Published on 18th February 2015
At Kokopo Business College, Alison Holmes enjoyed the personal touch. Volunteering as a Tertiary Education Adviser, Alison says she quickly found that despite her enormous input into the College’s plans, such as being granted Polytechnic status by the Papua New Guinea Ministries of Education and Higher Education, her greatest impact came through the one-on-one mentoring she did with teachers and students.
There’s a parade of students who can attest to higher grades, bigger plans and brighter futures, thanks to Alison’s input. But, as fellow volunteer Lorena De La Torre has already written, Alison’s mentoring went beyond the boundaries of her assignment.
Her “Holmes away from home," as she jokingly calls it, was her spare room – open for fellow volunteers, family and friends to visit, any time they needed. She was a frequent host to visitors from New Zealand, but the space in Kokopo had a serious purpose, too.
“One of the reasons I became the focus,” she says, “was they need that respite from village life.” Volunteering in the Pacific means often working in idyllic, quiet villages, but it’s important to realise that people need time out from that, too, Alison says. “They need either the civilisation of Kokopo, or just to get away. So having somewhere they could come is really important. Anybody who lives in that kind of environment knows it’s a fishbowl.”
The support of fellow volunteers is vital, she says, and “it doesn’t matter what volunteer organisation you’re with, it’s a really supportive community.” Her hosting of VSO volunteers meant she had reciprocal places to stay on her travels around the rest of Papua New Guinea, another thing she says volunteers should do at any given opportunity. Not only is it a breather from the often small communities they’ve been living in, but it can enhance their assignments, by allowing them to gain a broader understanding of the whole country.
Her network meant she could afford to travel, as she points out internal travel can be really expensive. “A hotel in port Moresby could be 700 kina (about $350) per night so you need somewhere else to stay. I really, really valued that, getting to see other places. I think insofar as is possible, volunteers should see other parts of the country.”
Alison’s guest book is a memento of the support and space she offered her fellow volunteers. She says Liz Hicks, volunteering at the Nazareth Rehabilitation Centre in Bougainville, signed with “Not just a stopover, but a vital stop when travelling Papua New Guinea.”