The “CandleLighters” Volunteer Program is an initiative of HOST International to provide development opportunities to staff by supporting them on volunteer assignments overseas. These opportunities are designed to enhance the capacity of overseas refugee host organisations that are closely aligned with the purpose, objectives and values of HOST International.

Lisa is an employee of HOST International and will be commencing a 3-month role as a CandleLighter.

Can you tell us a bit about your role and what you’ll be doing?

I will be based in Kuala Lumpur and will be working with a local NGO called SUKA Society. They have been working towards alternatives to detention for children and work to protect and preserve the child’s best interest. When I spoke to Anderson, the executive director of SUKA, he sounded very passionate and proud of what they have achieved in their work with unaccompanied refugee minors.

I will be supporting the national staff with the development of their case management program as well as supporting staff to develop skills with conducting risk assessments. When I arrive at SUKA this week, I hope to have a period of shadowing case managers so I can further understand the work that SUKA does as well as to observe SUKA’s mission and values in practice.

What made you want to volunteer for CandleLighters?

I saw it as an amazing opportunity to gain further experience in a diverse environment. I felt that I would be able to learn a lot from the role whilst continuing to be mentored and supported by HOST. I want to learn more about international development and apply the skills that I have gained from my time in Nauru and working at the hospital to practice.

Tell us about your professional experience.

Prior to working in Nauru, I completed my bachelor of social work in Christchurch, New Zealand and my post graduate study in mental health and addictions in Auckland, New Zealand. I started my career working for the Waikato District Health Board where I was based in community mental health. I developed a passion for both mental health and working with individuals and families during their most vulnerable times. I gained experience at managing crisis and risk assessments as well as completing psycho-social assessments with a holistic perspective, including the individual, their whanau (family) and all dimensions of health: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

I’ve also worked as a team leader in community mental health, followed by my time as a case manager in Nauru for HOST International.

What are you expecting to get from the programme?

I hope to gain a new set of skills and to develop my professional experience whilst supporting my new colleagues to further advance their case management programme.

I want to develop my theoretical understanding of monitoring and evaluation of programs, and to also try new ways of working. I am excited by the opportunity to mentor front line workers and learn new skills from the way they operate.

This placement will also allow me to learn more about different cultures as well as the challenges that refugees and asylum seekers face with their individual journeys. It will be great to experience how different NGOs function and how they meet the needs of the national population.

Have you worked or lived abroad before?

At the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
At the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, 2014.

In 2014, I travelled to Africa and spent some time doing volunteer work in Kenya. Initially, I worked in the Kiberra slums and worked with a group of ladies who were HIV positive. We spent time exploring different ways that they could support themselves by selling handmade items as well as providing psychosocial support. Listening to each of their narratives was truly empowering.

Secondly, I worked at a school in Kitengala in Kenya. We held community consultations where we considered the needs of the school and the diverse learning needs of the children. I really enjoyed addressing the different learning styles of the children, particularly ones who appeared to have developmental needs and different learning styles to what was being offered. We supported building a library which was identified to be sustainable by the school community. This created an opportunity where children could go for some quiet time as required, teachers would have one-on-one time with different children and it simply supported literacy, since the school had very limited books prior to the library being built.

I also lived outside of Cape Town in South Africa, in a small costal town called Muzienberg. I supported the development of a sports programme for at-risk youth aged 10-18 years old. We provided an environment where they felt safe to come and complete homework and it gave them an opportunity to learn water skills, which was important being a coastal town.

This outreach program provided the youth with an outlet, new skills, a place to make friends and a basic meal after school. One of the kids involved has continued to be highly active in surf competitions and another one has relocated to America with a scholarship to study medicine.

It sounds like SUKA Society will be a great fit for you, Lisa. We look forward to hearing more updates on your CandleLighters journey!