Our Stories

#TheBigShoutOut: Margaret Fitzgibbon

"I grew up in a household where social justice was very important, and with the understanding that we have a responsibility to advocate for the rights of others, not just in Aotearoa, but in the world. ”

What motivates you to volunteer?


I volunteer as a mentor in UnionAID’s Indonesia Young Leaders programme (INSPIRASI). 

I was born in Kuching in Sarawak.  Sarawak is located on the island of Borneo. My Dad went to Sarawak as part of the Colombo Education Plan. I was only a baby when we returned to NZ, but I grew up with stories and photos of Sarawak and it has always had a strong influence on me. I returned to visit with my parents when I was 21 and I felt a sense of connection.

I grew up in a household where social justice was very important and with the understanding that we have a responsibility to advocate for the rights of others, not just in Aotearoa, but in the world. In our home, being a volunteer was considered an important way of contributing to our community. All of these things have influenced me and have been a motivation for me to contribute as a volunteer for most of my life.

I really appreciate the kaupapa of the INSPIRASI programme where it resources young leaders who are already doing incredible work in their communities to be able to create projects which meets the needs of their people. I also value the exchange of skills, experience and resources that takes place when we meet during their time in Aotearoa New Zealand


Can you recall a specific event or moment during your voluntary work with UnionAID where you felt you made a significant difference?


In 2019, I was the mentor for Syarif who worked for an organisation called PerDIK (Indonesian Disability Movement for Equality).  It is hard to pinpoint a specific moment or event that made a difference, but I do feel that the all the arranged visits that I was able to organise provided Syarif with inspiration and ideas that helped to fuel the work that he does. One of the visits was to BLENNZ (The Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ). This is a school that is made up of a national network of educational services for children and young people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision in New Zealand.

BLENNZ came about from the advocacy of parents, teachers and the wider blindness education community who saw the need for a unified system of service provision for children and young people. This visit gave Sayrif the opportunity to see the wide range of services that they provided such as an early childhood centre, library service and a Transition Pathway Programme. It was wonderful for Sayrif to be able to engage in an environment which was not configured by the barriers which prevail in society that disable people. He had many opportunities at BLENNZ to engage with the different resources available and which supported his focus of inclusive education as an effective approach to building all-encompassing and equitable societies.

This year, I am the mentor for Linda who is the founder of Lowewini, a volunteer-led community organisation that uses education and cultural arts to promote social equality and creates safe spaces for women and children who have experienced violence. I work for Shine (Safer Homes in NZ Everyday) providing family violence response education.

It has been enlightening to be able to hear about the work that Linda is doing which so closely aligns to my own, and to talk about the similarities and differences and the barriers which she faces.  It was a privilege to have the opportunity to organise for her to attend our Shine RESPOND Training, visit Rape Prevention Education, the Auckland Women’s Centre and Anglican Trust for Women and Children (ATWC). The visit to ATWC was to find out more about Granger Grove. This service is a three-stage residential, family care programme which allows mothers to make a fresh start in a supportive environment. Linda was moved by the kind of support that was offered to the women at this facility and said that she aspires to be able to provide something like this for the women whom she supports through Lowewini.

How has volunteering with UnionAID contributed to your personal or professional development?


Being a mentor for INSPIRASI has inspired me both personally and professionally. I have enjoyed my contact with all of the young leaders whom I have met over the three years that I have been involved.  I found my contact with Linda to be very humbling and which given me a much deeper understanding of my own work in the family violence sector. From my conversations with Linda, I have reflected on the progress that we have made in Aotearoa/NZ regarding family violence advocacy including  the implementation of a National FV Framework, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to shift the embedded beliefs that prevail regarding gender-based violence which prevents women from being able to seek help and to become safer.

While mentoring Sayrif, I was exposed to the world of low vision and blind people in a way that I have never experienced before. As an educator, it made me think a lot more about what is required to create training which is accessible to all people. This was reinforced throughout my mentoring partnership with Sayrif in everything that we did together, and alerted me as to what was required to make sure that he had the necessary information in a way that worked for him. On one of our visits, we attended the AGM for the Association of Blind Citizens of NZ Inc. I was the only sighted person at the meeting. I was struck by all the things that are important to me as a sighted person which were unnecessary for blind and low vision people. Being in the position of a minority is always an essential growth experience.

UnionAID supports democratic, worker-led organisations that help empower working people to improve their work and livelihoods through collective action.

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