Finding a voice through volunteering

Samantha Arthur, Op Shop Marketing Coordinator
Samantha Arthur Marketing and Digital Coordinator
13 May 2022
Op shop volunteer Yulia working in our Preston op shop

Living a busy and fulfilling life in Ukraine, Yulia worked as a lawyer for a government organisation and then later for a private practice. Her life was mapped out, she worked 24/7 and her family and friends were close by.

Then, in 2019 a year before the pandemic, Yulia uprooted her entire life for love. She had met her husband in Australia during a holiday and together they decided to make Melbourne their home. It was a difficult decision for Yulia, diving headfirst into the unknown and starting from scratch.

Yulia knew that to practice as a lawyer in Australia she would need to return to university and study for another 3-6 years. Even with these obstacles she took the plunge into her new life.

“The first thing I did straight away was enrol in a language school when I first arrived,” she says.

“I can read English very well. I can read any book, but I really struggled when I first landed here with the Australian accent. It was hard to understand what people were saying. I doubted myself and I didn’t want to speak and make a mistake. I couldn’t find the right words and it was frustrating, so I became silent all the time and it made me feel very lonely.” Yulia was feeling isolated and depressed.

Yulia’s way out of loneliness

It was at her language school where she met a woman who volunteered at Sacred Heart Mission’s Preston op shop. “She said she volunteered at Sacred Heart Mission alongside many people who spoke English as their second language and that it was a great place to learn English and grow as a local.”

“Honestly, I could never have imagined myself volunteering in a second-hand shop, we don’t even have op shops in Ukraine!”

Yulia started volunteering once a week in the Preston store whilst studying Community Services at Melbourne Polytechnic and continuing her language classes. Her passion for op shops started to grow and the prospect of going back to university to study law seemed redundant. She had already found her university, what she calls her ‘Life University’ at Sacred Heart Mission.

The more I volunteered, the better I felt. My knowledge of the Australian culture grew, and I began to make friends and connect with people and my depression slowly melted away, week by week.”

A seamless transition from volunteer to staff member

After a year and half as a volunteer, Yulia applied for a casual position and got the job! It’s been a seamless transition from volunteer to staff member and she has continued to learn from her colleagues.

“Now every morning I wake up and say, it doesn’t matter that my career has changed so much, it matters that I know who I am, I have friends, I have purpose, I am happy. I like helping people in this job, every day I learn something new.”

Although life in Australia has vastly improved for Yulia, within the last few months, life has been difficult.

Volunteering gives hope in challenging times

The war in Ukraine has caused her a lot of trauma and she worries for her friends and family.

“Every day I receive messages from my friends, and it has been so hard because although my body is here my blood calls me home. I have lost very close friends in the war and worry a lot for my family, I feel a lot of pain and anger.”

Yulia says she is thankful to be working at Sacred Heart Mission during this challenging time.

“I’ve felt so supported by the staff and volunteers here but also the customers and donors I’ve gotten to know through my work. They respect my heritage and acknowledge the stress, it really makes a difference even though this war is so far away to them.”

Yulia reflects on how many of her friends in Ukraine are volunteering in hospitals, within the army and helping refugees and how if she was still there, she would be volunteering too. “They are doing everything they can to help those that are now homeless,” she says, knowing first-hand how this kind of volunteering can bring light to darkness.

From someone who started out too scared to speak, Yulia has blossomed into a confident and irreplaceable team member. “I am really starting to love this country and that’s been mainly through my experience with Sacred Heart Mission.”

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