Karla Benitez migrated from Mexico eight years ago and started volunteering with Umbrella Inc in February 2015.
“Volunteering was a very important part of my settlement in Australia, it was a first step for me to connect with my new country. I lived one block away from Umbrella and I saw a multicultural centre. I was a new migrant and this organisation called to me,” said Karla
Now Umbrella’s Community Visitors Scheme and Volunteer Coordinator, Karla feels there are many reasons people volunteer—to gain skills, to make friends and to give back to the community.
For herself, she says that volunteering gave her a feeling of independence, security and acceptance in her new country.
Missing her family back home, Karla found in Umbrella an organisation where she could visit older people living in residential care and at home, and talk with them in Spanish and Italian.
“Visiting older migrants, speaking the same language and having a similar cultural background, really helped me to find my place.”
Karla volunteered in several roles: administration, reception, events and special projects. Then came an offer of work in Umbrella’s social support programs—Internet Café, Spanish Home@Home and Italian Home@Home. Not long after this, she became Umbrella’s Community Visitors Scheme Support Officer and then Coordinator.
International Volunteer Day is important to Karla and to the volunteers she works with.
“Australia is world-class in terms of volunteering. Volunteers are formally recognised and really supported in the organisations they volunteer for.
“I think having been a volunteer myself helps me a lot in my current role. You need to understand where volunteers are coming from, their different stages of life and reasons for volunteering. And you need to be engaged and committed to bring volunteers into your organisation and to keep them with you.”
Karla still volunteers and this year became a committee member of the Ethnic Communities Council of WA. But volunteering in aged care still has a special place for her—she describes it as ‘giving that sense of humanity’.
One of Karla’s best volunteering memories is of her first client. “I met her son sometime later, after she had passed away, and he said he was very grateful for me visiting his mother. And that really meant a lot to me”.
“My message is … I invite new migrants to volunteer, it will help you to feel connected in your new country.”
The Office of Multicultural Interests recognises the hard work and commitment of CaLD community members. Many organisations are run by volunteers could not carry out their important work without them.
International Volunteer Day (IVD) is held each year on 5 December. For more information visit www.volunteeringaustralia.org