07 April 2006, 15:26
by Rae Julian
I was a United Nation Volunteer in Cambodia as part of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) Mission from 1992-93. This was a life-altering experience for me and I have been told it was the same for the other three New Zealanders who went with me.
Working with other volunteers from a wide range of nationalities, all of whom shared the same philosophy - to help others to start on the path towards self-sufficiency. We did not see ourselves as the experts and quickly realised that our task of voter education and election organisation could only be achieved if we worked as a team with the local people, that we had as much to learn as they did and to take their advice about the best way to convey our message of "democracy".
Much of the camaraderie that started during that year has lasted over the 13 years since our part of the Mission finished and we returned home. Many of us went on to further international work - I returned to Cambodia to manage the VSA (New Zealand's volunteer-sending programme) in the region. It was especially pleasing to meet so many of the UNTAC local staff who had gone on to more paid employment, using the skills that they had gained during UNTAC.
I would recommend volunteering to the UN to anyone with a sense of adventure, appropriate qualifications and experience and a desire to work in the cause of poverty elimination and promotion of human rights.