Supporting athletes of all abilities in Vanuatu

How an Australian volunteer helped para-athletes achieve international success, and turned friends into lifelong family.

A team of athletes from Vanuatu holding up little flags of Vanuatu.

Jessica Richardson twice volunteered with the Vanuatu Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (VASANOC) - the umbrella body for sports in Vanuatu. Here, Jessica shares her volunteer experience.

It’s exciting working in sport for development in a sport-loving Pacific island nation.

My first assignment with VASANOC was focused on increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities in sport in Vanuatu in the lead up to the Pacific Mini Games, in which para sports (sports played by people with a disability) were included for the first time. My second assignment expanded on these goals to increase the participation of people with disabilities, and women, in sport in Vanuatu.

Throughout this time I worked closely with the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, was elected secretary of the Vanuatu Women in Sport Commission and volunteered as Director of Rowing at the Vanuatu Rowing Association.

I’m currently supporting the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, the Women in Sport Commission and the Vanuatu Rowing Association remotely from Australia. The Vanuatu Paralympic Committee recently secured funds to employ a local staff member who I was planning to work directly alongside. I’m now hoping to mentor and support them remotely.

I’m also helping the above organisations with their social media and websites, and I’m upskilling myself by doing online short courses in social media.

It’s difficult to put life in Vanuatu into words.

There’s the pure bliss of living in an island paradise. I stood on the top of a volcano, swam with turtles, dove through a shipwreck, kastom danced with locals, camped on empty beaches and drank and ate an endless amount of coconuts. I’ll miss traveling to remote areas to introduce sport to people with disabilities who never had the opportunity to play before.

What comes next is unknown, but I would like to find work in Australia within sport for development - building on my experience in Vanuatu. I’m passionate about using sport to bring about social change and development.

My favourite part of living in Vanuatu was the people, with their brilliant smiles and welcoming attitude; the friends that have become family. I will be forever grateful for my experience, and know I will remain in touch with my Vanu family.