No. 12, August 2015
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Sarawak 50 years on

Among stories of VSAers who take a lifelong interest in their country of assignment, Andy Buchanan's is hard to match. 

Andy was 17, a first-year engineering student, when he set off on the adventure of a lifetime to Sarawak in northwest Borneo as a school-leaver VSA volunteer (pictured below).

It was 1966, and few places in the world could have been more exotic and remote from his Christchurch home than the island of Borneo. His assignment was to teach at Marudi Government Secondary School on the Baram River.

"People were very friendly and there was great excitement among our students, as they were the first generation to be educated," Andy recalls.
In 2013, as part of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Sarawak becoming part of Malaysia, Andy and other VSAers such as Nick Taylor who taught at the same school, were invited back to Marudi. The changes, both good and bad, were enormous.

Not only had their former students become doctors, lawyers and heads of NGOs, but many were now leading a major campaign to stop construction of a giant dam on the Baram River. Over 10,000 people living in village longhouses on its riverbanks could be displaced in a 412 sq km flood.
Blockades had been set up to stop construction workers and material entering the territory. 'We discovered that a tough fight is going on,' Andy says.

Another disturbing change was the impact of logging. In 1966 the whole country was covered in virtually untouched rainforest. Now dusty logging roads run everywhere. Rivers are laden with silt and huge tracts of forest have been stripped and converted to oil palm.
Andy, an Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Canterbury, decided to help the communities where he had once lived and worked. He teamed up with a former pupil, Peter Kallang, leader of Save Sarawak Rivers, to oppose the dam (the pair are pictured last July on the proposed dam site).
The campaign has become a flashpoint for other local grievances, such as land rights. It has attracted global attention with the California-based Borneo Project and the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund weighing in on the side of Sarawak’s rural people.

Andy says Save Sarawak Rivers urgently needs money and expertise, particularly in publicity, engineering and legal (especially land) issues. In July this year he visited Sarawak again to offer support. He’s appealing to other New Zealanders to help in whatever way they can. Here’s his full report, with photos (pdf, 458 KB).

Facebook support soars as VSA reaches young Kiwis

The Body Shop's New Zealand website features a major pitch for VSA.
For a generation who grew up knowing about VSA, it can come as a surprise that young New Zealanders are far less likely to be aware of the organisation.

VSA has been tackling that in a number of ways. Its Facebook followers have rocketed from 1800 a year ago to over 22,000 today. Sixty-five percent of those supporters are under 45 years of age.

Another strategy is to partner with 'social conscience' corporates such as The Body Shop
that operate in the youth market. The company, which describes itself as 'the original, natural and ethical beauty brand', has over 2500 stores in over 60 worldwide markets.

During August its New Zealand stores are promoting VSA to young shoppers. With strong backing from its website, The Body Shop is selling VSA Friendship Bracelets, giving away Vista magazines, and distributing a brochure about UniVol Emily Steel who is setting up a Youth Hub in Honiara.

Time for another assignment?

Currently there are 39 vacancies listed on VSA's vacancies page.

The deadline for applications is
20 September 2015.

What's on

Returned volunteers talk in Auckland
Peter and Elizabeth Brown, who returned from Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam this year, and Hani Jossi, who was in Samoa in 2014, are the guest speakers at an Auckland branch meeting on 18 August.

All returned volunteers and VSA members are invited to the event at the Horse and Trap Bar in Mt Eden. The bar opens at 6.30pm with snacks and meals available for purchase, and the talks start at 7pm. Here's more..

Timor-Leste talk in Manawatu
Pat Martin, a returned volunteer from Timor-Leste, will talk at the Manawatu Branch AGM on Friday 28 August.

The event, at the ETC Learning Centre, 1st floor, 140 The Square, Palmerston North, starts at 7pm. All returned volunteers and VSA members invited. Here's more...

Welcome to VSAConnect

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

- Barbara Wilkinson
- Amanda Patterson
- Dana MacDiarmid

- Jack Hutchings
- Peter and Elizabeth Brown

- Grainne Blount
(ex-Solomon Islands)

- Olivia Owen and Tim Noble

- Jess Thompson
- Tapu and Sarah Tuisuga

- Gerda Pentinga
- Roslyn Clarke and Tom O'Halloran
VSA journalism award
VSA welcomes entries for our annual award for excellence in International Development journalism. Entries close on Monday, September 14.

