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Australian Red Cross internship among UWA student’s best experiences of university

11 February, 2020

Before her McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship at Australian Red Cross, Kate Atkinson had little personal knowledge about refugees in Australia.

“I read what was in the media and that was my only education,” the University of WA Biomedical Science student admitted. 

“This internship opened my eyes.”

During her 100-hour community service internship, Ms Atkinson joined the ‘In Search of Safety’ Community Education Program and helped present information sessions to primary school students on the journey and experiences of people seeking asylum.

The program discusses human rights, provides global and local refugee context and creates a space for critical thinking, with the aim of increasing the understanding and empathy that will lead to greater cohesion and inclusion in society.

“We visited many different schools, from down south all the way up to Quinns Rocks,” the Harrisdale resident, 22, said.

“It was about giving the children the facts and then letting them come to their own conclusions.

“We talked about how Australian Red Cross is a humanitarian organisation there to help any vulnerable individual in the community, followed by a simulation game of what it would like to be an asylum seeker leaving your home quickly, and then showed some videos of refugee children their age.”

Australian Red Cross Migration Support Programs Senior Project Officer Alison Cook said Ms Atkinson was a “welcome addition to the team”.

“Kate’s responsibilities were diverse and included organising logistics, collating information, data management, presenting scripted workshops in primary schools, stakeholder mapping and engagement, and desktop research and analysis,” Ms Cook said.

“She quickly learned the ropes of the school workshops, moving from observer to facilitator, delivering sessions alongside existing volunteers.”

Ms Atkinson also worked within the Humanitarian Settlement Program team, where she helped set-up accommodation for newly-arrived refugees.

“Imagine coming to Australia and everything is strange and new – even something simple like what a packet of rice looks like in our supermarkets,” she said.

“My job was to pick up the groceries, go to the houses and get everything ready for them.

“One time when we were setting up one of the houses, there was a person three doors down who had recently arrived as a refugee. He came over and – even though he didn’t speak English very well – you could see that he was so grateful. He said ‘I have been here two months, the Red Cross set up my room for me, thank you, thank you’.”

Intern supervisor Ms Cook said Ms Atkinson made valuable contributions to their office operations, community relations and client experiences.

“Our programs rely heavily on volunteers for daily operations and public reach,” she said.

“Kate’s enthusiasm, flexibility and willingness to take on any task was a welcome addition to the team.”

Following her internship, Ms Atkinson decided to stay on and volunteer at Australian Red Cross.

“Australian Red Cross service is such a great cause and I’m so grateful for it,” she said.

“All the different people from different sectors makes you see how a group of passionate, educated people are working together as a team.

“As a young intern, you don’t realise how valuable that can be. It makes you think ‘Wow, I want to be in a collaborative team like this’.”

Ms Atkinson said the McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship was the “best elective unit” out of her whole degree.

“My only regret is that I wish I had done it earlier,” she said.