|Volume 11, Issue 1||Interchange||April 2001|
Australian Volunteers International
Government sponsored volunteers from Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the UN currently serve in Indochina. The US Peace Corps is not present. An agreement was signed with Cambodia six years ago which still awaits implementation. It has strong support from Ambassador Kent Weideman, a former Peace Corps volunteer. The following articles about Australian volunteers appeared in AVI's magazine two years ago, but are still relevant in terms of a model for potential US volunteers.
--John McAuliff, Peace Corps Peru 1964-66
Australian Volunteers International is the new name for the Overseas Service Bureau (established 1961). This title was chosen to better reflect the organization's core business which is providing Australian volunteers in response to requests from employers and partner organizations in a range of countries and building cross-cultural relationships between Australians and the people of host communities. Along with this change and some changes to the governance structure, four key regional focus areas have been identified, one of which is Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (CLV).
Australian Volunteers International first began to send Australian volunteers to this region in 1988 and since that time 370 skilled technical assistance personnel have been assigned to work with local government departments, non-government agencies and international organizations operating in a range of different sectors. This includes individual volunteers working with employer bodies and people placed within development cooperation projects managed by Australian Volunteers International in partnership with local organizations.
Over the years a significant number of placements in these countries have been in the education sector, however in recent times each country program has diversified and grown both geographically and sectorally. In Cambodia, a strong initial focus on the provision of English Language Training (ELT) has changed to a greater emphasis on the provision of technical assistance to local government departments in the rural development sector and increased support has been given to assist the capacity building of indigenous NGOs. An important area of involvement has been the development of long term partnerships, through the implementation of community development projects. This includes project activities conducted in Battambang Province over a six year period. These initiatives are increasingly seen as a model for successful village-based community development and the expertise of its core group of trainers are increasingly sought after by other agencies.
In Laos, where the majority of Australian Volunteers have been urban based, working with government and international organizations, many regularly undertake work in provincial areas
as part of their duties. Recent placements provide evidence of the sectoral expansion beyond ELT, including an HIV/AIDs policy advisor, project officer in the museum; and a media advisor. Australian Volunteers International's program in Vietnam, which has comprised more than 180 volunteer placements, has recently been the subject of a major review. Further details regarding this evaluation are reported below.
During the 1999-00 financial year, 97 personnel placed by Australian Volunteers International were working in this region (Cambodia: 41; Laos: 24: and Vietnam: 32). In addition to the placement of Australian volunteers, Australian Volunteers International is currently working in partnership with local organizations in the implementation of a number of development cooperation projects including:
Krom Akphiwat Phum: A community development program which aims to enable village communities to redevelop according to the hopes and challenges of the particular village. It focuses on social and personal development, as well as on meeting material needs; and
Siem Reap Village Home Garden Project: This project grew out of the experience of an Australian Volunteer agronomist working within the provincial Agriculture Department. It aims to increase the capacity of village women and men to improve food production through the introduction of sustainable agricultural techniques and appropriate technology. The local partner is the Cambodian Community Development (CCD) agency and the activity is jointly managed with the Canadian-based development agency, CECI. The second phase of this project commenced in October 2000.
Australian Volunteers International continues to consider the Indochina region as a priority for program development. Emerging from decades of conflict and international isolation in the 1990s, and struggling with pervasive rural poverty, the technical assistance needs of the region are particularly acute. After a decade of regional engagement, both through the Australian Volunteer program and a diverse range of technical assistance projects - from ELT to community development and integrated rural development, Australian Volunteers International is poised to extend its programs further.
AVI Review of its Vietnam Country Program
In 1999, the evaluation team at Australian Volunteers International undertook a review visit to Vietnam. Its mission: to assess the impact of the organization's activities in that country since the commencement of the program in 1988. This report comes from the team's Manager, Diane McDonald.
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