Homeless shelter volunteering reaps rewards

ROSA STUDHOLME
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2013
kristina oconnor
ROSA STUDHOLME/ Fairfax NZ
GIVING BACK: Former Timaru Girls’ High student Kristina O’Connor is travelling the world volunteering.

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Not ready to rush into a career, former Timaru Girls' High student Kristina O'Connor is travelling the world volunteering.

The 20-year-old left school at the end of 2010 and headed to Cork, Ireland, to volunteer at a homeless shelter through the Lattitude Global Volunteers organisation.

"I kind of always wanted to go overseas but I was really into sport so I didn't want to leave school because I'd miss out."

She also knew her plans to join the police force could wait.

"I wanted to get life experience and do that first."

She was put on to the volunteering organisation through the school careers adviser.

Her experience in Cork was "pretty life-changing", she said.

"I've lived in Timaru all my life so this was the first big leap. It chucks you in the deep end and makes you find your own way."

Local representatives were on hand to help.

"So you're never actually alone."

Her job was in the transitional residential house, working with the residents to get them involved in the community by playing sport and taking them out to the theatre.

She would also sit and listen to the residents who needed someone to talk to.

It was "really rewarding" work, she said.

She knew her efforts had been worthwhile when a resident wrote a song for her when she left.

"It proves being there did make a difference.

"I suppose they don't have anyone else. Most of them don't have family."

On her way home she spent time in South America, which ignited the travel bug within.

"I wasn't done. While I'm young I want to get out there and see the world while I can."

She spent last year working as a care support worker at Idea Services.

On Wednesday she left for Fiji where she will become a volunteer at the Ratu Seru Memorial School near Levuka on the island of Ovalau.

There are 180 students at the school, which also has a kindergarten.

"It's a bit of a challenge but that's good. I want challenges to get over the inhibitions I have.

"(Like) I don't eat fish ... but I really want to. Hopefully if I'm there long enough I'll get used to it."

Lattitude had prepared her well, she said, sending her to an English teaching course at Massey University. But they could not prepare her for everything.

"You're pretty well-informed, but you can't see everything coming."

"I don't know a lot about Fiji but I think I know enough to make me started.

"I almost like it that way because I'm making up my own perception of the place."

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She said a lot of people were unsure what they wanted to do when they left school and rushed into study.

"The thing to do is to go to university, and it wasn't a line I wanted to take.

"I didn't want to commit to it in case I got itchy feet again.

"If you're not sure what you want to do with life, don't make commitments unless you're sure."

Travelling and volunteering was about "building your character and giving you a good standing in life", she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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