Volunteer Stories

Our volunteers come from all walks of life. Read about what inspired them to volunteer, and what they find most rewarding about their role with the ASRC.

Hootan

ARTIST & BUSINESS OWNER

Hootan began volunteering at the ASRC in 2019. His role in the Foodbank involves driving the van to various organisations that donate fresh produce to the ASRC and supporting the people who shop at the Foodbank walking them around in the centre. 

His reasons to volunteer are very entangled with his past. He migrated with his family to Australia and sought asylum back in the 80s. They had fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution and moved to Italy and the US before finding a home here.

He considers that being so close to people seeking asylum is a reminder of where he comes from and what life can be like for those without a stable place to call home. Hootan is no stranger of the constant reminder that he is privileged to be in Australia and have the life he has here. He doesn’t give anything for granted. “Being in a place like the ASRC, surrounded by like-minded people who are all connected by a single purpose/vision, is just amazing.”

Aheda

CHEF

Aheda is an incredible cook. A chef in her home country, Aheda has been creating delicious meals in the ASRC Community Foods kitchen.

“When you volunteer, it’s obviously not for money. We do it for the feeling that it leaves in your heart. I feel good about myself too when I can help others. I’ve worked my whole life as a chef but when I came to Australia it was very hard to find work so I began volunteering at ASRC kitchen to get some Australian experience. Normally I make Friday lunches and Wednesday night dinners for those who stay late for the Legal clinic. However since COVID-19 we don’t do community meals like we used to, so I have been coming in to help pack the food boxes that are being delivered to people’s homes,” says Aheda.

“If you have a problem I like to be able to help. I like to fix things. In my country there are too many problems, too many that I could not fix. So I really like to volunteer at ASRC because it’s not just my second home, it’s my family. When you volunteer, it’s obviously not for money. We do it for the feeling that it leaves in your heart. I feel good about myself too when I can help others.”

Joan

OFFICIAL ASRC VOLUNTEER
ASRC's Longest serving volunteer

She started at the ASRC in early 2002 across the road from where the Footscray Centre stands today. Joan recalls it as a quite intimate space. On one end, you had women sewing and learning English right next to where the Reception was. A few steps from there, three rooms were used for one-on-one consultations and health checks. And on the other end, there was a wall with three donated computers available for the people that already started to come seeking the ASRC’s support. 

Soon after she started in the Reception/Admin, the person who was coordinating left and she took it over. This was her realm for nearly 13 years, though she had never run an office before, she was exceptionally good at it. 

It was when the ASRC shifted into the current building that she realised her role needed to become a paid full-time position. Joan only wanted to remain on as a volunteer, so she helped the newcomers adapt to the workload. She had an immense influence on the creation of the Office Management Team -including the Reception- where she still volunteers.

Elaine

RETIRED REGISTERED NURSE

Elaine -from the UK- always saw Australia as an attractive destination to visit after she retired. After being here for 6 months, all her hectic years of work as a registered nurse, certified midwife and health visitor kicked in and she couldn’t stand another quiet day sitting around at home. She needed action! A croquet club gave her an excuse to make new friends and test the waters to see if others were into social change as much as she was. As a result, she met Joan Lynn – one of the longest standing  volunteers at the ASRC – and she joined our Army of Hope.

It’s been 17 years since then and Elaine has been a witness of the storm of changes the ASRC has gone through. She has made herself available to all the programs whenever the need arises. Her ASRC resume includes all sorts of admin jobs, reception support, education program advice and Foodbank support. 

Elaine can’t imagine not being involved in the community helping the most vulnerable. It took her four goes to retire from nursing and when you ask her if she will ever retire from the ASRC, she says “I’d love to have a role at the ASRC as long as I’m mobile and useful”.

Maria

MARKETING STUDENT

Maria came from Colombia and fell in love at first sight with Australia. When she got the volunteer role with the ASRC’s Marketing Team, she was over the moon. This was Maria’s first opportunity to gain professional work experience in Australia, and she felt good about being able to help people who she had always felt an immense empathy for, refugees and people seeking asylum. It was a win-win in her view. 

Being herself a migrant, Maria knows how challenging it is to start from scratch in a new country. She also knows how much harder life can get when you still haven’t mastered the native language, and you don’t understand the laws let alone be able to fight for your rights. 

Maria admits that volunteering at the ASRC has opened up her eyes. What she thought she knew was not even close to all the hardship people seeking asylum have gone through to find safety in Australia.

