“The year my family spent in the North Pacific was profound"

An Australian teacher reflects on her family's life-changing volunteer experience in the Marshall Islands.

Julie and Peter Wren spent a year volunteering in the Marshall Islands with their two young children. They were both completing assignments with the Australian Volunteers Program — Julie as a school principal and Peter as a project manager. Many years after returning to Australia, Julie shares some precious moments and family photos from those 12 months. Here is Julie's story.

My family and I agree that going to the Marshall Islands gave us the equivalent of 10 years’ of experiences packed into one.

In that year, our children snorkelled pristine azure reefs, learned about reef sharks from experts, picnicked under palm trees and hunted shell treasures.

They learnt to how to sail and how to desiccate coconuts. They kept hermit crabs as pets, camped on remote atolls, and jumped off the bow of the Greenpeace ship.

Ros Wren snorkels above coral
Ros Wren snorkelling above coral in Marshall Islands. Photo: Julie Wren
A young Nic Wren learning to desiccate coconuts
Nic Wren learns to desiccate coconut. Photo: Julie Wren

As our children got to know other kids, we were invited to neighbourhood events, and formed strong and meaningful friendships with many people who are still our friends to this day.

Both of our children took on leadership roles at school and organised lunchtime games. They met all sorts of people: locals, expats, ambassadors — even the President!

Wren children play with local children on the beach
The Wren children play with friends on the beach in Marshall Islands. (Left to right) All grown-up: Julie, Nic and Ros Wren. Photo: Julie Wren
Julie and Ros
Julie and Ros Wren in traditional dress on the Marshall Islands. Supplied: Julie Wren

After a year in our beautiful pink home, we were hesitant to leave our community.

Back in Australia, the children had a rich source of personal experiences to draw on throughout their studies. Our daughter Ros was even presented with an award for her volunteering commitments in the community.

The first-hand experiences of living and working as volunteers has given us a special understanding of what it means to be global citizens. Our volunteering experience continues to bond us as a family and enrich us in unique, wide-ranging and deep ways.

 

Photo of Julie Nic Ros and Peter Wren today v2
(Left to right) All grown-up: Julie, Nic and Ros Wren. Supplied: Julie Wren
Ros climbing a tree
Ros Wren climbing a tree on the Marshall Islands. Photo: Julie Wren

Julie was the Principal of Majuro Cooperative School from 2001-2002 and Peter was a volunteer Project Manager (Immigration) with the Marshall Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Julie is now the Western Australian (WA) State Representative for the Returned Australian Volunteer Network, and coordinates events for returned Australian volunteers across WA.

The Australian Volunteers Program values the contributions and experiences of diverse participants. Families of all compositions are encouraged to consider volunteering overseas. Read our Family and Couples Guide to find out more.

 

Explore volunteer assignments