A change in perception

Bukhosi Masango shares how a remote volunteering experience challenged his views of disability and changed his life.

Eight people smiling together in an outdoor setting; three people are in wheelchairs and four people are standing and have arms around each other.

I first came across the Australian Volunteers Program in my final year of university. I was studying a Bachelor degree in International Development and Economics at Australian Catholic University (ACU). Like many of my peers, I was always motivated to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.

The year 2020 was a big year for all of us, and as a university cohort we were going to travel to Cambodia for a semester-long immersion trip. Our plans were changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and our lecturers presented us with many alternative options – volunteering remotely with the Australian Volunteers Program being one of them.

I went on the website and put through an application to volunteer for the QuadPara Association of the Western Cape (QAWC), based in Cape Town, South Africa.

‘When I met the team, my nerves were settled’

I was a bit reluctant at first because I wasn’t sure how this would all take place online, but when I first met the team from Cape Town over Zoom, my nerves were settled. Anthony, the General Manager, and his amazing team greeted me warmly and we joked about rugby, food, and everything in between.

Anthony suggested that before I start any work that I read an important document - a PDF booklet called ‘Sawubona disability’, which translates from isiZulu to English as ‘Hello disability’.

The booklet included information about the huge number of biases that exist about disability, and the stigma people living with disability face in South Africa. This book addressed several unconscious biases I grew up with and carried with me. Having this document was a powerful tool for me.

‘A whole new way of fundraising’

Once I had finished going through the booklet, I got my hands stuck into some work, and the team at QAWC was always so empowering and committed to my learning. For fundraising, QAWC usually held gala dinners and in-person events, which we couldn’t do because of the pandemic.

So, Nazeem, a staff member at QAWC, and I got creative and thought of sharing the stories of members and supporters of QAWC and asking supporters to give up one of their weekly coffees for a donation. This was a whole new way of fundraising for QAWC.

The results of this approach were positive: increased online engagement, increased traffic on the organisation’s website and impactful stories being shared in and amongst the community.

‘What you walk past, you accept’

The agility and skills I developed through my remote volunteer experience were countless. I appreciated how much the Australian Volunteers Program team in South Africa and the team at QAWC were invested in my development. I had so many opportunities to attend seminars, learn and contribute.

In 2022, I was fortunate enough to visit the QAWC team whilst visiting family in South Africa. It was one of the single biggest highlights of my life to connect with the team for a day in person after working with them for such a long period of time online.

The booklet QAWC shared will always be significant to me, as will the valuable lessons I learned through working alongside the team.

The most important lesson I was taught by Anthony was ‘what you walk past, you accept’, which Anthony and the amazing team at QAWC embody.

Discover more about remote volunteering.

Top image description: Bukhosi with staff at QuadPara and former Australian volunteer Lowri Williams on his visit to South Africa. Back row left to right: Esmé Kleinschmidt, Chadley Muller, Bukhosi Masango, Lowri Williams and Charmaine Swartz. Front row left to right: Anthony Ghillino, Nazeem Khan and Zara Talmarkes.

A day in the life of a remote volunteer

Experience a day in Bukhosi's life, volunteering remotely from Naam/Melbourne with his team in Cape Town, South Africa.

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