To have started an international volunteering organisation at the age of 22 is a pretty unbelievable achievement, but that’s exactly what Laura Robinson did. She’s 23 now and back in Wānaka for her first Christmas home in three years. Robinson’s spent the last five years volunteering in the Ugandan village of Kkoba, not to mention balancing law school at the University of Canterbury. It’s been a whirlwind few years, but Laura Robinson is just getting started.
Robinson was raised in Timaru with “two loving parents and a very close family”. She looked up to her family as role models, with her father and grandfather running the local Rotary Club. When she was 11, Robinson’s father passed away from terminal cancer, but not before writing her a series of letters that were put away for special occasions in her life. “They’ve been a real guide in my life and an inspiration to keep dreaming big,” Robinson said of his continual influence.
Her first real stint at volunteering was at age 18, for a small Ugandan organisation called Hope Line which was sent volunteers via a larger American organisation. Robinson was shocked at the exploitation of smaller grass-roots, not-for-profits by bigger organisations sending volunteers, which failed to focus on developing local organisations and projects and rather on charging large programme fees to cover administration costs. Purpose Projects, her volunteering organisation, was born out of a wish to help support Hope Line without the exploitative nature of larger companies.
Robinson goes to Kkoba three times a year; two months before and after Christmas over university break and one month mid year, always trying to work around exams and classes. “Finding a balance with university was tough especially because I knew this was what I wanted to be doing but also needed to finish my qualifications. So I had to continuously prioritise and it meant dropping things out of my life to make room for what was important,” Robinson confessed. If studying, researching, volunteering and setting up your own organisation didn’t sound busy enough, Robinson also works part time as all of her work and travel is self-funded.
In 2018 Robinson’s Purpose Projects lead over 30 students from New Zealand to Uganda to build a primary school. Every member self-funded their travel alongside the money needed for the project, which was implemented by Hope Line and overseen by a community board of Kkoba. The project was a success, and the school currently has over 200 enrolments for next year with a capacity for 2000. Robinson said, “The volunteers were so hard working, open to learning and growing. It was incredible to see them work throughout the year on fundraising for the community and the next generation of children, and help Hope Line bring that project to life.”
Recently, Robinson was recognized as a finalist for the 2019 Women of Influence awards which she calls an “honour” but admits “it’s hard being recognised individually though when there has been so many people coming together to bring the organisation to fruition.”
Going forwards, Robinson hopes to continue her work in Kkoba as well as develop a local arm of the organisation in New Zealand to support other young people interested in not-for-profit and social justice entrepreneurship. Although she’s just gotten back to Wānaka, Robinson is off again next week to Uganda, but hopes to enjoy Wānaka life properly when she moves back in February. Robinson wants to give a shout-out to her “incredible team here and in Uganda. Particularly Stuart, Alice and Stef who are grinding to prepare for our trip leaving in a week.”
If you’re interested in getting involved, Robinson says Purpose Projects are always looking for volunteers and donations to help continue the work they do.