Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 2. 1965.
VSA Succeeds Quietly — A Progress Report
VSA Succeeds Quietly
A Progress Report
The beginnings of volunteer workers' schemes in New Zealand were in the Volunteer Graduate Scheme adapted from the Australian model in 1957 and in the School Leavers' Scheme which originated in Britain and came to New Zealand in 1961. These two aspects of volunteer work were incorporated into one organisation, Volunteer Service Abroad, in March, 1962.
In its constitution, VSA sets down its object as contributing towards the development of friendship between the peoples of New Zealand and the peoples of southern Asia and the Pacific Islands by recruiting, training, placing and maintaining New Zealanders as volunteer workers to assist such peoples and their Governments in the task of developing their respective countries.
The Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson, who had already shown great personal interest by joining VSA, was invited to become its patron and graciously accepted; he has maintained a close interest in VSA's activities.
The president of VSA is Sir Edmund Hillary who, when in New Zealand, has been busy recruiting members and volunteers, helped by Lady Hillary.
The chairman of the organisation is Professor C. C. Aikman. Dean of the Faculty of Law at Victoria University. The deputy-chairman, Mr. M. J. O'Brien, a Wellington barrister and a former president of the New Zealand University Students' Association, has just returned to New Zealand after placing the school-leaver volunteers for this year and discussions with Asian and Pacific governments about the organisation.
An important difference from its counterpart in the United States, the Peace Corps, is that VSA is not a government organisation but is controlled, and partly financed, by the New Zealand public. Membership consists of adult, junior and corporate members who pay an annual subscription. However, membership is still below the strength the council of VSA hopes to achieve; chiefly because a really effective method of recruiting has not yet been discovered. However, the rate of growth increases steadily.
VSA gains the greatest proportion of its financial support from sponsors, such as Rotary, Jaycees, Young Farmers' Clubs and community sponsorship programmes.
Rotary was the first to respond to VSA's appeal and is now supporting a team of four New Zealanders and one Thai on two years' voluntary service on community development at Huaykla in north-east Thailand.
This team, known as the Good Neighbour Team, has been in Thailand since February. 1964. Sufficient has been subscribed by New Zealand Rotarians to maintain this team, and also to provide for the purchase of a Land Rover.
The team reports that planned use of the settlement's water resources could transform its economy and greatly improve the health and happiness of the people. Irrigation schemes have therefore been pushed ahead and already the more progressive settlers are learning from demonstrations of intensive market gardening, using peanut husks tor compost.
The people of the settlement of Nikon Song at Huaykla have shown their gratitude to the Rotary-sponsored Good Neighbour Team for the building of their first school by naming it "New Zealand Friendship School."
Jaycees have raised sufficient motley for a national sponsorship on similar lines to the Rotary Good Neighbour Team. Also Jaycees have been busy on VSA's behalf in local communities. An instance of community sponsorship can now been seen getting under way in Hawera.
The Hawera Jaycees, supported by Rotary and Lions clubs and other local organisations as well as the "Hawera Star" are running a campaign to raise £1200—sufficient to maintain a volunteer at work for two years. It is hoped that a volunteer from the Hawera area can be found so that this can be a true community sponsorship.
This is the first occasion on which a community has campaigned for such an object in connection with VSA. But it is hoped that this is only the first of many; indeed the organisation has already had inquiries from several other communities.
A great future for the organisation can be seen in this field. It means especially that the community into which the volunteer goes to work in Asia or the Pacific can identify their volunteer with a whole community back in New Zealand. Help can be sought from local industries and organisations and from the schools.
Already some New Zealand schools have raised money to provide roofs for schools and educational materials. Schools could also communicate with the schools from which the volunteer came, to the benefit of both groups of children.
If the Asian or Polynesian community can identify all the help they are acquiring from their volunteer with a community in New Zealand, it can be seen that this "Adventure in Neighbourliness" will really start to produce some concrete results.
Young Farmers' Clubs are raising £2500 to support two volunteers for two years. Especially to be commended in this scheme is the fact that the Young Farmers have undertaken to raise the money mainly by their own manual efforts rather than by appealing to the public for it. Their schemes include fencing, dagging shearing and manure drives. It is hoped that YFCvolunteers may be placed in farm extension work so that it becomes a community farming sponsorship.
On asking "Which Way Tomorrow for VSA," community sponsorship is definitely seen as one of the most important trends for the future.
