Why volunteer to help the needy? ‘It was something I had to do, to be true to myself’
By Chris Hook
“I never doubted it was the right thing to do,” says Claire Seddon (pictured in headdress and grass skirt).
“It was something I had to do, a compulsion to be true to myself and what I believed in.” So, while her friends talked about wedding plans and mortgage prospects, she volunteered for PALMS.
Clare had an arts degree psychology and had woked in industrial psychology.
As well, she had completed a course on teaching English as a second language and was teaching refugees.
So why, at 23, abandon the comforts of a bustling metropolis to work with the needy in a foreign land?
Because, says Clare, she had felt the urge to help others in this way since she was a teenager.
Clare Seddon was assigned to teach high school students on Tarawa, the biggest island in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. She was there from September 1997 to January 2000,
Kiribati has a population of barely 90,000 people, no arable land and a per capita annual income of just $US850.
It is largely dependent on foreign aid.
Education helps, though, and that’s what Clare spent the next two years doing.
And she reckons she gained as much as she gave from her volunteer experience. Although life – in material terms – is poor, family, community and faith are strong among the people of Kiribati. More than half are Catholic.
Clare said she was taken by how the natural cycles of life were so much a part of every day experience.
“Life and death are not removed,” she said. “They really are a part of life. I think we’ve isolated ourselves.”
Clare shared a community house with other volunteers and, although they had electricity, they lacked the comforts of television and radio.
But that didn’t matter – Clare was “adopted” by a local family and welcomed by the community. And she began to see what really mattered in her life.
“When I came back (to Australia) I couldn’t believe how people were caught up in things that were so trivial,” she said.
“I gained so much. It’s hard for me to put into words how much I’ve changed from going overseas.”
And PALMS is looking for new volunteers. With requests from 25 countries as diverse as Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Kiribati, there are many places to fill.
Required qualifications depend upon the country; volunteers are provided with air-fares, board and a small stipend. Call PALMS on 9642 0558 for more information.