Alumni Spotlight: Laura Richards

Why did you decide to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Jamaica?

Laura: I found out about Projects Abroad through a friend of mine who was studying Journalism - she did an internship through Projects Abroad in Africa. After trawling their website I found the Child Advocacy Project (now the Child Rights Initiative), which was a special project that only Jamaica offered. I thought that the Child Advocacy Project would be a great opportunity for me to get practical experience that would nicely compliment my theory based psychology degree. I was also a bit dubious about how trustworthy other organisations were so I felt the safest going with Projects Abroad (even though they are quite expensive) knowing that my friend had used them.

Laura with two new friends she made in Jamaica

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Laura: My day to day activities as a Care Volunteer varied. Placed at the Child Development Agency I spent the majority of my time divided between being in their office assisting with paperwork and at a children’s home counseling young girls. I also got to spend one day assisting the social worker with home visits, while another day was spent assisting the social worker in the children’s court. My days in the office were mainly in the mornings while on the days that I counseled the girls I would have to wait to see them in the afternoon once they had finished school. My time in the office did not just involve paperwork - I was also able to observe the psychologist during a counseling session and with the assistance of another Projects Abroad volunteer organise and then facilitate a bullying workshop that was held at the children’s home.

As a Projects Abroad volunteer I also got do group activities with the other volunteers – with one day spent painting a school and another spent visiting the Bob Marley museum in Kingston. One afternoon at a volunteer meeting we were also given a taste of Jamaican cuisine and learnt a little about Jamaican music and Jamaican patois. As a Projects Abroad Care Volunteer we also got the opportunity to star in an info-mercial, which was a lot of fun!

Volunteering in Jamaica

How has this experience impacted your future?

Laura: My time in Jamaica taught me a lot about myself and my ability to handle challenging situations. Counseling the young girls at the children’s home was not an easy task as some of them had experienced horrific things that made me question the fairness of life. However, I am definitely a more confident person now due to the challenging nature of my experience and I feel heartened by the fact that there are so many people out there that are willing to give up their time and money to volunteer.

Due to my time counseling the young girls I definitely realized that I was more interested in community prevention than individual treatment, which means that I will not go on with psychology after I have finished my bachelor but I will instead pursue masters studies in international public health so that I can hopefully do more work in countries like Jamaica.

My desire to help those in developing countries really did increase after my time in Jamaica because the difference in the opportunities in Australia and Jamaica is stark.

If I had not travelled all the way to Jamaica to try and make a difference I would possibly be continuing further education in a degree that wasn't for me and I would not be as passionate about humanitarian aid.