the workforce and build key employment skills.
“We have many volunteers who move on to paid employment or further education, we have given volunteers a safe environment that has enabled them to grow in confidence,” they said.
“We also enable those people who are alone to come and feel less isolated.”