“The principle of helping people when they’re in need is really the most basic principle that JRS has and is something everyone can sympathise with.”
John Kenny spent much of his university break this year volunteering with JRS in Sydney. It was an educational and engaging experience, he writes.
There were three main reasons I volunteered for the JRS: I like the principles of the charity, I wanted to gain some firsthand experience on a controversial issue (refugees and asylum seekers) and I wanted to spend some of my three months off doing something worthwhile.
The principle of helping people when they’re in need is really the most basic principle that JRS has and is something everyone can sympathise with. This, I thought, was a great thing to practice. The issue of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia is always in the news and sometimes we all forget that these numbers and statistics are actually people. People with their own families and livelihoods. JRS stood out because I could learn something about these people whilst lending a hand. The last reason that I wanted to volunteer is the simplest: I wanted to do something that was worthwhile over my university break, and I feel that I did.
The work I did was a mix of manual work, office work and refugee interaction. The manual work comprised of cataloguing donations and cleaning the Blaiket shelter (Blaiket is a shelter next to the Kings Cross office for clients without means of accommodation). Office work included getting the post for the office and taking minutes for a meeting. Refugee interaction came in the form of visiting Villawood Immigration Detention Centre and taking part in the Blaiket shelter meetings.
One of the most worthwhile things I did was to help set up JRS’ Parramatta office, Arrupe Place, which was created so that clients living in Western Sydney could avoid spending a lot of money travelling to the JRS office in Kings Cross. It was great to see something coming together and eventually being used, and it felt like we had achieved something permanent.
Villawood is the detention centre in Western Sydney which Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy for JRS, and I visited twice and where we had lunch with occupants. I was surprised by the impact we had doing this– it seemed to take some stress off their minds. The Blaiket shelter meetings were the best parts as it was just me and another volunteer having dinner with occupants in the shelter.
I can genuinely say that volunteering was a worthwhile, interesting and gratifying experience. I gained some more knowledge on an issue that is very topical and relevant in Australia today. I’m happy I wasn’t distracted by my initial nerves and I think I’ve made some friends in Sydney as well as learning a thing or two along the way. Also, it’s worth noting that once I got back home to Brisbane I was inspired to volunteer for another charity. That was another benefit to add to the list.
I was motivated by three factors: JRS’s principles, to gain insight and to do something worthwhile in my three month break. The experience that followed was better than I expected.
John Kenny, JRS volunteer
If you are interested in volunteering with us at Arrupe Place, Parramatta, please contact Sr Margaret Guy at email@example.com.