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Celebrating the contributions of volunteers

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Anywhere in the world, the act of volunteering happens. The language that defines it and the manner it is expressed may vary from culture to culture, but the values that drive every person’s passion and talent to commit to something worthwhile are universal. One common trait is the burning desire to contribute to a common good, in one’s own free will, without expecting rewards for their services and dedication. Modern-day heroes, as they are called, their work is exemplified by compassion and unconditional love for themselves but more so for others.

Celebrating the noblest of all goals and aspirations for such a special breed of genuine and selfless altruism, National Volunteers Week, marked from 20 May to 26 2024, is organised to honour the personal and collective pursuits of people who spend their time and energy in nurturing community-level actions for representation, solidarity, freedom, peace, equality and justice for all.

Australia benefits from the Philippines’ very rich history of volunteerism through the bayanihan, which is the tradition of helping one another to promote family, community, and society’s welfare. 

Deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche, the bayanihan culture is rooted in the concept of Bayani, which means someone who performs a heroic act and is characterised by the spirit of communal unity and collaboration to achieve a shared goal. In times of dire need, count on Filipinos to be there.

Three Filipino-Australian women who live and breathe the meaning of volunteerism share their stories. Their individual acts of generosity have profoundly influenced the ability of the individuals and communities they work with to grow and flourish.

Mila Cichello, Champion for intergenerational Filipino values

From her home in Melbourne, Mila Cichello, an active mentor and leader of the Filipino Australian Friendship Association of Geelong, Inc. (FAFAG), travels 100 kilometres each way to Geelong every weekend to spend time with a close-knit group of volunteers composed of Filipinos, Australians and people of other ethnic backgrounds. Since 2002, after joining the group, every trip has always seemed to give her something to look forward to for the week.  While the sense of purpose that is being fostered in the numerous community-driven and local council-supported activities proves to be a great reward, Mila feels that the family she has formed when around this group is what drives her to keep going.

“It is the welcoming environment and strong sense of belongingness every time I am with the group that makes me open up myself and share my time,” Mila admits.

But true to form, just like other unsung heroes, Mila is humble enough to admit how her act of volunteerism has steered the FAFAG into a leading Filipino community organisation in Victoria. Through her initiative, she has lobbied for and was successfully granted in 2013 support funding from the Commonwealth Government for the first Filipino-specific social group for seniors. This paved the way for the ageing members to have access to a relaxed environment where they can enjoy the company of others and participate in a range of social activities on a regular basis.

Mila Cichello.  PHOTO: Angelito Valdez Jr.
Mila Cichello. PHOTO: Angelito Valdez Jr.

Mila’s cause is reminiscent of the valued caring Filipino culture towards the quality of ageing life among Filipino older adults – an important gesture to educate the younger generations of Filipino Australians.

“I really find joy in bringing along with me my children and grandchildren and letting them live and experience their Filipino heritage through FAFAG,” Mila shares.

Over the years, with Mila at the helm of leadership, FAFAG has evolved into a multicultural organisation where everyone is welcome to join. Significant Filipino events, regular socio-cultural fellowship, and “working bee” clean-up projects of their self-built Clubhouse are among the most awaited activities for volunteers where they can connect through culture.

“It is the simple, open, transparent, uniquely bayanihan approach that sets our activities in motion and inspires all the volunteers, young and old alike, to show up and share their time and skills,” Mila reveals.

Also, who could resist the lure of a place that feels like home?

For more information, visit www.fafag.au.

Roxanne Sarthou, Shelter from the pandemic storm

In 2020, when the pandemic struck, international students became unemployed, savings ran out, and they were on the brink of losing their housing in a foreign land. There were the elderlies and countless families who were left feeling very vulnerable and isolated following the draconian lockdown restrictions.

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Rising to the occasion, out of sheer act of volunteering, Roxanne Sarthou, whose parents were Christian missionaries and used to run an orphanage called Rescue Mission for Children back in the Philippines, beckoned the call by reaching out and providing the life jackets to help keep her kababayans afloat in those rough times. 

