Last week, I was fortunate enough to interview Kelly Young, from the Otago Students Without Borders. I spoke to Kelly about the upcoming community dinner OSWB are organising, as well as her personal experiences volunteering with this amazing organisation.
Who are Otago Students Without Borders?
Students Without Borders is a student club at OUSA. We came into existence mid-2016 as a response to the growing presence of former refugees in our city, and as students we wanted to do something to help foster connections between students and former refugees.
So what’s the deal with this community dinner?
Coming up to our one-year anniversary, we have over 150 members from both Otago University and Otago Polytechnic, and are in the midst of planning our first big event – a Community Mingle Evening to be held in Brockville Community Hall.
This event will be held on the 13th of May from 6pm to 8pm, and is intended as a way for students and former refugees and their families to get to know each-other through sharing something we all have in common – food.
The idea of the mingle night is that every person or family brings a dish, and alongside some prompt questions, conversations can start around the dish and its significance to the bearer. We will also be having live music, and perhaps a few esteemed guests in the mix.
We chose to hold the event in Brockville as we would like students and former refugees to be able to meet on equal ground accessible to both groups. There will also be a bus transporting students to the venue from the university campus.
How can the community or interested students help?
While the wider community will not be directly involved in the event, there are many ways it can help our cause! Firstly, welcoming our newest residents with open arms and kind hearts is fundamental – something our community has shown in bucket-loads already.
The community can also help our cause by spreading the word about Students Without Borders to either students or other community members who might be able to connect with or support us in any way, and of course simply by starting up a conversation with your community – former refugee or otherwise. The more connected we are to each-other, the stronger our communities will become.
Now, on to more personal stuff…
What was your most rewarding experience helping others?
This is a hard question – each experience is always rewarding in its own way! However, one that really sticks out in my mind would have to be working as a refugee resettlement volunteer for Red Cross. The families are all so kind and generous, despite everything they have been through – each time I visit I am blown away. As volunteers we were accepted into the family with open arms, and any support or time we give is always reciprocated ten-fold with wonderful cooking, great conversation (even if that conversation involves a lot of hand waving and sign-language) and laughs. Even almost a year on from when we first met, each time I visit I walk away smiling and awestruck at how resilient and giving the family are, and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to welcome our new residents to Dunedin.
What motivates you to volunteer?
I think at the core, volunteering for me is about people. Being able to meet new people and build relationships in a setting that is not based on profit or self-interest is really special. The connections are more genuine, and we are all there because we want to make the environment we live in, and share with others the best it can be. The networks I get to build help give me roots in the community and also a bunch of awesome people to bounce ideas off and be constantly inspired by!
What makes you angry or upset in our community?
I don’t know if angry or upset are quite the right words, but I find it frustrating that the amazing people and groups doing things in our community aren’t having their voices heard as much as they could be! I think we live in an awesome little city and there is so much to be celebrated! I would love to see different areas of the city become more vibrant and showcase the talents and passions of the people who live here!
What needs to change in Dunedin?
I think there definitely needs to be more of a youth voice. Young people are often thought of as leaders of tomorrow; they are also the leaders of today. I would love to see the youth voice be heard and respected more around the city, whether that is in something visible like street art, or having their say on what affects them in Dunedin, or simply having their achievements and contributions to our community more celebrated!
I also think there needs to be a bigger priority on inclusivity within our public spaces – whether that’s making public spaces physically more accessible, being inclusive for people of all sexualities and genders (including gender-neutral toilets!), or making members of our community feel safe as they go about their daily lives – we might have a small population but we are a hugely diverse group of people!
Being a volunteer, have you ever felt your work went unappreciated? What do you do in these scenarios?
No, I don’t. Part of what makes volunteering so special and unique for me is the complete irrelevance of reciprocity. What we do doesn’t come with any strings – we are doing it for the love of the project or the betterment of our community. That also makes recognition even sweeter if it does happen. Having said that, it can be frustrating trying to work towards solving issues or running projects that don’t have much visibility in the community. The UniCrew team do amazing things to increase visibility of student volunteers and projects going on around Dunedin, and one of the great things about volunteering is that the more you do it, the wider your networks become, and that means the further you can spread your message – whatever it may be!
I would also love to thank and recognise UniCrew for all the hard work they have put into making Otago and New Zealand an environment for volunteering communities to grow, be inspired and make positive change!