Community involvement has always been important to Ala, a Law and Genetics student here at Otago. “I have always been actively involved in the community in any way I could, in high school I was heavily involved with Amnesty International and since then I have been involved in heaps of community work”.
She is now the president of the Otago Red Cross, which offers a wide range of community support, especially within Dunedin’s refugee community. Ala is in charge of the administrative side of the Red Cross, making sure that community projects are up and running, as well as organising and coordinating volunteers.
As part of Otago Red Cross, Ala has been a coordinator for a summer school project for former refugee youth, designed to help them integrate into Dunedin society. Working alongside the Otago Community Trust and the Otago Polytechnic, Ala organised volunteers to run CV workshops, wellbeing and employment seminars, and volunteered out at Orokonui.
Alongside her work for the Red Cross, Ala also works as a bilingual support worker for former refugee youth. Originally from Jordan, Ala is bilingual herself, and believes overcoming the language barrier is critical to helping those who may be struggling. She’s been working at Wakari, Balmac and Māori Hill over the past three years both helping kids learn English and providing pastoral care.
While Ala does have a busy schedule, the work is definitely rewarding. “The biggest highlight is feeling like you’re brightening up someone’s life even just a little bit. I’ve worked with a few kids (on a regular basis) who have expressed to me how much value I’ve added to their life through showing them care and support, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better feeling”.
Her volunteer work has taught her some valuable life lessons. “Working with people from all backgrounds means I’ve gained a lot of people skills. And just generally a lot of happiness – it’s nice to use your free time to feel like you’re doing some good as opposed to, I don’t know, wasting time scrolling or whatever”.
While Ala is still finishing her degree, there are more big plans for Otago Red Cross this year. “O Red hasn’t always had a huge presence on campus so it has been our goal to change that — and I feel like we’ve done OK so far. We have heaps of project ideas lined up, including a monthly women’s-only swimming session targeted at women who don’t feel comfortable swimming in a mixed swimming pool and don’t otherwise have an opportunity to learn about water safety, and getting involved with the homeless community in Dunedin through organising drives for warm clothes and other things”.
If you are interested in helping volunteer for Otago Red Cross, contact them at email@example.com.