FAQs Returned Volunteers



A tribute to Barbara Dawson

Published on 10th June 2016

This week, VSA has been saddened to mark the passing of a pioneering volunteer and staff member, Barbara Dawson.

Barbara first joined VSA as a school-leaver to Samoa in 1965, where she worked as a teacher. In the 1990s, she was one of the first volunteers to go to Viet Nam when VSA’s programme reopened after the war. She worked alongside volunteers in one of the country’s poorest areas, Qui Nhon city in Binh Dinh province. After working as an English language teacher, she became VSA’s first field representative in Viet Nam, where she opened VSA’s first Viet Nam office. She was responsible for growing the programme there and the pastoral care of volunteers, a role she maintained after leaving VSA, looking after visiting volunteers and staff in the accommodation she opened.


Barb Dawson tribute

Speaking at Barbara’s funeral, VSA CEO Gill Greer said that Barbara lived up to Sir Edmund Hillary’s vision for VSA and a better world in general: that when people work together they can achieve great things. That Barbara shared these values of partnership and equality was clear.


Former volunteer Heather Roberts shared this tribute: “Barbara was a tall woman, and in Qui Nhon she stood out. But Barbara’s physical size was not the important bit; it was that it housed a heart as tall as she was.


I remember one of the first things she told us as new volunteers that it was important to hug each other: we weren’t around people with whom we would usually have physical contact and we needed to provide that for each other. It was a very good piece of advice, one that Barbara herself always followed, and is an example of where Barbara placed her priorities: the emotional wellbeing of those around her.


Barbara was totally committed to the people of Qui Nhon and she loved the town and its inhabitants. She made sure that new volunteers came to know and love the town that was her home, taking them to the known and unknown treasures around about. She invested huge amounts of time, energy and money in developing businesses in the town once she stopped working for VSA. These were real challenges but she persevered because she wanted to provide facilities for the town. Barbara’s Café lives on, a tribute to her hard work and perseverance.


As the VSA field representative she was always there to support the volunteers, to negotiate for them if things were difficult. She knew all the people she had to know to work in the Vietnamese environment, which was not always easy for an outsider. And she knew many many other people too, people who were not in positions of authority but for whom Barbara had a special place in their hearts and they in hers.


She was a free spirit, adventurous, deeply committed to her work and to Viet Nam. She will be remembered by those whose lives she touched for many years to come.”


E rere wairua e rere
Ki nga ao o te rangi
Whitiwhitia e te ra
Mahea ake nga poraruraru
Makere ana nga here


Fly free O spirit, fly
to the clouds in the heavens
transformed by the sun
swept away are all anxieties
removed are all restraints

-Purea Nei




  • Sara ("Rosie") Ransom on 1st July

    Sitting quietly with my thoughts of Barbara -- "sisters" since we were 16, me visiting her home in NZ in1963, and she visiting mine in the US, in 1964; fellow travelers across the USA in our 20s, and forever friends. We were last together in Vietnam. I am deeply touched to learn even more of her depth of character, her compassion-in-action, tributes from others who have known her throughout the years. These tributes to her are deeply moving. E rere wairua e rere / Fly free, O spirit, fly...

  • Ras on 18th June

    Lovely tribute thank you

  • Colin Law on 16th June

    For the benefit of any ancient volunteers - Barbara was school-leaver "Barbara Church" when she came to Western Samoa in 1965.

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