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Published on 29th March 2011
Many volunteers end up doing more than one assignment with VSA, but only a handful manage four of them.
Kevin Bird, who left New Zealand this week with his wife Colleen for a two-year assignment in Papua New Guinea, is now a member of that select group.
His assignment as a business management adviser based in East New Britain is his fourth with VSA – and the third the couple have set off on together.
Kevin was single when he left for his first VSA assignment as a farm adviser in Papua New Guinea in 1975. By the time he returned to New Zealand in 1978 he was married to Canadian-born Colleen, who had been working in PNG as a volunteer teacher with Canadian University Services Overseas. He was also the father of eight-week old twins.
Kevin and Colleen went on to have four more children, and for many years the demands of family life kept the couple busy. However, when their youngest child left school they decided it was time to volunteer again. In 2004 they returned to PNG where Kevin worked on assignment as a farm manager. That was followed by a third assignment at the Vatu Rural Training Centre in Solomon Islands.
Kevin sees his latest assignment, working with the Pomio Potongpaga Group, as a very “grassroots” one. “It’s basic principles – budgeting and planning.”
After so many assignments, he knows what to expect.
“For the first six months you just to take it easy and see what your partners are trying to achieve. You’ve got to be very careful that you don’t go in with preconceived ideas about what’s going to happen. I say to them ‘This is your country. I’m just a foreigner – you make the decisions.’”
Colleen, a keen gardener who loves the volunteer lifestyle as much as her husband, is looking forward to once again being able to grow fruits such as pawpaws, pineapples and bananas.
“Another thing I’m really looking forward to is learning more local crafts.”