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Gaining vital work skills through volunteering

Heart health is a cause very close to the heart of 31-year-old Buddisha Silva, so she leapt at the opportunity to volunteer at the Heart Foundation, launching a new career in New Zealand.


In National Volunteer Week Buddisha urges more young people and other new New Zealanders to consider volunteering.

In Buddisha Silva's home country of Sri Lanka new graduates often pay to get work experience with established companies. Buddisha is hugely grateful that in New Zealand she was able to gain vital work experience for free by volunteering at the Heart Foundation.

Last year Buddisha completed her Diploma in Accounting. She'd previously worked for a vehicle importing business in Sri Lanka in administration and finance and was seeking work experience in New Zealand. When she saw an advertisement for a volunteer administrator position with the Big Heart Appeal last September, Buddisha knew it was the right cause for her.

On Christmas Day six years ago Buddisha's much loved father, aged 53, had three heart attacks and passed away before he made it to hospital. The impact on the Silva family was huge. "He was a person everybody loved. He was really close to all our family members," she says. The loss and stress on her family was considerable. Buddisha, just 25 at the time, was on the brink of her adult life and had been happily planning her wedding in a month's time. Instead it was a very sad time.

Her father's premature death fired Buddisha's determination to make her father proud of her. "It made me think I should do something towards raising funds for research, that I should give some time as a volunteer," she says. When she had the opportunity to come to New Zealand to study accounting, she was keen to embark on a career that her father, who worked in banking, had always wanted for his daughter.

With her qualification in accounting completed in September 2019, but lacking work experience in New Zealand, Buddisha was keen to volunteer to learn more, "sharpen up" her experience and understand New Zealand work culture better. She applied and was accepted for a volunteer position as administrator with the Big Heart Appeal. Her job was to coordinate Big Heart Appeal sites and volunteers around the country, register volunteers and collect data. 

Buddisha joined more than 3,000 volunteers who gave their time for the Big Heart Appeal in February this year so that the Heart Foundation could raise vital funds for its life-saving research and specialist training in cardiology.

During National Volunteering Week on 21 to 27 June, Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin is paying tribute to the contribution of volunteers like Buddisha. "Our volunteers around the country make a huge difference in our ability to help," he says.

"A few hours of volunteers' time can really boost our ability to improve lives."

For Buddisha, the benefits of volunteering go both ways. "Staff were so friendly and supportive. It was an amazing time. I really enjoyed it," she says. Buddisha proved so hard working and skilled that she was offered a paid position as an administrator for a few months, which built up her work experience.

"More young people and migrants should volunteer. It really helps. It helps connect you with people and learn more. And it's a great opportunity to learn things for free and experience workplace culture," Buddisha says.

"It's not all about money. If it’s a good cause, it's a good idea to volunteer and give some of your skills and time."

Buddisha's positive attitude towards volunteering is echoed in recent research by the British Heart Foundation. It found that under-35-year-olds were giving more time to volunteering than older age groups, contrary to the stereotype of volunteers being mostly older women. 

Buddisha’s now working as a finance administrator to the IT Department of Countdown’s head office. Her five-year-old daughter Iyana has just started school and is loving it. 

"I'd like to say a massive thank you to the Heart Foundation. It gave me such rich experience and was the start of a new career in New Zealand."

Through volunteers like Buddisha, the Heart Foundation has been able to fund more than $74 million in research and specialist training. The reduction in deaths from heart disease has been "phenomenal" since the Heart Foundation was formed over 50 years ago, says Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin, but it still remains the country's single biggest killer. The organisation is committed to improving lives of people affected by heart disease.

How to volunteer