News: An Alignment of the Stars

Director’s Report

What a busy first quarter of the new financial year! Finalising annual figures and the report; Focus Workshops around Australia; settling in our new Programs Officer, Daniel Gilfillan, and scoping potential placements in Ethiopia and Uganda kept all staff and some volunteers around the country fully engaged. However, fresh approaches to previous processes, that improve our ability to open new Palms to new communities, makes being busy considerably more joyful than painful.

All this joyful busy-ness however may have prevented us from taking advantage of an arising window of opportunity. Encouraged, we believe, by parliamentary secretary Bob McMullan, AusAID are looking outside the square of accredited development agencies, to get assistance in a “Call to Action” on the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). It fits so well with everything we do and the preparation of the grant application was a surprisingly stimulating reflective activity assisted by an alignment of the stars, in the availability of one Elizabeth Stone to prepare it.

There are many causes of extreme poverty and many attempts have been made to eliminate it. Perhaps because donors failed to heed Susan George in How the Other Half Dies (1976) Dambisa Moyo reminds us in Dead Aid (2009), that aid has created dependency and corruption and discouraged enterprise and economic growth, thus exacerbating extreme poverty rather than eradicating it (MDG 1). While Palms does not pretend to eradicate poverty by recruiting, preparing, sending and supporting a volunteer, the first statement of Palms’ Mission

“To build the capacity of individuals and strengthen institutions through the exchange of knowledge and skills between Palms volunteers and partner communities.”

is clearly a very important part of the process for achieving MDG 1, while avoiding the pitfalls Moyo and George highlight more than 30 years apart.Most requests for Palms volunteers come from communities seeking skill development in education (MDG 2) and health (MDGs 4,5 and 6). Also, both Palms’ volunteer preparation and collaboration with communities heightens sensitivity for addressing issues that cut across all sectors, such as gender equity (MDG 3) and environmental sustainability (MDG 7).

In letters of support accompanying our AusAID submission community groups have attested to our great success in recent times with implementation of another aspect of our mission:

“To engage Australian communities and partner communities through Global Volunteers so that each increases their awareness and enthusiasm to encourage just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful development.”

which coincides completely with MDG 8.Simply preparing the grant application provided an opportunity to build stronger networks through Catholic Education Offices, cafes and communities Australia wide. The Call to Action reinforces Palms Vision:

“To participate in and develop networks that link and engage people across cultures in order to cooperate in reducing poverty and achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world.”

The most exciting network to grow in the process has been through the Fair Trade Café, where for the past six months we have been part of the Australian Poetry Centre’s ‘Poet in Residence’ program. They have poets in cafes in every state of Australia and have agreed to assist distribute resources provided by Palms to promote the Call to Action. The importer and roaster of our Sacred Grounds Coffee has also agreed to engage cafes to which they supply coffee around Sydney. The café is taking our mission to the street more broadly than we could have imagined.

In this issue of Palms Post we have various stories from volunteers, in various countries, at various stages of their first year of placement. To appreciate just how much work our volunteers are doing to achieve MDGs you might read these in conjunction with an outline of the MDGs, which you will find at www.palms.org.au. Indeed you will see how it fits, dare I say, like a palm in a glove.

Of course what makes all of the above successful is the very unique third aspect of Palms mission:

To advance mutually enriching and challenging relationships of understanding, acceptance and care, to the point of sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense, with people of a culture different from one’s own.

This is abundantly clear from a reading of the extended stories of our volunteers, which you access while visiting www.palms.org.au. We trust the AusAID selection panel will appreciate what we have to offer and the extent of the networks we have developed in which to offer it.

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Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.
It is man made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. - Nelson Mandela