Local academic awarded for international aid
UWS academic Ms Belinda Mericourt has received national recognition for her unique training program which provides volunteer aid workers to some of the world's most developing nations.
The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) award for excellence was presented by the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP.
As coordinator of the University's Bachelor of Community Welfare (International Social Development), Ms Mericourt trains students to work as AusAID's Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development in countries such as the Phillipines, Thailand and Nepal.
"It's wonderful to be honoured with this award," says Ms Mericourt.
"International community work is developing as a new profession in Australia and UWS has the only course of its kind in New South Wales.
"Together the University and AusAID have developed a successful partnership which gives the students a chance to secure vital sponsorship so they can work as Australian Youth Ambassadors for their overseas placements. The financial assistance helps a great deal with their relocation and living expenses."
Ms Mericourt says students spend 13 weeks to 12 months overseas and work on a wide range of projects such as drug prevention, women's rights and health education.
"For me one of the most satisfying parts of the job is seeing the students grow and develop, both personally and professionally," she says.
"The students are really thrown into the deep end and they have to rely on their own initiative to solve problems. When they come back they're transformed by what they've seen and learnt. It's a life-changing experience that they couldn't possibly get from a classroom."
And according to Ms Mericourt, they go on to obtain successful careers as a result of their overseas placements.
"Many of the students find work in the countries that they visit or get great jobs back in Australia once they return," she says.
"I hope the program continues to go from strength to strength, and our students find themselves all over the world making a real difference in some of the world's poorest countries."
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