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Australian Volunteers Abroad Awards dinner, Sydney, Friday, 21 August 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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Last month 72 people left this country under the Australian Volunteers Abroad program of the Overseas Service Bureau.

Among them were young men and women in their 20s, recently graduated from University. There were 4 families including between them, 7 children under the age of 12. There were teachers and nurses, carpenters and plumbers. There was a Civil Engineer who will be working on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, an Occupational Therapist helping disabled orphans in Malawi, and a Psychologist working with children in a Kenyan refugee camp. There were people versed in the law, in farming and agriculture, the environmental sciences, in hospitality and tourism.

People from all over Australia, from all kinds of backgrounds, going to destinations all over the world. People who were united by a common sense of initiative and independence, and a shared dedication to place their individual skills and abilities at the service of their fellow human beings in developing countries ... among them some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people on the face of the globe.

The Australians who went overseas under the Australian Volunteers Abroad program last month included the 4000th person to have been recruited by the Overseas Service Bureau over the past 36 years, almost all of them under the Australian Volunteers Abroad program. It is that achievement - that remarkable milestone in both individual commitment and collective responsibility - that we are celebrating at tonight’s dinner. It is a celebration that will be marked by the presentation of an inaugural AVA Recognition Award to a representative volunteer from each of the four decades. In dpe course, a Recognition Award will be sent to the other Australian Volunteers Abroad who have served under the program during those past 36 years.

Equally important is the continuing significance of the theme of this celebratory dinner, Building A Better World, and the knowledge that lives with the volunteers that, through the transfer of skills and through their periods of service they have contributed to the sense of partnership and the two-way exchange of knowledge and friendship which lie at the heart of the Australian Volunteers Abroad program. By their efforts, they have helped build a better world, to the lasting credit of themselves and increased respect and


goodwill for our country. As Governor-General, I publicly acknowledge all that they have done and achieved and sincerely congratulate and thank each of those 4000 men and women.

Even as we gather here, there are at present more than 500 Australian Volunteers Abroad working on local salary rates and living often in very difficult conditions in some 50 countries throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific. They are teaching, learning, working and striving. They are improving the circumstances of others across the spectrum of human need: in health, education, administration, services, agriculture and fisheries, engineering and the skilled trades, in environmental management, in scientific, economic, legal and social development.

The program is supported by funding provided by the Commonwealth, through AusAID, for travel and recruitment expenses. That support is, of course, of vital importance. It represents, however, only part of the burden. Thus, it has been said that the monetary value of the contributions to the local communities made by Australian Volunteers Abroad is close to 3 times the basic annual amounts provided by the Commonwealth. Those contributions include such things as salary and benefits foregone by the volunteers, lower advertising costs, the services provided by auditors, academics, consultants, returned volunteers and other supporters of the Overseas Service Bureau. But the real value of the Australian Volunteers Abroad program simply cannot be measured in monetary terms. How much is the value of human lives, human health, human education, human knowledge, human dignity, human happiness? And how can one measure in monetary terms the value to our own country’s international relations of the direct and indirect effects in so many foreign places of the personal qualities and of the achievements of our Volunteers Abroad. The effects of those qualities and achievements will truly persist for as long as human memory of them exists.

Moreover, the importance of the Australian Volunteers Abroad program is not confined to the countries in which the volunteers have served and to Australia’s relations with those countries. It extends within our Australian community.

The longer I am Governor-General, the more convinced I become that the ultimate measure of our worth as a truly democratic nation is how we treat the most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us. The experiences of our Australian Volunteers Abroad have a profound impact on their knowledge and understanding of the causes of poverty, on their respect for people of other races and on their appreciation of the worth of tolerance, mutual respect and compassion. In other words, the experiences of our Volunteers Aboard tend to reinforce the qualities and characteristics which led them to become volunteers in the first place. The result is that they are, on their return, more convinced and effective advocates and exponents of the mutual tolerance, respect and responsibility which uncjerlie our true worth as a nation.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I again express my warmest congratulations to all that the Overseas Service Bureau and Australian Volunteers Abroad have achieved over the past thirty six years both for the countries in which the volunteers have served and for our own country. And I offer my best wishes for all that will be accomplished by the program and those who serve in it during the future years of what, I hope, will be a very long remaining life.