Volunteering w/ the VIRWC

The Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) is a non-profit organization established to assist women of immigrant and refugee background. The organization aims to assist and support these communities as they transition to Australia. Through various programs and events, the organization helps to establish communities in which members feel a sense of belonging and connectivity. The organization recognizes communities in need and shares their advice and expertise, build the members leadership skills, link member organisations to resources and help to navigate them through the process, and improve the members’ ability to self-represent. The organization represents the views and issues of the members through policy, advocacy, and education work. Members of the organization aim to increase awareness of these issues throughout Victoria and share the services and work available to the community. By initiating social interactions and networking, the members can have clear communication between the members, constituents, and the community.

As a Bonner Scholar, I had to find a volunteer placement site that met my requirements and allowed me to learn and grow. While searching, I found VIRWC and met with Katherine, the project leader for the Family Champions Project. After meeting and discussing the potential opportunities for me at VIRWC, we concluded that I would work under her team on the Family Champions Project.

Location of the VIRWC office in the city

The first opportunity I received while working for VIRWC was the opportunity to meet Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and Labour Candidate for Chisolm Stefanie Perri. Tanya plays an active role in the government and is involved in the changes our organization is trying to make. During the meeting, our Executive Director, Melba Marginson, shared updates about our successful growth over the years as an organization and the availability of Women’s Friendship Cafés. Tanya provided us insight about her background as a daughter of Slovenian parents and the challenges they overcame. Stefani, who is of Italian parents, is married to a Syrian man. This discussion encouraged women to share their stories and speak up for policy changes.

Photo courtesy of Alessandra Prunotto

My role as a volunteer this semester was to assist in the planning of the Family Day Camps held for people across the Melbourne Metropolitan areas. I would also work with the team on media, marketing, and camp resources.

For the Family Day Camps, we had three sessions for the North, South, and West of Melbourne. The members that attended came from various backgrounds and cultures bringing together and representing the diversity of their communities. The Family Day Camp was held at the Melbourne Zoo on the selected Saturday for the region.

In the Day Camp, different partnering organizations led sessions on topics related to social cohesion, community and family resilience, respectful relationships, cyber safety, and community safety with the Police. In this one-day interactive camp, the families participated in group activities like “The Great Zoo Hunt” which was a scavenger hunt around a section of the zoo. The aim of the camp was to provide this information to family and share the resources accessible to them. Additionally, the goal was to create “Family Champions” that would represent and share information to their communities. VIRWC runs many different programs within and outside of the city like their Women’s Friendship Café and Women’s Leadership and Training courses.

The participants for the Day Camp came from many different countries, cultures, and backgrounds speaking a diverse set of languages.
During and after the camp, as a volunteer I made myself available to the organization to assist in any way possible. While working with VIRWC, I learned a lot about the political and governmental regulations that influence and affect the immigrants and refugees. I recognized the hardships faced by families that migrate with their families for access to better education, better healthcare, and fair and equal human rights. I recognized that even the small steps and small things were important efforts in improving the lives of others.

Family photo of Participants

While working with these families, I realized that my parents made a difficult decision and sacrifice when they moved from their hometown in Pakistan. They decided to live in America where it was twice as difficult for them because of language barriers and their limited education from Pakistan. However, even with these barriers, my parents instilled some important values in me that have allowed me to be successful in my own life. They taught me that taking the easier route is always preferable, however taking the higher, harder, and more honest route is important. They reminded me that success comes from failures and that rejection and failure is inevitable. Because It is what you do when you fail that shows your true abilities. They raised me to be giving, be humble, and be kind.
I am not fully following the lessons taught to me by my family, by VIRWC, and by the positive influences in my life, but each day I strive to be a little better.

Younger children exploring the zoo and learning about the mother elephant who will be giving birth soon

By working with VIRWC, I have grown and learned so much and I am ever so grateful to the volunteers, leaders, coordinators, and families who have changed my life. Thank you ❤



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