After five years at university, Sustainable Business Masters student Charlotte Brewer was feeling burnt out and not quite ready to jump into a 9-5 job. It was then that a VSA UniVol assignment caught her eye: Youth Development Assistant at the Northern Care Youth Centre (NCYC) in Luganville, Vanuatu.

NCYC is a youth centre administered by Charlotte’s partner organisation, Wan Smolbag Theatre, a grassroots community theatre company started in 1989 to raise awareness of contemporary issues such as health, environment, gender, and governance in schools and communities.

Nowadays, Wan Smolbag Theatre operates three youth centres adjacent sexual health and family planning clinics across Vanuatu. At NCYC, local youth pay a small registration fee to gain unlimited access to classes for activities such as dance, music, circus, and sewing – as well as the attached sexual health clinic.

Charlotte getting involved in crafting at NCYC.

Charlotte’s multifaceted role involved raising community awareness of NCYC’s services and revamping the centre’s Facebook page alongside her coworker Larizha Tawia, which had been mostly inactive for two years. Together, they reached 71,000 more people than the previous year. ‘It was just the most epic environment to be in,’ says Charlotte, ‘to be surrounded by these incredibly talented young people. My coworkers were awesome and I made some lifelong friends.’

Charlotte was also involved in teaching yoga at the centre, something her coworker Jerry Lini has now carried on after her assignment. She also helped start an onsite veggie garden for Wan Smolbag Theatre’s Nutrition Centre. Due to high rates of non-communicable diseases in Vanuatu such as diabetes, there is a push nationwide to eat greater levels of whole foods from the garden/market, particularly in urban areas.

‘While talking about this issue, my coworker Jahlieon Bato (who is a peer-educator at NCYC) and I brainstormed the idea of establishing a food garden at the centre to promote slow foods and increase food resilience. It was inspiring to be a part of a project which was largely youth-led, as they raised the funds for initial equipment and were actively involved in the creation of the garden.’

In the veggie garden at NCYC.

The highlight of her assignment was ‘definitely the people’, Charlotte says. ‘The Ni-Vanuatu people have hearts of gold and really great senses of humour. I feel like Kiwis and the Ni-Vanuatu people are really compatible because I would just go to work and we’d laugh all day. And it was the small things – we’d always eat lunch together and sometimes after work we’d go and have a shell of kava.’

Charlotte says she absolutely loved working with Wan Smolbag and embracing the opportunity presented by a UniVol assignment. ‘I would absolutely recommend volunteering to anyone finishing up at university,’ she says. ‘Whatever background you have and whatever you studied at university, there’s an assignment for you because they’re spread across a variety of disciplines. They’re a great way to connect with a different culture, dive into the unknown, and experience a lot of personal growth while helping others.’

Charlotte says a highlight of her assignment was making 'lifelong friends'.

‘I think after finishing university and being in your early or mid-20s, it can be quite a confusing and confrontational time of life when maybe you don’t know what your next step is going to be. Doing something to help others and working in partnership…it’s a really awesome opportunity.’

Plus, a UniVol assignment sets you up well, she says. ‘It’s awesome that VSA organises the admin side for you – you go to the country and your accommodation is already set up so you can just dive straight in.’

For more information on UniVol assignments, see our UniVol programme page and pop by our university roadshow stalls when we’re in your town!

University of Otago – Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka
In collaboration with UniCrew
8–9 May

University of Auckland – Waipapa Taumata Rau
13–15 May

Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka
July – dates TBC

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