Meet CandleLighters volunteer Zoe Stewart
The “CandleLighters” Volunteer Program is an initiative of HOST International to provide development opportunities to staff by supporting them on volunteer assignments overseas. These opportunities are designed to enhance the capacity of overseas refugee host organisations that are closely aligned with the purpose, objectives and values of HOST International.
Zoe, 31, is a few days into a 6 month volunteer secondment with Suka Society in Kuala Lumpur.
Hi Zoe, what can you tell us about the work you will be doing on your secondment?
My CandleLighters placement has me working with SUKA Society and in my position as a Refugee Foster Care Capacity Development Worker I will assist in developing core documents relating to SUKA Societies Foster Care Program for Unaccompanied and Separated Children. In particular, I will work to create a Foster Care Program Toolkit that will be made available as a free online resource for other organisations in Malaysia and abroad that wish to set up a foster care program for refugee children. I will also work on the refinement and development of internal documents, including handbooks, training materials for staff and foster carers and will assist in the creation of a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool for the organisation’s Case Management Program.
Why did you volunteer for CandleLighters?
I saw CandleLighters as an amazing opportunity to grow professionally and to utilise my previous skills and experience working with refugee families and children in a different context. I believe I have much to offer but also much to learn. Personal and professional growth occurs through adapting to change and taking on new challenges, so for me it was a matter of why not?
What is your professional experience?
My passion is working with children; however, I always wanted to work within the international development field. I have completed a Bachelor in Humanitarian and Community Studies. This provided me with a theoretical understanding of the global issues and crises that such work could lead me into. I then commenced work with Save the Children; this seemed like a natural fit, given my passion for helping children within the international context. My work with the organisation led to my first professional deployment overseas to work within the offshore processing centre on Nauru. I worked within their programs that provided education and recreation to asylum seeker children detained within the centre.
Some five years later, I am still in Nauru and now working for HOST International to support refugees living within the Nauruan community. Working with the families on Nauru from arrival, detention, release into the community and now onto permanent resettlement in America has provided me with the unique experience of walking alongside the community for most of their journey to permanent resettlement.
What are you expecting from the program?
I’m hoping to gain a more thorough and practical understanding about the regional challenges refugees and, in particular, unaccompanied children, face on their journey to permanent resettlement.
I have worked within the context of Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policy for five years and I’m hoping this experience will expand my understandings to include the refugee-asylum seeker experience within Asia Pacific Region.
Have you done anything like this before?
I have a history with volunteering abroad. However, I have never done this while being supported by the organisation I’m employed with. It’s quite challenging to find volunteer placements that are meaningful and really allow you to utilise your skills to make an impact. I feel already that this placement will differ from my previous experiences and it will really provide me with an opportunity to grow as well as contribute in a lasting manner.
Are you nervous, excited or both?
Excited! Kuala Lumpur is such a vibrant and culturally diverse city. I feel very lucky to be here and working in an area I am passionate about! After just a few days with Suka Society, I am really blown away by all the amazing work they do; not just with the UASC Foster Care Program but on a number of programs that are reaching some of Malaysia’s most vulnerable children.