Each year, volunteers for Cabrini Outreach give around 2000 hours of their time to helping others. As part of National Volunteer Week 2020, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the spirit and passion that motivates volunteering. We spoke to Kiri, a registered nurse, about why she chose to start volunteering for one of our programs and what she has learned along the way.
How long have you been volunteering and what motivated you to start?
My first volunteer trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) was in 2017 and I went back again in 2018. Before going to PNG as a volunteer nurse I helped on a few pro-bono medical evacuation cases at the hospital [Cabrini Health] which gave a little taste of how clinically challenging it might be. So when the opportunity came I jumped at the chance.
I have always wanted to help people. It’s part of the passion of being a nurse – that sense of wanting to help people. The Cabrini Outreach service and education program does that through education and capacity strengthening. Not only did I get to bond and learn with the PNG nurses, but through supporting them I also helped to strengthen patient care.
How did you come to the decision of going to PNG? What made you choose to go?
It was an easy decision to go to PNG. The team had been going for 17 years and I’d heard the previous nurse speak so highly of the program that when the opportunity came up, I jumped at it with no hesitation.
What was your biggest challenge when you first went to PNG?
It was a big shock from the start when the plane landed only one metre short of the water! The challenges kept coming – everything was different at the PNG hospital; the wards are more open air, most corridors link or are open air, lots of family members were around the beds. But it was incredibly clean and the nurses were so passionate about their patients.
Have there been any defining moments for you when volunteering?
The most defining moment was also one of the most challenging and moving. We had two people – a 17 and 22 year old – brought in with injuries resulting from domestic violence, and both required surgery. I saw how important it was to support the development of the skills and confidence of the PNG medical staff in dealing with these kinds of injuries so that they can deal with future cases of this kind.
What have you learned from your volunteering experience?
Being in a totally different environment was intense. In Australia, nurses have a lot of influence over patient care and they play a big role in working with the patient and getting them back to health. However, nurses in other countries may not have the same opportunity. The dynamic is different in PNG, so it was great seeing the local nurses develop their confidence in speaking up about patient care when we had team meetings before surgery. It was also great to see the local team utilising their x-ray machine more after the Cabrini Outreach team explained how we use x-rays in a surgical sense.
It was also amazing seeing how resilient the patients were – no matter what situation they were in the patients were always warm and welcoming. They were so glad to see us and were so appreciative to be receiving care from the local team. I also saw this warmth with the nurses. They were incredibly warm and welcoming to us.
For myself, the experience definitely made me grow as a person. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it and it has helped me uncover a passion for volunteering.