In the wake of a security incident in PNG in November 2010 (not connected to Palms or AusAID’s Pilot Volunteer Fund or PVF), AusAID understandably conducted a significant review of volunteer safety and security protocols. This review was still taking place in April 2011 at the time Palms Australia’s application for funding was approved under the PVF.
Twenty Palms volunteers were ready to depart, on schedule, in July 2011, however security consultants who AusAID had engaged to investigate safety and security of our originally approved placements were still visiting communities to assess their safety. We were unable to place any volunteers with AusAID funds until after November 2011. This long delay threw up enormous challenges for Palms, the volunteers, and requesting communities who had been unable to proceed with program plans dependant on the promised volunteers.
Devising and executing solutions consumed staff more than planned, with AusAID consultants and staff, volunteers and in some cases their Australian employers, and host communities all requiring additional communication. Other activities were put on hold, but the creativity and diligence of Palms’ staff and Palms’ outstanding relationships with overseas partners gave us the flexibility required to adjust.
As I write now we are starting to collate mid-term evaluations from host communities and volunteers. Some are still in the process of building the necessary cross-cultural relationships to establish understanding, acceptance and trust. In spite of program disruptions some organisations, which otherwise would not have been able to engage volunteers, were already highlighting the growing confidence and independence of counterparts working together trialing new ideas and newly acquired skills.
The three agencies funded under the PVF recently asked for a meeting with AusAID to discuss unclear arrangements for evaluation of the program. We all feel that despite the significant initial disruptions much is being achieved and much more could be achieved in an ongoing program that has now bedded down the safety and security arrangements. At the meeting AusAID outlined three options for future funding, but qualified this with a very clear statement that we should not hold out hope for future funding.
The message is clear. To get any funding we must once again convince AusAID and our Members of Parliament of the merits of continued support for Palms. In a letter accompanying this Palms Post I outline the arguments that must be put. Palms has demonstrated the flexibility of a smaller agency, but is also able to engage the widespread infrastructure of a very large institution. Palms’ close relationship with the global Catholic Church ensures that volunteers can remain safe, secure and effective in districts otherwise unengaged by the Australian volunteer program, yet often most in need of such partnerships. Our relationship with the Australian church connects us to a massive network in Australia that both supports volunteering and helps to spread the broader messages of the Australian aid and development program.
Please read the enclosed letter and complete the short response form to indicate how you might be able to participate in what is an essential campaign. It will cost less than a donation, but will give more to the communities Palms serves and enable volunteers to serve in more communities than hundreds of donations.
With thanks, in anticipation of your solidarity,