The award aims to encourage better journalism on international development, particularly related to the Pacific region which is often overlooked by the media.

Orbit World Travel is sponsoring the prizes in both categories: the award winner for published feature writing gets a seven-day trip to VSA’s programme in Vanuatu, with flights provided by Air Vanuatu, while the unpublished category winner gets $500 in travel vouchers - here are the details.
'Busier than Hilary Clinton'

John Putt is proving popular on the Northland speaking circuit.
John Putt at work with joinery students in Vanuatu: 'They're quick learners,' he says.
Returned volunteer John Putt has a full schedule on the Northland speaking circuit, talking about his two years in Vanuatu.

'I’ve had more speaking engagements than Hilary Clinton,' says John, who has talked to around 130 Probus and Rotary Club members in Kerikeri, Kaikohe and Paihia, with another talk due soon in Warkworth.

Prompted by his slides, John outlines his project and how and why he went. His presentations have hit the mark, with the head of Combined Probus writing after his Kerikeri talk that members 'had enjoyed listening to you and [commented] how interesting and informative you were’.

After his talk to Paihia Rotary there was applause, then a voice from the back of the room: 'He had a good education, that boy'. It was John’s former geography teacher – ‘that boy’, John, is now 66.

He says locals are very interested in what works
in aid and development, particularly Northland Rotary members who are designated supporters of Vanuatu. A carpenter by trade, John was a vocational training adviser in carpentry and construction. He taught 40-50 students who were quick learners, he says.

In Vanuatu with its high illiteracy rates, he believes good aid work means more than just constructing buildings and passing on skills such as joinery and fine woodworking.

'We have to be careful how we do aid. Vanuatu has enough buildings but many are untenanted. They don’t have budgets for iron roofs and timber houses so they need to understand building principles and how to use the local materials around them.'

John lives on an acre-and-a-half near Kerikeri and he’s been restoring order to his gardens since returning from Vanuatu late last year. The island where he worked, Ambae, was very remote but he'd love to take on another assignment in the future.

SpeakOut hits stride

Twenty-one returned volunteers are giving talks at 37 different venues around the country during August and into September as VSA’s SpeakOut programme gets into full stride.

Thanks to those returnees who are spreading the word about VSA. They include Janet Carlyle, Beryl Riley, Pat Martin, Pip Desmond, Jo Bowden, Steffen Gnatzy, Bill Hardie, Kevin Bird, Laurie Williams, Stephanie Lamborn, Chris Donnelly, Emily Leslie, Kusal Perera, Elizabeth Brown, Jess Thompson, Renae Carr, Alan Reader, Amanda Patterson, Beulah Edwards, Bridget Robinson and Nicky Brown.

Returned volunteers give talks throughout the year but the SpeakOut programme ramps that up with a concentrated period of speaking engagements. Speakers talk about their assignments, give a brief overview of VSA’s work, invite questions and encourage their audiences to find out more about VSA.
New VSA office in Samoa
Faleolo Levao Leo (right) is the Country Programme Officer in VSA's new office that opened in Apia in July. VSA's association with Samoa goes back to 1963 but Faleolo will be VSA's first on-the-ground staff member. Guests at the opening ceremony included volunteers and New Zealand High Commission staff Michael Upton and Letoya Lee (pictured).
Recommended reads
Reading is a popular pastime during and after assignments. Here's some books that returned volunteers have reviewed and discussed on the VSAConnect website:
  • The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass
  • Beloved Land by Gordon Peake
  • The Most Good You Can Do by Peter Singer
  • The Volunteer Management Handbook: Leadership Strategies for Success by Tracey Daniel Connors
  • The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata
  • Idyllic No More by Giff Johnson
If you've come across a good book about countries you've worked in or about volunteering, send a review to VSAConnect. (NB: To access the VSAConnect website you need to register - see below)

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 directly with other returned volunteers.
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