International student Laila Alves is no stranger to helping her community. With volunteer experience in Brazil, Germany, England and now, Australia, she knows her way around the sector.  

To coincide with National Student Volunteer Week (#NSVW), we were pleased to talk with Laila about her volunteering journey. She candidly talks about some of the biggest barriers to student volunteering, like heavy administrative load and and lack of flexible hours. Laila also reflects on some of the opportunities she has gained through her volunteering in Australia, helping her connect to the local community and culture.

If you haven’t already, make sure you take a look at our other stories with Shawn Woo and Afra Azzahra.


Full interview with Laila Alves

Facilitated by Sojen Pradhan, AusLEAP 

Tell us about the program you volunteer with.

I volunteer with around 100 students at AusLEAP at University of Technology Sydney. The program provides volunteering opportunities for international students to help integration and connection with the Australian culture.

What roles and activities do you perform?

My volunteering role is supposed to match each person’s skills and talents with the needs of the organisation to find solutions for their challenges. We support small to middle size companies in Australia, mostly in the NGOs sector. Activities range from supporting the FoodBank warehouse, providing research services for specific topics, to cleaning the streets of Sydney with daily events for Clean Up Australia.

How long have you been volunteering?

Over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve been volunteering for different causes and organisations (not continuously). This includes activities like helping out as an English teacher in Brazil and Germany, assisting with benefit events, participating in Mapathon from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to support communities in Africa, as well as activities in Australia with FoodBank and Uniting Care.

Why did you choose to volunteer?

For me, volunteering is a wonderful way to get in touch with people in need and provide support. It’s also an opportunity to connect with others.

How did you get involved in volunteering?

In Australia, it was available through my University (this is the first university where I had with this kind of program). Otherwise, I find volunteering opportunities through international organisations like Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Has your volunteering experience been what you expected it to be?

The AUSLeap program was a good experience to participate in. It provided me with an introduction to Australian culture, organisations and the local landscape (like conferences on cultural differences).

Later we received guidance from local mentors to support us in aligning our skills and talents with the needs of the organisation. The volunteering opportunities I participated in Australia helped me get in touch with local organisations, share my experiences and talents with them, as well as get in touch with people.

How can a volunteer manager or organisation make an environment more inclusive for people from all backgrounds?

Choose tasks that are clear and easy to understand. This allows people from different backgrounds to participate. Tasks that are too specialised might be challenging in this context. For example at Food Bank, we helped organise and sort food – this is a task that can be done by anyone.

Also, be available for answers and clarifications, as volunteers do not always have a detailed overview of the business and the structure in the organisation. This can create some doubts about the work and objectives. For example, we had to provide suggestions about the use of technological solutions for an organisation, but we didn’t have the details about which system they used and how they were integrated. Therefore it was challenging to provide any advice.

And lastly, avoid too many pre-requirements like Police Checks , which in some cases might be necessary. For international students, this can take time to ask their original country and hinder the engagement in this activity. If the work does not have any contact with children (which requires a check), exempt the need of additional documents.

What can a volunteer manager or organisation do to engage student volunteers?

Focus on tasks that have more connection with the young generation, like social media topics, as well as technology related topics. Provide them benefits like certificates and reference letters for future employees. Also, create the possibility for them to be socially connected with like-minded young students or activities that young volunteers enjoy like sports, music, events.

Do you have any advice for a volunteer manager or organisations trying to recruit student volunteers?

Recruit them on social media, universities, clubs and activities where they are mostly present and engaged. Connect with organisations that have similar goals and objectives in order to allow cooperation between people.

Make the recruitment process simple and easy, to avoid students spending too much time on it, because it will give an impression that it is selective test and might decrease interest. Use motivational words during the recruitment that focus on how much they will gain with the experience.

Have an easy access to the day and time that volunteers can act, due to different schedules between organisations and volunteers. Rigid or specific work times can create an additional problems for volunteers.


Learn more

About AusLEAP

AusLEAP is a program that connects international students in NSW with local, established community, charity, not-for-profit, and social enterprise organisations to undertake training and volunteering opportunities. It was launched in February 2022 with support from the Study NSW Partner project.

Last year, AusLEAP 2022 worked with over 34 partners including leading educational institutions in NSW (8 universities, 4 colleges and 3 associations, 2 social enterprises and 1 student agency), business, government, and community groups (16 community organisations) to facilitate the volunteering opportunities for international students. Through this process, international students had the opportunity to be part of the local community, understand the culture, way of working in Australia and contribute to social impact through community organisations.

To learn more about this program, visit their website.

Highlights of AusLEAP 2023 can be viewed here.

Logo for AusLEAP