This article was written by VEGA Member Australian Volunteers International and published by Australian Aid here.
Volunteer Profile: Dr. Ngaire McCubben
Australian volunteer Dr Ngaire McCubben participated in two assignments with AfricAid, an organisation committed to improving educational outcomes for young women across Africa. Over almost five years in Tanzania, her passion for positive change has only grown.
Dr Ngaire McCubben has volunteered with AfricAid twice as part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.
Her first volunteer assignment in 2014 focused on fundraising and communication. During this time, AfricAid was awarded a grant through the AVI Community Grants Scheme. The funding supported the delivery of the Kisa Project, empowering some of Tanzania’s brightest young women by teaching leadership and life skills, and providing mentoring, networks and resources.
In 2016, Ngaire commenced her second assignment with AfricAid, volunteering as the Program Development Coordinator, a role focused on expanding the reach and impact of AfricAid’s work. Working closely with her Tanzanian colleagues, including Project Managers Eligrania Lema and Asimwe Suedi, they developed Binti Shupavu (Courageous Daughter). This program is aimed at younger, more rural – hence more vulnerable – adolescent girls. The pilot was run in January 2017 and involved 800 girls in 10 partner schools. Four Kisa Project Alumnae were recruited to deliver the Binti Shupavu Life Skills and Personal Leadership Course.
Taking great satisfaction from seeing positive change at the individual and community level, Ngaire also loves the positive change she’s experienced personally. Read more about her volunteer experience below:
What drew you to international development and volunteering?
My background is in tourism, and I have a PhD in Cultural Studies. I was doing community development-related work in Australia, and then had the opportunity to work for a youth-focused NGO for 12 months in Tanzania. I had a strong desire to return to Tanzania then I learned about the opportunity to volunteer through AVI. My work with AfricAid, along with a Masters in International and Community Development that I earned while on assignment, has really expanded my knowledge and interest in this field.
Why are you passionate about girls’ education?
Women and girls around the world are marginalised and discriminated against and don’t have anywhere near the opportunities they should to develop their potential and be the best they can be. They are disproportionately affected by poverty. I am interested in reducing inequalities of all kinds and working to support disadvantaged groups. It feels empowering to be part of the change.
What did you like the most about living in Tanzania?
I like the relaxed pace of life and the way Tanzanians make a lot of time for each other, their families and their communities. Relationships are so important here and we’re able to focus on them more without many of the material distractions and stresses of the Western world. I loved being immersed in a new culture and working on improving my Swahili. Also, the weather is fantastic! In winter it rarely drops below 18 degrees, and in summer it doesn’t usually get much hotter than 32 degrees.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while working in Tanzania?
I have lived and worked in Tanzania for four-and-a-half years and the biggest challenge for me during that time was being away from family. It’s hard to miss out on family activities and milestones. My sister and some friends did come to visit.
Frustrations such as power cuts and sporadic internet didn’t bother me too much – I had to learn to go with the flow because getting upset doesn’t help. One thing is for certain, I was never bored here!
What roles did you have during your time at AfricAid?
I am currently finishing my second volunteer assignment with AfricAid. The first assignment was for one-and-a-half years and I worked on fundraising and communications and spent a lot of time grant writing. I really love this type of writing and am really proud of our success rate for obtaining grant funds!
Most recently, I was the Project Development Coordinator and worked on a number of development activities, including for the new Binti Shupavu program, which aims to reduce the number of adolescent girls who drop out of school. I worked on every aspect of the program to launch its pilot year, including research, testing, curriculum development, communications, designing an evaluation system, recruiting and looking for multi-year funding. It was a fantastic experience in every way – I learned so much and loved every minute of it. I love the impact it’s having and that there are plans in place to ensure its growth.
What are your fondest memories of your assignments with AfricAid?
My most wonderful memories will always be about the strengths of the relationships in AfricAid’s Tanzania offices. The staff care about and support each other. There is genuine love and concern, and a sense of community that I have not found in other workplaces. I will miss seeing my wonderful colleagues every day, but we will stay in touch and I will definitely be back for a visit!
I will also miss my Swahili lessons with Kaka Oscar (AfricAid’s driver, who gets the staff safely to the partner schools and appointments). He is kind, patient and encouraging, and corrected me gently as I learned new words and phrases during the morning drives.
Finally, I will really miss AfricAid’s cook, Dada Lillian, and her food. My favorite dish she made was wali nyama, which is a meat stew with rice.
What are your plans for the future?
I will soon be starting a new job as a Trusts and Foundations Coordinator for a non-profit organisation in Sydney, Australia. I am excited to be writing grants for them and continuing my career with meaningful work that creates a better society.