No. 13, October 2015
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Re-entering the workforce

Getting a job on returning home after an assignment can be difficult. Recruitment practitioner Annabel McCallum offers some pointers.

A volunteer returning to the New Zealand workforce should think of their assignment as a job secondment rather than time out, says a long-serving recruitment practitioner who has helped a number of returned volunteers find work.

Annabel McCallum, a director of Wellington-based JacksonStone & Partners, suspects that some employers might see a VSA assignment as a career break. So it’s important to mainstream it as a career continuum, she says.

“Think of a volunteer assignment like a secondment where you’re building your own skills while plugging a gap in, and adding value to, another organisation.”
Annabel, who has been in the recruitment game for 10 years, says that volunteers often write about their assignments in their CVs differently than their career roles.

“Don’t write about it as a narrative, as though you’ve had two years’ time out travelling overseas,” she says. “Detail it on your CV as you would any other job. Outline the role and bullet-point the responsibilities and achievements.”

Volunteers who think of their assignment as being solely about ‘doing good’ rather than professional development and ‘doing good’ can find job hunting a challenge, Annabel says.
Some employers know what VSA involves but many will see it as simply a ‘nice to have’ without realising how it stretches and grows an individual.

It’s up to the volunteer to explain how the assignment has developed skills and competencies ranging from resilience and initiative to team building and leadership. “Be comfortable and confident enough to say how you benefitted. Ask yourself, ‘What was in it for me?’.”

One technique is a personal skills ‘stock take’ before and after an assignment. The difference is what you talk about with a prospective employer.

Another is to draw on the thinking that a volunteer has already done for their reports while on assignment. Pick out the key competencies and skills from six-monthly, yearly and final VSA reports and you’ll have taken another to re-entering the workforce.

All invited to VSA Congress on 7 November

First-year returned volunteers have their travel, accommodation and registration paid if they attend VSA's annual Congress in Wellington.
All returned volunteers are invited to the biggest event on VSA’s calendar, the VSA Congress in Wellington on Saturday 7 November 2015.

If you’re a volunteer or accompanying partner who has returned from assignment since November 2014 and been debriefed prior to 31 October 2015, VSA will meet your costs of travel to Wellington from within New Zealand, your accommodation and the congress registration fee of $45.

One highlight is a social get-together hosted by VSAConnect, the returned volunteer alumni association, starting at 4pm. The day ends with a dinner from 6.30pm to 10.30pm at the Dockside Restaurant on Queens Wharf – a ringside seat for Wellington's spectacular fireworks display. The cost of the dinner is $45 per head (everyone pays for the dinner).

This year’s Congress theme is “Innovation in Development”. It is an exciting time for VSA , given the Sustainable Development Goals, VSA’s new Strategic Intent for 2015-2019, and
our new contract with MFAT beginning in October 2015.

Speakers include Dr Marilyn Waring, Professor of Public Policy at AUT and a former development consultant; Georgewin Garae, from Penama Provincial Council and returned volunteer Chris Donnelly who will speak about innovation in their partnership in Vanuatu; and returned volunteers Peter Brown and Olivia Owens who will talk about their assignments. Here's the full programme.

Congress venue is the Royal Society of New Zealand, 11 Turnbull St (off Murphy Street) in Thorndon. Business starts at 8am.

On Sunday 8 November, the annual meeting for branch delegates and district contacts will take place at the VSA office from 9.00am to 11.30am. The VSAConnect Working Group will also meet at VSA’s offices on Sunday morning.

Register now here online.  You can also email us or phone (04) 472 5759.
Timor-Leste volunteers feature in thriller

Kiwi volunteers at a book launch in Dili in September found themselves in the unusual position of being asked for their autographs.
Author Geoff Mein shows former volunteer Dana MacDiarmid where she appears in the novel as an American biologist.
Geoff with volunteer Del Bovill, who appears in the book as a Canadian organic food fanatic and social media novice.
Names of many current and some former New Zealand volunteers in Timor-Leste were used for characters in The Alo Release, a genetic modification thriller written by VSA accompanying partner Geoff Mein.

At the book launch in September, guests asked several volunteers to sign the pages where their names featured. All were pleased to be in print, with one asking to be the villain!

Geoff used his pen-name Geoffrey Robert for the book, which exposes the potential for public opinion to be manipulated during an international crisis. It takes readers on a frantic journey from the glass towers of Los Angeles through New Zealand’s heartland.

Volunteers’ names were used for characters such as Mt Eden real estate agents, a biotech corporate manager, farm owners outside Napier, Canadian food fanatics, an American television producer on the take, a Radio NZ journalist and
a NZ diplomat in Washington.

Geoff, a former newspaper editor and communications advisor, wrote most of the novel before moving to Dili. Getting printed copies through the country’s postal system was a challenge so visiting friends took over a few at a time with their luggage.

Formatting the ebook version also provided a few headaches and when Geoff’s laptop died during the final edit, Josh Brooks, a volunteer in IT, managed to resurrect the hard drive.

Now Geoff is juggling his time between teaching English at a remote school near Maliana in western Timor-Leste, writing, and supporting his wife Sue Lancaster, a volunteer management advisor.

