'Volunteering proves what we are capable of'

Indigenous Australian volunteer Victoria Langmead talks about volunteering remotely, and the surprising connections she has found between her culture and that of her colleagues in Mongolia.

A woman in a graduation gown and cap proudly stands in front of a riverbank flanked with trees. She is smiling and holding her arms out.

I wanted to become an Australian volunteer because it provides a door to the rest of the world.

I’m currently volunteering with the German-Mongolian Institute for Resources and Technology (GMIT) as a Student Affairs Officer, with a particular focus on wellbeing, inclusivity and employment pathways during the pandemic. The university was co-founded by the governments of Germany and Mongolia, and offers students the opportunity to gain a scientifically grounded education with innovative concepts.

For the last year I’ve been working from home, so volunteering remotely for the GMIT feels similar to my current role in Australia. I am surprised how much I am enjoying working for the GMIT remotely.

In 2020 I was volunteering in Mongolia, but was repatriated after only a month due to COVID-19. That month was long enough for me to fall in love with Mongolia totally, and I am so excited to be able to be re-immersed into Mongolian culture as a remote volunteer.

The major advantage has been the flexibility of volunteering from home while balancing full-time work. The amount of work the Australian Volunteers Program team in Mongolia has put in means I still get the advantage of learning about the Mongolian language, culture and ways of life.

'Getting to yarn with someone who has walked my path has been invaluable'

I am working alongside my Mongolian colleagues at the GMIT to develop a mental health workshop for students and staff. We hope to not only bring visibility to mental health but also facilitate capacity building around emotional intelligence and to integrate wellbeing into the university’s policies and procedures.

I’m a proud Noongar woman and part of the Australian Volunteers Program’s Indigenous Pathways, and the experience has been really positive. I have received so much help and support from the Indigenous staff – this has really helped me with my confidence and feeling valid as a professional. I have found the Indigenous Volunteer Support and Advisory Panel to be so helpful; getting to yarn with someone who has walked my path and can provide insight and support has been invaluable.

One thing that has surprised me is how much crossover there is between our culture and Mongolian culture.

In Mongolia, a lot of people live in rural and remote communities, often with parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, and respected elders all living under one roof. The importance and connectedness with the land and the animals reminds me of the way we live and see the world. Even our sense of time seems to be succinct (nothing in Mongolia happens on time!) It reminds me of how much traditional peoples have in common and how much potential for knowledge sharing there is.

'I now see the potential in myself'

I was so unsure of myself when I started volunteering. I felt shame and like I wasn’t the same as the other volunteers because I was the first in my family to finish high school or go to university. I didn’t think I was good enough to add value to the international development space, but I pushed through the anxiety and am so proud of myself. I now see the potential in myself.

Sometimes we just need that one chance to prove to ourselves that we are capable, and volunteering can be an amazing opportunity to do that. We need to show the world what our mob is capable of but before we can do that, we need to see it in ourselves. If there was one thing I would say to other First Nations mob who are thinking about international volunteering it would be: ‘go for it!’