Few do it but volunteering 'invaluable' to youth

5 September 2016
Cassie Windows holding 'Bushy' the turtle. Credit: Image supplied
Cassie Windows holding 'Bushy' the turtle. Credit: Image supplied

On a clear, balmy Indonesian winter's night on the uninhabited island of Bangkaru in the Banyak Islands, Cassie Windows lays quietly beside a large Green Sea Turtle.

She watches the turtle fall into a trance while laying its eggs in a newly formed nest.

In the midst of the dry season, with only the light of the moon glistening off the ocean, Windows experiences something she can't even explain. 

"It was just the most amazing thing I have ever seen."

The 20-year-old and a small group of fellow Southern Cross University (SCU) students trek with a local ranger through the jungle each night to witness this magical event, volunteering their time to monitor the turtles' movements.

It is a role Windows said she "would not have been able to do without volunteer experience".

Windows is studying a Bachelor of Environmental and Marine Science, and until a lecturer suggested the importance of volunteer experience on a resume, she had not understood the personal and professional importance of volunteering.


Windows and her group on Bangkaru Island monitoring the beach by day. Credit: Image supplied


Around one-in-four young Australians do volunteer

According to Volunteering Australia in 2015, an average of 27 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds currently volunteer, with the median number of hours worked by each individual being just 48 hours per year.

Current statistics for youth volunteering in Australia. Credit: Karlyn Major

"I really like [volunteering], I am trying to do as much as I can now," Windows said. 

After being introduced to the Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) North Coast branch in Ballina by a friend about a year ago, she said volunteering gives her "much more than just another tick on my resume".

Despite her initial reservations about having the time to volunteer, Windows now "finds so much time for volunteering it’s ridiculous".

"Just do it. There’s always something that someone would find that they love.

"I really like animals and just to be this close to them is absolutely amazing, you actually get to know them and that’s what I really love," she said.  

Windows says the ASR Ballina branch has around 50-60 volunteers, however only 20 of them are around 18-24-years old, whom are all fellow environmental or marine science students at SCU or studying similar at TAFE.

"They all have an interest in sea life. You wouldn’t see someone who doesn’t have an interest in it just coming in," she said.

Volunteering Australia conduct National Student Volunteers Week (NSVW) every year in August, in recognition of student volunteers’ contribution around the country, and an opportunity to further expose the benefits of volunteering to a youth audience.

Volunteering Queensland, National Student Volunteer Week Social Media. Credit: Image supplied



Digital life chewing up time for volunteering

Jacquelyn Hole from the NSW Centre for Volunteering says there are many reasons that feed into the decrease of youth volunteering.

"I think it’s a social issue, it’s about how busy people are, but it’s also got to do with kids these days having entertainment at their fingertips.

"In previous generation’s people probably did have more spare time, and they would want to use it up productively," she said.

Hole suggests that introducing more online volunteering options could help engage youth, and that this is "definitely an area that needs much more work, attention and understanding".

A team of 18 to 24-year-olds volunteer for Headspace Lismore’s youth advisory group, which helps the youth mental health foundation become more approachable and youth-friendly.

Lizz, Lauren and Megan all volunteer to "give back" to the foundation, after all being greatly supported through headspace with their own journeys. 

Watch Lizz, Lauren and Megan's full stories. Credit: Jacqueline Munro

Volunteering Australia’s CEO Brett Williamson said in a media release that volunteering was a key part of building "social capital" and helped create "trusting, harmonious and cohesive" communities. 

Key is educating children from a young age

According to Volunteering Australia, the key is educating young people of the benefits of volunteering and Volunteering ACT have supplied a broad range of resources of classroom activities that incorporate volunteering.

Volunteering Australia said encouraging volunteer behaviour while children are in school is effective.

"We know that if a pattern of volunteering is established early in life it can maintain forever, and that school is a key place that can expose them to the benefits of a culture of giving."

NSW Centre for Volunteering's Jacquelyn Hole said studies certainly showed that people who volunteer from an early age were more likely to continue volunteering later in life. 

Volunteering can generate 'unexpected opportunities'

A year on since Windows started volunteering, she now spends a minimum of five hours per week at ASR looking after sick and injured sea birds and sea turtles.

Windows' volunteer experience, and the references she has received for this work, has enabled her to take an around-the-world trip next year researching and helping look after sea turtles, studying bio-diversity and conservation.

This was an opportunity Windows did not see coming before volunteering.

As actress and UNICEF ambassador Audrey Hepburn said: "As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others."

Find out about volunteering opportunities at www.govolunteer.com.au.