Although VSA is not a government organisation, the government meets the costs of administration and of volunteers' travel to and from their field locations. VSA also works in close association with the Department of External Affairs, whose help is invaluable in the channel of communicating with foreign governments.
VSA has always received support from many church organisations and the Students' Associations of the universities of New Zealand.
At the moment there are 40 volunteers at work in eight different countries, while nine have returned home at the end of their terms. The 40 comprise 16 adults, including four married couples, and 23 school-leavers.
The school-leavers' scheme first came to Christchurch and was taken up by the headmaster of Christ's College, which college two of the early volunteers attended.
After catching on in Christchurch and around the South Island, the idea has spread throughout the North Island, and the new batch of 23 school-leavers come from colleges as far apart as St. Kentigern College, Auckland, St. Patrick's College, Wellington and James Hargest Memorial High School, Invercargill.
Amongst the 23 are the first five girls. Two of the girls are now working in Brunei; the rest of the girls and boys are in Sarawak, the New Hebridies, Western Samoa and the British Solomon Islands. Most of the school-leavers are placed as student-teachers in the intermediate or lower forms of secondary schools. A few boys are working in land development or agricultural extension: some (in farm schools) are combining teaching and field work. All are working with or among local young people and are likely to be called upon to help with games and organisations such as Scouts and Guides.
While the school-leavers scheme is developing very well and these young people are doing very good work and are returning devotees of volunteer work, it is the wish of the organisation to develop more fully the graduate aspect of volunteer work.
Volunteers must be well trained in a skill needed in developing communities—builders, nurses, engineers or mechanics, teachers, doctors, dentists, scientific farmers, for example. The idea is to work at your own calling with Asian or Polynesian people and subject to the same conditions; to live as a member of the local community and to find companionship there.
The Job calls for determination, patience, the capacity to learn iron, others and a willingness to forgo some comforts—but, as volunteers returning home are very willing to tell, it is abundantly rewarding.
Volunteers work for government or local authorities or in approved private institutions, such as church schools. Often the host government provides housing and sometimes board or rations as well. If not, the volunteers' allowances cover the cost of these and are enough also for other personal needs. A terminal grant is payable on return home after at least one year's service.
The normal term of engagement is two years. Normally candidates will be single, although married couples without dependent children may be accepted if each partner qualifies as a volunteer.
This article is intended to arouse the interest of students graduating at the end of this year. They should consider volunteering for work in Asia or the Pacific for two years before taking up their careers. If a Victoria graduate were to volunteer his or her services, it would be an added benefit if the students of Victoria, backed by one of the numerous organisations around the campus, could come together, as a community, to sponsor our own volunteer.
The New Zealand Council for Volunteer Service Abroad is associated with the International Secretariat for Volunteer Service, which loosely links similar organisations of 42 countries—Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada. East Germany and Japan included — and volunteers are working throughout the underdeveloped world. However. VSA stands as a distinctly New Zealand organisation and the "Adventure in Neighbourliness" is between us in New Zealand and our neighbours in southern Asia and the Pacific.
But the American proposal that volunteers from the United States and other member nations of the United Nations should serve in United Nations programmes overseas (such as the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation) should be welcomed as a prospect for the future of the International Secretariat for Volunteer Workers.
This proposal is expected to be taken up soon by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Comment from the United Nations concerning volunteers has been a request not to send underdeveloped workers to underdeveloped countries and a plea that volunteers should never be known as wealthy, superior foreigners but as co-workers sharing their knowledge.
At the moment New Zealand volunteers are working in eight different countries of Southern Asia and the Pacific—Thailand Sarawak, Brunei, the New Hebridies, Western Samoa, the British Solomon Islands. India and Malaya, The organisation has determined to limit—for the moment—the number of countries in which New Zealand volunteers will be working, with the intention of making a distinct impression of help coming from New Zealand to a concentrated area. However, it is to be hoped that as the organisation expands, volunteers can be sent to other areas of Asia and especially to those areas which have not been so exposed to the British, such as Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, and the countries of former French Indo-China.
A quote from Sir Edmund Hillary, who himself is presently working for the Sherpas in Nepal, sums up the aims and benefits of VSA admirably:
"VSA gives suitable New Zealanders the opportunity to go overseas to developing countries to work with their hands and use their experience. It is not a large-scale project where the workers from abroad are divorced from the people of the country.
"It is essentially person-to-person contact between the people of the country and the volunteers. They contribute something, you contribute something, and the whole Job becomes worthwhile. You are getting Just as much out of it as the people you are helping. This is of enormous benefit to the volunteers."