The fate of up to one million pilgrims rests on Hiam's shoulders. Well, not entirely; but she is responsible for the 8000-odd volunteers who will help manage crowds over World Youth Day 2008 (WYD08 15-20 July). This six-day event is organised by the Catholic Church and features a mass from Pope Benedict XVI.
Hiam started as a casual event staff member herself. But she quickly rose through the ranks and found herself organising the volunteers for two Winter Olympics as well as the Athens Olympics. During World Youth Day she will be out and about to ensure everything is running smoothly.
What do you do in your job?
I manage a team that recruits volunteers. We do everything from processing their applications to working out which venue they will be at. It's great but can be very chaotic with people buzzing around and we get hundreds of phone calls a day.
I work both in and out of the office. It's important to get right in there and talk to volunteers to build up their enthusiasm. The various venues will become our base of operations during the event. There are multiple venues with various team members allocated to different venues. I will be moving between each venue when I am not at HQ addressing issues.
I was a teacher and then I suddenly changed career. I started as a casual staff member at an event (Cirque du Soleil) and loved it. Soon I was doing that full time and I found a job with the Sydney Olympics. Before I started with WYD08, I was a workforce manager at the Olympics for seven years. By moving up within that field I've become an expert in recruiting thousands of volunteers. I wanted to come back to Sydney and this event was the next big thing here so I applied.
Definitely I've done the job that I'm employing others to do, so I know what we can ask from people. I can plan better from a managerial side because I've experienced what the volunteer roles are like at a grass roots level. I've been here almost 20 months. It's been good because I've had a lot more time to do detailed planning.
I will be trouble shooting more than anything else. Making sure everyone is happy, making sure they have everything they need and just running from venue to venue to ensure everything's in place.
The best thing about volunteering is working within a team. You also get a unique uniform, free accommodation, food and transport. I always loved the excitement of working with volunteers. It's not like you're working in a customer service job where people complain at you all the time. These are people that are looking forward to coming to the event – so they are all in a great mood. It's a fantastic environment to be in! I'm addicted to the buzz that comes with meeting people and making their experience a memorable one.
We're looking for people from all walks of life. They don't have to be Catholic or young they just need a great attitude. Volunteers will be doing everything from greeting pilgrims, translating, helping with transport – the list goes on and on ...
We are in the business of keeping people happy so you have to love people and love working with people. Flexibility is key because everything can change within minutes and you have to be able to juggle many things at once. You also need to listen to and accommodate people's needs rather than saying 'no, can't do it'. Volunteers have so many questions and you have to stay patient when answering them.
The unpredictability! You can guess and try to plan for what will come next but every minute something new is thrown at you. I love the challenge of trying to find solutions.
Putting staff out there in the middle of winter scares me but we are going to do everything we can to make them happy. We also have to make sure our volunteers are the right people with smiling happy faces to welcome all the pilgrims into Sydney. The crowd numbers and making sure we have enough staff will be challenging. The final three months is crunch time for us and we are doing everything we can to make the event run smoothly. The hours get pretty crazy during this period!