Building bridges through international volunteering

Introduction

Dr Peter Devereux has long been part of the Australian Volunteers Program. Peter completed two volunteer assignments by 2001 and has devoted much of his life to researching how volunteers and their partner organisations see assignments as contributing to the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). His PhD also focused on international volunteering for development and sustainability.

Peter completed his first volunteer assignment in Nicaragua from 1991 to 1995, was in Fiji from 1999 to 2001 as a UN Volunteers program officer, then accompanied his wife Leigh on her volunteer assignment to Myanmar in 2017 to 2018. Here's Peter's story.

Volunteer beginnings in Nicaragua

I volunteered with a Nicaraguan NGO, the Sandino Foundation, as part of the Australian Volunteers Program. My role was to help integrate environmental considerations into the organisation’s development programs.

I was inspired by the Nicaraguans I worked with — their tenacity, resilience and local wisdom, which allowed them to take action in the face of adversity.

Peter Devereux with wife Leigh Dix Irish volunteer Molly Oduffy and Nicaraguan friends in Posoltega with sons Tomas and Salvador
Australian volunteers Peter Devereux (far right) and Leigh Dix (far left) with their children Tomas and Salvador, an Irish volunteer and Nicaraguan friends. Supplied: Peter Devereux
Australian volunteer Dr Peter Devereux with his son Tomas while volunteering in Nicaragua
Peter Devereux with son Tomas in Nicaragua. Supplied: Peter Devereux

 

One of the most rewarding experiences was working with my colleagues to develop a comic style education booklet to share knowledge amongst farmers. From the information in the booklet, farmers were able to make their small and medium size farms and cooperatives more productive and sustainable using permaculture principles.

Having three young kids in Nicaragua was very rewarding because we got to see things through their eyes, and they helped us integrate better into the local community. At home we mostly spoke to our kids in English, but they always responded in Spanish! They were a great bridge to local friendships and understanding that opened doors for our work.

Leigh and I had our first wedding anniversary on 12 September 1988 while volunteering in Nicaragua, and we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary while volunteering in Myanmar.

Peter and Leighs sons Tomas and Salvador on the beach in Nicaragua
Volunteers Peter and Leigh's sons Tomas and Salvador in Nicaragua. Photo: Peter Devereux
Peter Devereux (left) and his wife Leigh Dix (right) outside Handicap International in Myanmar
Peter Devereux (left) and his wife Leigh Dix (right) on assignment in Myanmar. Supplied: Peter Devereux

Experience in Fiji and Germany

As a volunteer in Fiji, I coordinated the work of UN volunteers in 10 Pacific countries. I also saw the collaborative efforts of many volunteer organisations from AVI (where I was seconded from my position as Perth State Manager), to volunteer organisations in Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom, among others.

I later worked in the UN Volunteers headquarters in Bonn, Germany, where I forged partnerships between national and international volunteer organisations, including the International Forum for Volunteering in Development.

Value of international volunteering

International volunteering builds bridges between people in an interconnected world.

International volunteers are ambassadors for the universal SDGs as they take their skills and Australian experience overseas, and then bring what they learn from local people and contexts back home to make Australia a better and fairer society.

The Australian Volunteers Program values the contributions and experiences of diverse participants. Families of all compositions are encouraged to consider volunteering overseas. Read our Family and Couples Guide to find out more.

 

Explore volunteer opportunities