The Alo Release is available as an ebook and paperback (limited supply) - here's more information.
What's on
Auckland speakers
Auckland VSA branch and VSAConnect warmly invite you to an event for members and returned volunteers on

Tuesday 20 October 2015, starting 6.30pm.
Knox Room (upstairs), Parnell Community Centre,
545 Parnell Road.
6.30 – 7.00pm:
Simon Marsters will talk about his experiences on the island of Atauro, Timor-Leste, where he worked with local groups to help revive almost-vanished pottery making traditions, and on a fish processing project.
7 – 7.30pm
VSA CE Gill Greer will speak about VSA’s plans following agreement on a three-year (2015-2018) deal with MFAT, which increases funding for more assignments. The agreement illustrates a vote of confidence in VSA and Gill will outline how it fits with VSA’s Strategic Intent, MFAT’s Strategic Plan, and the Sustainable Development Goals 2016-2030.

Questions, discussion.

Refreshments and mix and mingle with other returned volunteers.

To help with our organising, if you plan to attend could you please email Tania Wilkinson. We look forward to seeing you on the 20th.

Time for another assignment?

Ever wanted to be a pearl artisan trainer in Tonga? Or a fruit tree specialist in Niue? If that's not your cup of tea, what about a construction adviser in Timor-Leste or an IT adviser in Papua New Guinea...

There's bound to be something for you in the 45 assignments currently listed on VSA's vacancies page.

The deadline for applications is
18 October 2015.

Welcome to VSAConnect

Welcome to these volunteers who have joined VSAConnect on returning home in recent months.

- Daria Romanos
- Jim Bennie
- Grace Savage
- Brian Frederic

- Kay and Les Dawson
- Jo Slater
(ex-Solomon Islands)

- Nick Hay

- Tennant Fenton
- Shelley Sutherland
- Aubrey Kirkpatrick
Recipes recall culinary highlights
Recipe testers: Nelson VSAers tuck in at a tasting session.
Ever get nostalgic about that delicious food you ate while on assignment? Okay, so it wasn’t all delicious but chances are you’ll find recipes for the tastiest dishes in the Top of the South VSA branch cookbook.

Been There, Ate That! contains gems from 15 countries such as bean long kokonas (beans with coconut) from Papua New Guinea, kumara and orange salad from Vanuatu and riggi coor (potato pancake) from Nepal. And that’s just the starters. Another 40 recipes for mains and desserts evoke host countries from Tanzania to Samoa.

The book was the brainchild of branch fundraising coordinator Eric McPherson in Nelson, a returned volunteer from the Solomons, who organised the contents. Branch members pitched in with photos, stories, quotes and, most importantly, recipes. The finest dishes were selected at a branch pot-luck tasting session.

Well-known Nelsonians and others also contributed to make it a real community effort. Nelson mayor Aldo Miccio loves his caramel chicken, Joe Bennett offers a quick and simple dinner for two, VSA chief executive Gill Greer offers fish with a twist, and former NZ Commissioner of Police Peter Marshall recommends a barbecued whole fish from his time in the Solomons.

Although printed in 2013, one reason the book retains a fresh look is the excellent design and layout by Alison Moore, a returned volunteer from Vanuatu, where she had worked as a design and publishing adviser.

Been There, Ate That! is a highly recommended culinary snapshot of 47 years' volunteering.
All proceeds go to supporting VSA’s ongoing projects. Copies can be purchased for $15 plus $2 postage:

* Email Pat Martin at VSAConnect. Ph 04 495 8532, or
* Email Alison Moore (Top of the South VSA branch).
Volunteer tales
Return to Papua New Guinea 'for love'
A VSA assignment can have unexpected outcomes. In the case of Vinnie Roberts (right), it led to a love affair that in November will take her back to live in her host country, Papua New Guinea.

“I’ll miss New Zealand but I can’t wait to go,” Vinnie says. “A long distance relationship won’t work for either of us. It was my call to move over there and I’m really happy about it.” Read more >>
'Thank you' eight years later
Keen computer students at Mariazel HIgh School

Tony Bray is not the only one with fond memories of his first assignment at a remote high school in Eastern Cape, South Africa, over a decade ago.

Eight years after Tony had taught a computer applications class, ‘Potso’ Nketu, a student who had gone on to attend Witwatersrand University, wrote to him: “I just want to thank you for all you did. University was a remarkably easy environment for me because of the knowledge and understanding of computers you poured into our minds.”

A VSA ‘veteran’ now living in Foxton, 74-year-old Tony has seen a lot over his six assignments.. Read more >>
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Helping out today’s volunteers
If you are interested in helping today’s volunteers or in sharing resources from your assignment, then read on…

VSAConnect is looking to set up a scheme that draws on returned volunteers’ experience to support today’s VSAers. The first element is a ‘buddy system’ whereby a returned volunteer would support a current volunteer in their area of expertise. In today’s digital world, that might simply mean an occasional chat via skype or email.

The second element is to use resources compiled during previous assignments e.g. training modules, templates, planning documents, guides or manuals. New volunteers could adapt these resources without having to ‘reinvent the wheel’, says VSAConnect coordinator Pat Martin.

“When I was in Timor-Leste working in communications, I put together some writing and photography training modules in English and Tetun that I now have on my computer at home. They could be easily adapted to another country and another communications assignment.”

He suspects that in specialist fields such as HR, IT, education, public sector management and accountancy there are plenty of resources and accumulated experience that could assist today’s volunteers.

At the moment, VSAConnect is looking for expressions of interest only. If you can help or want to know more, please email VSAConnect.

Register online with VSAConnect

VSAConnect has its own section of the VSA website.
News is posted several times a week and you can contribute articles and comments,
plus contact other returned volunteers.
Register with VSAConnect online
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