Every year National Volunteer Week acknowledges the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers. At Australia for UNHCR we want to take the opportunity to celebrate those dedicating their time both here in Australia and overseas. Meet Mohamed, Doug and Siwena -  all making a difference to the people around them. 


This time last year, Mohamed Dhib and his family were facing harrowing conditions and a great deal of uncertainty, having been forced to flee their home in Syria and take a long and arduous journey to safety. Despite this, from the moment Mohamed set foot in Kara Tepe, an accommodation facility for refugees and asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Lesvos, he set about making it a better place for all.

As a trained electrician, he was keen to get involved in laying underground cables and installing solar panels to give residents light and greater security. Since January, Mohamed has been helping UNHCR with a wider operation to assist authorities install prefabricated houses at Kara Tepe and together with his brother, Moufeed has helped connect new units to the site's existing solar panels.

In addition, as well as helping his own family settle into Greece by putting up a swing for his children to play on and transforming the stony ground outside his shelter into a vegetable patch, during his time in Kara Tepe, he became a kind of community leader. In this role he helped to bring residents together for weekly meetings outside his tent to discuss their concerns with the shelter operators.

Mohamed and his wife Maysoun pose for a portrait with their children: (left-to-right) Baraa, Alissar, Limar, and Elian inside the house given to the family by UNHCR. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

Mohamed (left) and his brother Mofeed, prepare electrical boxes, before wiring them into prefabricated houses at Kara Tepe accommodation facility. © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

“I put tables and chairs for people outside where I stayed,” he said. “They could sit and speak together about how to make Kara Tepe better, more beautiful.

Despite the fact that he and his family have now moved into a nearby apartment, the Syrian returns to the site with his brother Mofeed most days to help UNHCR improve accommodation for its 900 remaining residents.


After retiring from a successful career, Doug approached Australia for UNHCR office offering his time and expertise. 5 years later, and he is integral part of the team. There is not a lot he hasn't worked on and with nearly everyone in our office has been lucky enough to work with him in some way. He has even got to know some of you, having helped our Donor Care team answer supporter queries and questions over the phone. 

"I had retired from a successful career. I always had an interest in world affairs and wanted to give something back to the community."

Doug has been volunteering in the Australia for UNHCR office for 5 years

Despite being a vital part of the Australia for UNHCR community, Doug remains modest and focused on the initial motivations for signing up, saying: "I am not looking for any achievements myself, I am just happy to help and give something back to our wonderful world. Albeit a world with its challenges."




The life of 22 year old Siwema Gyslaine Irambona mirrors the past two decades of the history of the Great Lakes Region, one of people fleeing unrest and violence running back and forth across the borders of neighbouring countries, seeking protection and solace in camps. Born in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo and losing both her parents before turning two meant that she has a rough start to life. 

Despite this, when Siwena arrived in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi with her uncle some years later she threw herself into her studies. It paid off: as well as graduating in the top of her class, she was accepted onto an online diploma course to study social work, and ever since has been a shining star of hope for many in Dzaleka.

“I feel good when I’m doing work in the community. So many people helped me when I came to the camp as a refuge. I am who I am now because of them and I want to help other people too.“

Siwema has also started working as a volunteer interpreter for UNHCR in August 2016 which gives her a small stipend every month to help support herself and her four cousins, as she is the main breadwinner.

"I am proud that I can help UNHCR officials and the refugees in my community to understand each other.”

We would like to take this opportunity, as it is National Volunteers Week, to thank all the volunteers like Mohamed, Doug and Siwema helping UNHCR to empower refugees to build a better future. You're amazing!

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22 year old Siwema Gyslaine Irambona studying for her diploma in social work at Jesuit Refugee Services online university in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. © UNHCR/Tina Ghelli

Siwema Gislaine Irambona, 22, translating for UNHCR staff in Dzaleka refugee camp. © UNHCR/Dorothy Kachitsa

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