Designer Sandra Mendonca has a strong passion for giving back. Funnelling her broad knowledge of design and architecture to participate in charities which foster relationships with communities in need, Sandra has dedicated her private and professional time to be a part of life changing organisations which impact the lives of unfortunate countries around the world, such as Nepal. This desire to be part of a unique charity project, whilst using her profession to empower and help a community, is something which is a big driving force in Sandra’s work and private life. Her latest endeavour to reach out as a participant in a charity was with Aussie Action Abroad (AAA) in Nepal – an incredible experience which has moulded her work as a designer and taught her valuable lessons which she implements into her role as a designer at Scott Carver.
“The desire to be part of something special, whilst using my profession as a way to empower a community, was sufficient to commit to the project,”
Sandra has been part of the Scott Carver team since 2004, where she has been developing her skills and working towards her career goals and aspirations. For Sandra, the dynamic environment of the practice provides a platform on which creative thinking occurs, “Being a dynamic and multidisciplinary practice has allowed us to collaborate ideas, test design solutions, critique and analyse projects in an open and supportive way,” says Sandra. Her experience at Scott Carver has been an enlightening one, where she has learnt about how collective ambitions can make such a large overall impact, “At Scott Carver, we have a ‘think tank’ in-house environment, which is a powerful tool for unlocking the creative mind – collectively we all contribute to the end result, the supportive platform in which we operate as a practice allows for individual contribution to the overall ambition and values of the practice,” she shares. Pursuing her ambitions in doing community development work has been an integral part of Sandra’s career – an aspect of the profession that she enjoys the most, especially her time in Nepal as part of the AAA program.
AAA is a Non-Government Organisation which has established strong connections between Nepal and Australia and actively collaborates with communities in need to provide practical and realistic support, leading to sustainable outcomes and enriching the lives of all involved. The program, which started in 2000, utilises the skills of teachers, architects, plumbers, students, office workers, builders, nurses, physiotherapists, artists, gardeners, shop assistants and doctors. AAA Founder Graeme Kent, travels to Nepal twice a year and has formed close links and strong bonds with the local communities, organisational partners and colleagues during his time at AAA. “We have worked with many, cried with many and dreamt of improvement, development and growth,” he says of his commitment to the community. The AAA experience offers all its participants opportunities to develop a real solution to real problems, with real communities who are ready to work towards achieving an agreed goal. “I have a passion for people who see a future for those around them, a desire to learn, share and improve, so that the future is stronger, sustainable and supportive of those within the community,” shares Graeme.
For Sandra, the experience was life altering and something she will never forget, “Their vision statement seeks to provide ‘adventures that change lives’, and this experience has definitely changed my life on both a personal and professional level,” she says. Sandra spent a total of 41 days in Nepal during the expedition this year. The main goal of the trip was to gain more experience in community development work, explore a new country in its context in terms of language, culture and traditions and expand her travelling repertoire, “The desire to explore the unknown, leave a legacy of both personal and professional achievements resonated with my mindset at that time,” explains Sandra.
During her time in Nepal, Sandra was involved in remedial works to a primary school to address water ingress into classrooms during the monsoon season, community consultation and design workshops for a new health post, community engagement and consultation for the feasibility of future projects with AAA and lastly, painting an artwork to enliven a community hall.
“The major projects were small but effective nonetheless – we felt the impact was enormous,” says Sandra. The most valuable lesson that Sandra took away with her during these projects? “It might sound simple and basic however it helped me develop an understanding of actions fit for purpose in its context – the desire to assist as much as I could in the short period of time, over clouded my judgment of adapting, listening and observing,” she says. These three simple acts did more to benefit the community than for Sandra’s own personal achievement, “On a personal level, I learnt to adapt to changing conditions whilst trekking on unknown terrain and weather conditions – I learnt to listen and observe my own physical capabilities and adjust to situations outside my comfort zone,” says Sandra.
The Nepali experience takes people outside their comfort zone and allows them to be supported through working in a group with experienced staff and project leaders. Graeme Kent argues that the experience with AAA in Nepal will challenge, change and charm, “Sandra wrote a note to me and in it she said – ‘Nepal has won my heart and this trip has been above and beyond my expectations, I have learnt and grown as an individual who’s always been afraid to expand my horizons’,” shares Grame. The biggest positive aspect to come out of the trip for Sandra? “I realised that pursuing my ambitions in doing community development work as an integral part of my career, it’s definitely an aspect of the profession that I enjoy tremendously – every experience, either professional or personal adds meaning and value to my future endeavours,” says Sandra.