“If change only ever came through government and business, the world would be a very different place today, and certainly not a better place.” UNE Peace Studies Lecturer, Vanessa Bible, is passionate about social and environmental issues, and a dedicated volunteer since her first year of university in 2003.
“I grew up in a very isolated place, so I didn’t really have the opportunity to share my passion for social and environmental justice until I got to university. I was very much the ‘weird’ kid at school, but at university I got involved with like-minded people and found my voice,” Vanessa says.
Since then, Vanessa has thrown herself into many social and environmental causes around the Armidale region.
“The first community group I was involved in was the Armidale No War Movement in 2003. Since then, there have been too many examples to count, but to name a couple, I was a founding member of Armidale Action on Coal Seam Gas and Mining and, more recently, Climate Action Armidale.”
She says one of the unique strengths of volunteering is that it revolves around building community.
“It always feels good to engage with like-minded people, and to build something together. It can be very challenging to immerse yourself in reams of depressing and confronting information, but building community and taking collective action means we are not doing it alone. Action is the antidote to feeling overwhelmed about the state of the world,” she says.
Often, there is the satisfaction of achieving a tangible result.
“I was involved in the Bentley Blockade in 2014. I donated one month of my life, time and energy to the blockade that was set up to prevent a tight sands gas mine on farmland just 14 kilometres from Lismore. The feeling in the camp was one of real community and solidarity, and I will never forget the feeling when I was woken at 6:30am by a man running through the camp screaming, ‘we won, we won!’”
But just as important as the change it brings, Vanessa says, is that the action that flows out of volunteering is always authentic and empathetic.
“I like how giving back to the community on an unpaid basis unsettles the dominant theory that we must be always geared towards accumulating wealth. Volunteers care deeply about the work they do. We can help each other out not because we are paid to do so, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she says.
“Volunteering is not just about achieving an outcome. It also demonstrates to others that people care, which in itself builds compassion and community. Take, for example, the Irish water convoy from Sydney that just delivered desperately-needed water to our fire-fighting reservoir in Armidale – this volunteer work also reminds us that people care about us, and our fate, and humanity is inherently good.”