An earthquake which hit parts of Turkey more than 13 years ago was when the doors to volunteerism first opened for Yasmin Sungkar.
To assist the estimated 85,000 people affected by the earthquake, Yasmin, who was in high school at the time, joined up with friends who were raising money for relief and recovery efforts.
Throughout school and into adulthood Yasmin continued to offer her time to help those in need, including through the Islamic Council of Victoria’s Emergency Assist Program where she became a member of and started volunteering with the Victorian Council of Churches (VCC).
The 30-year-old, who is of Muslim faith, has been volunteering with VCC for two and a half years now and during the 2013/14 summer was involved with the response to fires on Melbourne’s northern fringe from Mickleham to Kilmore.
During the incident, Yasmin was a team leader for VCC and provided personal support in an emergency relief centre set up at Wallan.
“Fortunately there was no loss of life but there had been quite a lot of loss of stock and homes were also affected,” Yasmin said.
“There were about three VCC volunteers who assisted at the relief centre in providing personal support and psychological first aid and basically, just a listening ear for those who needed it.
“Sometimes people are seeking more information and other times they just need to chat – I find it’s best to let the person do the talking and then support them where I can.”
Yasmin said while volunteering is first and foremost about helping others, it is also personally rewarding.
“It does bring you satisfaction to know that you’re helping others,” she said.
“But beyond that it’s about that sense of community and the lifelong friends you will make along your way. Sometimes, these people might not necessarily be similar to you in personality but you share a bond in that you’re all there for the same reason.”
Volunteering her time is not necessarily any easy feat for Yasmin’s as she also focuses much of her time and energy into work and study. She has a background in nursing, a Masters in Public Health and has majored in Disaster Preparedness.
Yasmin said she doesn’t think she could ever stop learning and said she has a real interest and passion for emergency management and seeing this in a more holistic light, both before during and after an emergency.
“It’s not just about lights and sirens, it’s also about the care of people. There are many aspects to emergency management,” she said.
Just like being a nurse, providing personal support and care during and after an emergency can be quite mentally demanding on the individual.
Yasmin said her background in the medical field may provide her with some advantage, in terms of finding coping mechanisms, however she said VCC had fantastic support systems in place for their volunteers.
“They really place a focus on the care of their volunteers,” she said.
“To this point I have found that I have been able to cope but if I was to be faced with an event such as Black Saturday, I do trust that VCC would be there to support me.
“I have also been extremely impressed with the training they have been provided, and continue to provide.
“There are so many opportunities to learn and continue on with your professional development. I have three training days coming up that have been organised by VCC.”
While Yasmin lives in Melbourne, she said VCC operated right across Victoria and provided people were attached to a specific faith, volunteers could come from all locations and backgrounds.
“I would highly recommend volunteering with VCC through my experiences but even just volunteering in general, it’s such a great thing,” she said.