Phil

RETIRED TEACHER

After 39 years of full-time teaching, Phil found himself in a new life with something he really didn’t experience much before: Free time.

Memories of teaching English to new Australians from Vietnam, Chile and El Salvador in the 80s at the Maribyrnong Language Centre, and from working with migrant and refugee communities in the 90s, came flooding back to Phil and gave him new ideas. Maybe the free time was an opportunity for him to do some more of what he knew and loved: Teaching. 

Phil has volunteered at the ASRC for the past seven years, first as a speaker spreading the word of our work in secondary schools, and then as one of the leading English teachers. Phil has not only helped people seeking asylum to improve their language skills, but also worked with the ASRC Education team on projects that provide appropriate training pathways for their future in Australia.

Joanna

SALES ASSISTANT

Joanna had read about the plight of refugees and peoples’ rights to seek asylum before she joined the ASRC in 2012. She felt frustrated by the way they were treated and was very critical about Australian migration policies. This, coupled with the fact that her own mum immigrated to Australia years ago, caused the plight of refugees to profoundly resonate with her. She decided to contribute to the cause in any way she could.

When she initially came on board, she worked at the Reception desk being one of the kind faces people first encounter at the ASRC. Five years later, she decided to go on a new challenge and moved across to the Volunteer Engagement team. While assisting our Human Resources team during a COVID redeployment, she was lucky enough to secure a paid role, and is now a valued member of staff.

“I get to be a part of a community, and every time I come to the centre, I am surrounded by lovely people. This place is so diverse that you can meet people from all backgrounds and walks of life in just one day”.

Nicky

RETIRED LIBRARIAN & TESOL TEACHER

Nicky is one of the volunteers supporting the ASRC English Language Learning Program. She’s been part of the Volunteer Army since 2012 and in her own words “this is a profoundly satisfying experience to be able to have as a retiree”.

Nicky came to the ASRC with so much experience developing multicultural library services and researching digital inclusion programs for refugees, which she has successfully been able to implement at the ASRC.

Today, the ASRC has a resource library available for teachers and students that’s been built over the years with numerous donations from Universities, booksellers and publishers, as well as donations from teachers from the English as an Additional Language program (EAL) and ASRC supporters. This initiative was only made possible by Nicky and co-volunteer Marg B. We can’t thank them enough for their passion, dedication and time.

Drew

QUASI-RETIRED

Drew describes himself as a “back-office guy” and humbly admits that he is not made for the emotionally challenging job of the frontline services at the ASRC. So his resolution has always been to help from his strengths. He’s used his extensive corporate and technology experience to help the ASRC develop systems and procedures that have helped us grow. He also feels strongly about the plight of refugees and peoples’ rights to seek asylum. So it only made sense to use his superpowers to do something he genuinely believed in.  

He carefully chose to volunteer with the ASRC in 2017, since in his own words “the ASRC supports more people seeking asylum than any other organisation, by far, and does so with an astonishingly broad array of services.” 

Well into his third year, Drew now volunteers in the IT Team, and says he has an even greater appreciation of the work done by the ASRC’s frontline teams, but much prefers the back-office seat than the chaos of the frontline.

Gezza & Rob

What initially started with Gezza and Rob being financial supporters of the ASRC, quickly transformed into finding more ways to act and fight for the rights of people seeking asylum. Gezza started her journey with us five years ago volunteering with the Schools Program as a speaker, and three years ago, during a Run4Refugees event, Rob found out the ASRC was in desperate need of social workers. This was Rob’s background, so he decided to use his skills to help.

They are a couple that breathes and sleeps social justice. They share the same values, and for the lucky ones who know them, they are this iconic couple doing their best for the community.

Gezza divides her two days a week between assisting the Foodbank, working with the Fundraising Team and guiding tours for school-age kids around the centre. She often reminds the youngsters we are all equal and that the only real difference between us and people seeking asylum is the country we were born in. ”People seeking asylum share the same values and aspirations as us. However, we won the lottery having been lucky enough to have been born in Australia”, says Gezza.

Rob works in the General Access Program, facing people who come to the ASRC for the first time. His job is to identify the first steps for them to access a basic safety net – to have a place to sleep, a meal to eat, a health check if they are sick. His voice grows quiet as he admits “Forty years doing this and it’s here at the ASRC where I’ve seen the hardest cases of my whole career”.

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