“I never just wanted a degree. I wanted to learn about the world.”

“I never just wanted a degree. I wanted to learn about the world.”

While volunteering his time to charitable causes is not new to Gareth Shanthikumar, who did pilgrimages to Fiji and Cambodia during high school, first-world homelessness is something he’d never before experienced nor understood.

So when the McCusker Centre assigned him to an internship at St Patrick’s Community Support Centre in Fremantle, which works at the coalface of homelessness, Gareth admits he was apprehensive.

“Honestly, I had no real understanding of this area,” the second-year marketing and management student says. “Firstly I found it hard to believe you could become homeless in Australia. It’s so different to the third-world countries I’ve visited. And so I thought it must be a choice, most likely arising from a drug or alcohol addiction. There’s a real social stigma around homelessness.

“But through this internship, I learnt so much about the issue and the multitude of factors that can cause a person to become homeless, including family breakdown and mental illness.

“I met homeless people from all walks of life and with some amazing talents – real people, good people, with real life stories and it’s completely reshaped the way I think about the issue.”

Gareth says the beauty of the McCusker internship is that it allowed him to apply the skills and theory he has learnt at uni in a practical setting.

One of the key aspects of his project was helping to organise and promote St Pat’s’ annual ‘Sleep Out Under the Stars’ event, which sees participants sleep rough for a night in Fremantle to raise awareness and funds for the centre’s services.

“I worked closely with the Event Coordinator to plan the logistics of the event, create presentations for sponsorship packages, liaise with key stakeholders and also set up a MyCause fundraising page – I’d never actually done that before and the page on its own raised $7500,” Gareth says.

Gareth was part of a team that doubled the funds raised from last year’s event – $13,000 in total.

Fundraising goals aside, Gareth is most proud of the event itself, which saw him sleeping rough with about 40 others on a chilly night in the grounds of Notre Dame University.

“It was such a heartwarming event,” he says. “It was an uncomfortable sleep but no-one complained. I think it engendered a deeper understanding of homelessness for everyone involved.

“There was beautiful choir singing, music, art, lots of great conversations … it was just a terrific thing to be part of.”

Gareth recommends other students consider an internship that aligns with what they’re studying and perhaps takes them out of the comfort zones. “I think you can get into a mindset at uni where you study, cram, do exams and move on to the next unit or semester – you’re always focused on what’s ahead, but you’re not necessarily getting a broader perspective about the world and your place in it.

“I never just wanted a degree. I wanted to learn about the world.

“I think to make the most of an internship opportunity like this, you have to really commit to it, be ready for it, get involved, don’t be shy, and you’ll honestly get so much more out of it than you might expect.”