It was half a lifetime spent abroad which gave Anne Porter the impetus to take up the cause on behalf of refugees as a volunteer with Jesuit Refugee Service, a role in which she relishes helping to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding refugees and asylum seekers.
‘I started volunteering with JRS in June 2010,’ says the mother-of-four. ‘I had returned to Sydney from 30 years overseas, and wanted to do something to contribute to my community.’
One year on, Anne now serves as the volunteer coordinator for this small but increasingly busy organisation. She is responsible for liaising with those who express an interest in volunteering with JRS, assessing appropriate roles for them and providing support so that volunteers feel valued. Another crucial part of her role is organising training and information sessions and liaising with the JRS director and caseworkers about emerging needs for volunteer support.
‘Our volunteers are all people with an interest in and concern for the plight of asylum seekers and for helping those who are granted refugee status to settle into life in Australia so that these people feel they have friends here and are valued,’ Anne says.
‘Our main areas for volunteers are visiting people in Villawood Detention Centre in a pastoral role; helping with the Shelter Project – cooking meals for community houses, accompanying people to appointments, helping with finding employment, helping anyone who is studying, occasional office work, handyman jobs and fundraising.’
Overseeing this process has brought Anne closer to the reality facing asylum seekers, and the political process in which they are so often caught up.
‘It is extremely fulfilling to be able to help debunk the myths surrounding “boat people” and to support those who are working so hard to accompany people who have been forced to flee their homes and in many cases, families,’ she says.
‘What is frustrating is the constant use of refugees and asylum seekers as political footballs.’
JRS has recently expanded its volunteer orientation program by offering training sessions for new and existing volunteers. The Director of JRS, Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ, says the sessions will formalise the requirements of JRS vis-á-vis its volunteer cohort, and will assist the implementation of protocol, especially in those circumstances where volunteers are involved in pastoral work.
‘It makes JRS more responsible, and forces us to vet our volunteers,’ says Fr Mowe. ‘We will also have regular debriefings to talk about volunteers’ experiences.’
Register your interest with JRS’ volunteer coordinator, Anne Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02 9356 3888.