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It's a long way to the top (if you want to work in aid)

Spending an extended stint volunteering overseas - living, working and being immersed in another culture - can be one of the best career moves for anyone who wants to work in humanitarian aid.

Monday January 12, 2015

Toni Stokes and her colleague Sok Kim Hun teach Hen Thorng Roy the principles of good attachment for breastfeeding her newborn. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Tiet Ho

"Let's be honest. Becoming an aid worker is not easy," says Jill Carter, deployments manager at Australian Red Cross. "You need field experience, an understanding of development contexts, the ability to work with limited resources and to improvise, emotional maturity and adaptability. Volunteering overseas is one of the best ways to get this experience."

Red Cross is now seeking volunteers for more than 40 assignments in Fiji, Philippines, Mongolia, Laos, Vanuatu and Bhutan.

Under the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, volunteers will receive living allowances and other support while they undertake development work overseas.

"The range of assignments is incredible," Jill says. "We're after midwives in Fiji, emergency workers in the Philippines, communications professionals in Mongolia, and even a socio-economist in Bhutan."

Volunteering in Cambodia started Townsville nurse Toni Stokes on a career path that eventually led to Lebanon, where she is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to support refugees from the Syrian conflict.

In 2013 Toni spent a year in Cambodia through the AVID program. She worked at a remote hospital, training local staff in obstetrics and other aspects of clinical practice. This international role, combined with her nursing expertise and experience working with Aboriginal communities in remote Australia, equipped her to take the next step of becoming an aid worker.

Volunteers don't perform the same roles as aid workers but the two often complement each other in the field. As Jill explains: "Immediately after a disaster, we send specialist aid workers - often at short notice - to assess the damage and help people respond. But we do send Australian volunteers to spend some time in disaster-affected communities, to help them prepare for the next disaster to come."

New assignments through the AVID program are now open, to commence in June 2015.

Discover more about career pathways to aid, or find out how our training opportunities can help you prepare for international development work.

Australian Volunteers for International Development is an Australian Government initiative.