“During COVID, when the world stopped, I heard that calling and found the need to help others as more people clamoured for company and social connection,” Roxanne says.

Never mind the risks that came with having to be physically present to organise and put together care packages of groceries and other household essentials and seeking immediate funding from Victorian Government for these relief actions; these selfless efforts resulted to the distribution of 30,000 bags. 

The food banks, emergency food relief and distribution, and mental health assistance to the elderly and isolated also went a long way in helping the Filipino community get through this so-called pandemic storm.

Roxanne Sarthou (centre) holding her 2024 Business Mentor of the Year award from TaxSmart Cafe.
Roxanne Sarthou (centre) holding her 2024 Business Mentor of the Year award from TaxSmart Cafe.

For Roxanne, the time and effort she contributed would not have been made possible without the Filipino Community Council of Victoria, Inc (FCCVi), which served as her vehicle to connect with other Filipino volunteers and perform her act of volunteering. As things turned out, the tiny spark snowballed into a bigger-than-life undertaking as she eventually became the chief executive officer of the organisation. 

“This leadership position provided me with a broader platform to implement a wide range of programs toward improving the plight of the less fortunate kababayans like the elderly, youth, OFWs, domestic violence victims and the community at large, which bring FFCVi volunteers further in their mission to serve the community”, Roxanne elaborates.

Particularly, with Roxanne’s volunteerism, an offshoot coming out from the pandemic is a charitable organisation called Salakot, derived from the traditional Filipino hat that provides protection and shelter from elements. It was formed as an affiliate of FCCVi dedicated to look after the needs of international students and other youth migrants. 

Volunteers coming to FCCVi are given the opportunity to get involved and be recognised for advocating multi sectoral groups, most especially the youth – the future leaders of the community.

For more information, visit www.filipinocommunitycouncilofvic.org.au

Kerrie Glad Arapoc, People’s Compass

Melbourne’s reputation as a friendly and culturally-vibrant city in the world is a result of the City of Melbourne’s well planned visitor services. Working behind the scenes, rain or shine, are tourism volunteers who make sure that visitors are guided and go about their day smoothly by sharing their extensive local knowledge and advice.

Kerrie Glad Arapoc started as a tourism volunteer in 2017 while she was doing her master’s degree at La Trobe University. Although her field of profession is a world apart from the volunteer work she does, Kerrie immediately sees the positive and meaningful impact she contributes to her community through a safer and more orderly flow of visitors.

“Being ready to help others when they need information, direction, and support go a long way for someone who is unsure on how they go about their day with the limited information they have,” Kerrie says. By others, she refers not only to international and interstate tourists but to people from all walks of life who need personal assistance with directions, public transport, events and more.

Donning her distinctive red uniform, she goes to her five-hour shift of volunteer work fortnightly without having to worry about spending a dime.

Kerrie Glad Arapoc (right) with Lord Mayor Sally Capp during the recognition ceremony for City of Melbourne volunteers held during Volunteers Week 2024.   PHOTO: Supplied
Kerrie Glad Arapoc (right) with Lord Mayor Sally Capp during the recognition ceremony for City of Melbourne volunteers held during Volunteers Week 2024. PHOTO: Supplied

“The volunteer program has so much support from the city council – from my Myki card to coffee and snacks, free tickets to events and shows such as theatre and musical productions and food discounts from local businesses”, Kerrie shares.

Volunteers are also considered as employees by the city council having undergone the same recruitment process as a paid role. They are given IDs that give access to all city council-owned buildings as well as other necessary tools, like training and technology, to help them more effective in helping others.

“I treasure my volunteer work so much because I have found life-long friends who make the work environment happy and light. It enriches my life experiences and, at the same time, it is my way of thanking Melbourne (and Australia in general) for having been very kind and welcoming to me,” Kerrie added.

By the end of the year, Kerrie will receive her second outstanding volunteer award from the City of Melbourne for reaching 500 hours of volunteer work.

To learn more about becoming a tourism volunteer, https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/careers/volunteer-with-us/Pages/tourism-volunteers.aspx

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