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Rochelle’s Story – Mercy Connect Volunteer

“You don’t volunteer to be appreciated. But I do feel appreciated.
I feel rewarded through the interactions with the kids.
They provide the reward.”

Rochelle volunteers with Mercy Work’s Mercy Connect program. For three hours per week, during school term, she provides academic support and mentorship to refugee students at a primary school in Perth, Western Australia.

“I decided to start volunteering after I had completed my fulltime paid working career. I didn’t know what it was I wanted to do. So I went onto the Seek website. I thought I would like to do something with kids. I really like kids and I have a daughter who is now 21 and doesn’t need as much attention. So I saw the opportunity with Mercy Works and I thought if you can help kids with their language and their education skills early that is something that can set them up for life. So I applied.

I volunteer for half a day on a Wednesday in the morning. I work predominantly one-on-one with the kids. The first half of the morning is with the Year 5 and 6 kids. The second half of the morning is with the Year 4 kids. Sometimes, I work with small groups of up to about three kids at a time. But more often than not it is individual. We typically work on reading fluency and comprehension.

I work with many Bhutanese kids. They are just gorgeous. There are also kids from Sri Lanka, and a girl from Vietnam.”

How has the program benefited the students?

“I have seen their confidence grow. You can definitely see the improvement they get through the additional practice. You also form a bit of a friendship with them and can be a little bit of a mentor. You get to know the kids and what interests them. Sometimes you talk about other things. We always get through the work but we also have a bit of fun as well.

Now that I have been at [the same school] for three years, some of the kids know me and will tell the other kids, oh yeh she is really good. So that has made it a little bit easier. The kids are a little bit more open and not as reserved. That’s the benefit if you can stay at  the same school and in the same year groups.

I have had some of my students for two years. And that is really nice as well because again you get to know them and you get to see how they grow in confidence. Its about their confidence in their reading and doing their school work. The kids really enjoy having the time together. That’s where you get the most out of them.

What was it like on your first day?

Like anyone, I didn’t know what the school environment would be like. I didn’t know what the requirements would be. So of course you are a little bit nervous going in.

What I appreciate is the teachers are really busy and they are trying to provide this extra opportunity on top of a very busy work load. So I kind of make sure I hang to the back and wait until they have the space to instruct me on what they want. I think that has worked really well.

What is the most rewarding part about volunteering?

Definitely the kids. The different personalities of the kids. Learning about their backgrounds. Just seeing how they approach learning. I find that interesting too. You’ve got to try different styles with the kids.

What I like is they seem to be enjoying the time we spend together learning. I get as much out of it as they get out of it. I can see that I am doing a little bit that just helps them with something that we all need. You’ve got to be able to read and comprehend.

Each kid is just so individual.

What advice would you have for others interested in volunteering?

You have to give it a bit of time to settle into the role. It is important to understand that the teachers are busy. Go with the flow. I look at it as we are there to assist.

A benefit of the Mercy Connect program is the cultural awareness training. I attended both sessions and thought it was fabulous. I got so much out of it. I would encourage people to do it.

Cultural awareness is very important when you are working with refugees. Understanding different styles of communication.

Any last words on voluntering?

I would happily recommend volunteering for the Mercy Connect program. I get way more out of it than I put in. I didn’t go in expecting to receive anything.

You don’t go into volunteering wanting something back. You go in wanting to give something. I’ve got the time now in my life to volunteer. I want to make a contribution to my community.

Look for something that interests you. Then ask youself is it working for you? If you enjoy what you do then you are going to give even more to it. If it doesn’t fit then look for something else that does work.

I have been very lucky.

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