Bubbly second-year Speech Pathology student and Vice President of Curtin Volunteers! (CV!), Marcella Low, probably seems like an angel to some of the busy mothers around Perth. For the past 18 months, Marcella has organised a group of volunteers from CV! to head down to the local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) program in South Perth, to run an activity program for young children, so their mothers can take a break from parenting and enjoy socialising together.
The MOPS program is one of many volunteering projects Marcella is involved with through CV!, which recently coordinated the longstanding John Curtin Weekend (JCW), which involved 400 volunteers visiting 40 regional and metropolitan sites in Western Australia to work on local community projects. 2016 also marked the first year of JCW in Singapore, with 60 Curtin Singapore volunteers assisting with a coastal clean-up at East Coast Park. Another 260 volunteers from Curtin Sarawak worked on projects at six rural communities in Malaysia.
Marcella volunteered throughout her childhood so, when she started her Speech Pathology course at Curtin in 2016, taking up a role at CV! seemed a logical way to build on her volunteering experience, meet likeminded people and have some fun along the way.
“Having grown up doing a lot of volunteering… I was keen to be involved in volunteering at Curtin as well. I love being able to give back to the community and to help different groups of people in ways that are relevant to them,” she said.
While volunteering is often viewed as someone contributing their time and skills to assist individuals or groups in need of a helping hand, Marcella believes volunteers also gain from the experience in ways they often don’t anticipate.
“The unexpected benefits I have observed are the opportunities I have been given. When I first walked into the CV! office at the start of last year, I had no idea that I would be where I am today, or would have the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have had,” she said.
“People often think that volunteering is all about giving – time, energy, resources – but there’s so much that you get back in return as well. I’ve learnt so much about different cultures, about how to communicate with people, how to cook the perfect sausage sizzle, how to manage a team, and these are all skills that will be useful, not just academically but beyond that in the working world, and in life.”
The development of professional skills, which Marcella will use in her career as a qualified speech pathologist, have been a particularly valuable benefit of her volunteering work, which has included working with educationally ‘at risk’ children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Liaising with other team members, who have different experiences and skills, but the same passions and goals, is similar to the experience of working within a multi-disciplinary team of allied health professionals, something Marcella will do in her career as a professional Speech Pathologist.
“I chose this course because I knew I wanted a career where I could be helping others and, since I love language and working with children, speech pathology was a fitting combination of these passions of mine,” Marcella said.
“On a professional scale, I have found that volunteering has helped me to hone skills that I would not have had the opportunity to learn otherwise… It was very interesting to be learning about the way language develops in children while volunteering in MOPS, and to see the kids use the techniques and strategies we have been learning about in class.”
“Learning about different behaviour strategies, and ways of teaching in a supportive manner, also helped me in Homework Help, a program where we help school children from refugee backgrounds with their homework. Going on Remote and Indigenous trips has also made me more open and interested in applying for a rural placement in the future, with the potential to want to work rural after graduation as well.”
On a personal level, Marcella has found that volunteering with CV! has helped her develop greater self-knowledge, and offered her the opportunity to join a vibrant and collaborative community while studying her undergraduate degree.
“I find that you learn things about yourself as you volunteer and interact with others, and that leads to a deeper sense of self-awareness, and a stronger sense of belonging and knowing what you stand for,” she said.