News: Encounters: A commitment to action

Palms Encounter group visiting a women’s cooperative in Morobo, Timor-Leste, July 2012Encounter participants and Palms’ guides and volunteers, with a women’s group in Morobo, outside Maliana.

I’m often asked why Palms runs Encounters to Timor-Leste and Kiribati. After all, Palms isn’t a travel company and the communities that we visit are often not well equipped to accommodate tourists.

I absolutely agree with these two statements and strangely enough they also answer the question. Encounters are not tours. They are experiences which are designed to give you a true understanding of life in developing countries and how Palms volunteers work with local communities to facilitate sustainable development.

Before departure and during the first few days participants undertake cross-cultural preparation. This may seem odd for a relatively short experience but it is essential for two reasons:

  1. It helps remove prejudice against the hosts by reducing the likelihood of simplistic generalisations, unfairly insulting or romanticising the host culture as lazy, greedy, dirty or noble, peaceful, simple etc. and therefore provides the sort of guests the hosts deserve.
  2. It heightens the experience for the visitor. Instead of viewing the experience through a lens of life in Australia, cross-cultural preparation provides a framework conducive of mutual acceptance and respect. This enables participants and hosts to exchange stories as equals and connect despite markedly different cultures and situations.

Palms only visits communities at their request and at a time that causes the least interruption. As with Palms volunteers who are only sent at the request of local communities, Encounters must and do require the full support of the communities that we visit. The community should decide what activities would be appropriate and the Palms volunteers that we visit must not be inconvenienced in their missions. This is particularly important in communities where participants do home stays.

During an Encounter, participants are not asked to volunteer as this would be counter-productive to sustainable development. For example, someone going overseas to help build an orphanage could be taking work away from locals in a situation where high unemployment exists. Instead Encounters build your understanding of sustainable development which you may take away to engage with Australian communities or choose to volunteer with Palms in a long-term placement of 1-3 years.

Finally, running these Encounters directly assists Palms to support the costs of sending volunteers to exchange their knowledge and skills with communities seeking to reduce poverty by developing the capacities of their people and organisations.

If you would like to experience issues of development, poverty, culture, environmental sustainability, politics and trade in a small group experience (up to 8-10) we invite you to join an Encounter.

More Information:

Or please call me (Sean Dostal) on 02 9518 9551 or email me at sean@palms.org.au for more information.

Upcoming Dates:

  • Timor-Leste: 22 September – 4 October 2014
  • Kiribati: 3-14 August 2014

 

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The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. - Charles du Bois