‘Volunteering has made a big impact on my career’

The ABC’s disability affairs reporter Nas Campanella says a volunteer experience in Fiji made a lasting impact on her. The experience gave her a different perspective on issues facing people with disabilities, and has helped shape her career.

Two people sitting on a bench talking. The man is explaining something to the woman, who has a white cane by her side. They are being filmed by a camera.

In 2016 Nas Campanella, who is blind, joined four Australian volunteers with disability in sharing her skills and experience with people with disability in Fiji.

Nas was excited to be part of the first Disability Empowerment Skills Exchange [DESE], a DFAT-funded volunteer program: “When… I read about the [exchange], I knew I’d struck gold,” says Nas.

Four of the volunteers had vision impairments and the group’s team leader was Deaf. ‘Our communication was facilitated through various Auslan interpreters flying in and out and we were all given basic signing lessons,’ says Nas.

‘Individually, we were strong and confident women with very different life experiences, but we bonded instantly over a shared goal to create change for others with disabilities. Learning and knowledge sharing is a ‘two-way street’

For her assignment, Nas was placed with the Spinal Injury Association of Fiji [SIA], a current partner of the Australian Volunteers Program, to support the association’s media and communications activities.

The SIA works to improve the lives of people with disability in Fiji, by providing mobility equipment, running employment programs and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

Nas worked with the team at the SIA to come up with a social media framework and run workshops on topics like press release writing, doing interviews, effective communication and public speaking.

Far from being a situation where she came to the SIA to ‘bear my wisdom in media and communications and disability’, Nas says the learning went two ways: ‘It was definitely a two-way street in terms of the sharing of knowledge and I think that’s the most important thing.’

During her assignment, Nas joined the International Red Cross on a trip to the province of Rakiraki, where she filed her first international current affairs story, about accessible cyclone-proof housing.

The experience ignited Nas’s interest in long form storytelling, and when she found out a new DESE team was going to Fiji in 2017, she headed back to cover the story. ‘A story about people with disabilities, told by someone with a disability’

Along with ABC journalist Aaron Kearney, Nas filed stories about the impact of the DESE project, including a television feature for the 7pm News about the changing perceptions of disability in Fiji.

‘I’d not heard of a totally blind journalist producing a TV news story before and there seemed like no better time to give it a go,’ says Nas.

‘I felt an incredible sense of personal and professional achievement, but it was also proof that people really can do anything when given the right support and resources.

‘Best of all, it was a story about people with disabilities, told by someone with a disability.’

Nas wrote an online feature article to accompany the piece.

Nas began her career in 2011 as a cadet journalist at the ABC, before working as a regional reporter in New South Wales. She went on to work as a newsreader, reporter and senior producer at Triple J and other ABC platforms.

As the ABC’s disability affairs reporter, Nas has covered the disability royal commission and many other critical issues related to people with disabilities, both in Australia and internationally.

Through ABC International Development, Nas has run initiatives for people living with disability in the Pacific, a passion sparked by her volunteer experience.

A unique perspective

Nas says her time volunteering gave her an understanding of the opportunities people with disabilities have in Australia, compared with in other parts of the world.

As well as the news report, Nas brought home other stories she produced for various ABC programs and made connections with people she is still in touch with today.

Those connections have been useful in her role as the ABC’s disability affairs reporter, says Nas, as she’s able to reach out to them for story ideas.

Nas has remained in touch with the people she connected with while volunteering, especially her fellow volunteers.

Those relationships remain strong and have given Nas a good grounding and knowledge of different disabilities and the communities around those people.

‘Having spent a month with the team at SIA, who are all wheelchair users, I have a much better understanding of the inclusion and accessibility challenges they face,’ says Nas.

Having been so greatly impacted by the experience, Nas says she hopes to volunteer again one day.

‘It’s a really good way to offer skills and challenge yourself by living in a new place, meeting new people and throwing yourself into the deep end,’ says Nas. ‘I would definitely recommend it to anybody.’