Greg Keane has been systematic in his approach to volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). Before he began, he thought about what he's passionate about and the amount of time he would be able to commit. He thought about the skills he could offer and now treats his volunteering role like a paid job – but it's a job with benefits he would never receive from paid employment.
The ASRC provides support and advice for over 1200 people seeking asylum in Australia. Based in West Melbourne and running out of offices that most days are bursting at the seams, the organisation relies on over 700 volunteers at any given time to provide a range of services.
Professionally, Greg is a psychiatrist and he volunteers in the ASRC's Counselling Program on alternate weeks. 'I look at it as part of my professional practice,' he says, 'and I love being able to contribute something that has value to the organisation and its asylum seeker members.
'I made a two-year commitment and I'll re-assess at the end of that time,' he says. 'I know exactly how much I'd be earning if I was doing my volunteer work as a paid job, but the benefits I receive are amazing, and I never have the feeling that I've had to give something up to be a volunteer.'
Psychiatric help is a very important service to be able to offer asylum seekers – some of them have been through unimaginable persecution and hardship before arriving in Australia. But Greg also volunteers outside his professional area, working in the Campaigns team every second week, helping the ASRC raise awareness – in the media and in the community – of the plight of asylum seekers. He helps out with campaigns and is part of the speakers team that the ASRC sends out to talk at events and functions.
'I love learning but it's a real challenge to be speaking in public about what the ASRC does. Being in the public eye makes me a little nervous,' he admits, 'but I'm passionate about the plight of asylum seekers, so I'm proud to be part of the team.'
His work in the campaigns team challenges and rewards him in different ways. 'What the campaigns team does is terribly important,' he says, 'we're always finding myths that need busting, and the team is involved with government submissions and media briefings. I am really happy to be volunteering with like-minded, educated people who are all working to improve the public's knowledge in this area.'
Greg acknowledges that there is a great deal to learn. 'If you're only working a day or half day a week, it might feel like a few weeks have gone by and really you've only been on the job a handful of days, in real terms. Over a whole year, you might be looking at a total of forty or fifty days. If you translate that to a full-time role it's a really short timeframe to expect to get a grip on complex issues.'
If he had to advise someone about whether to become a volunteer, Greg says he'd tell them to think carefully and then take the plunge in an area they're passionate about or where they have skills. 'You might want to deepen your knowledge in your chosen profession by volunteering in that area,' he says, 'or you might want to step outside what you know and volunteer in an area that's going to teach you something different, and maybe stretch you in a different direction.' His practical, systematic approach to his own volunteering is evident in his advice. If you want to volunteer in your professional area, 'Imagine what it's like to get up, go to work, do a day's work and then come home – and not get paid. If you can imagine feeling great about doing that, then go ahead. The rewards can be outstanding.'
For more information about volunteering at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, visit their website http://www.asrc.org.au