News: Director’s Report

Staying vulnerable while breaking new ground

So you noticed, Palms Post has a new format. Not because we didn’t like the look of the old, although the folding process did leave it looking shabby once opened, making it less convenient to read. Someone suggested sending it flat in a plastic or paper bag, but the world probably has enough discarded plastic, and the A4 size costs twice as much to post.

In addition to the slightly cheaper printing cost, there are great savings in postage and in staff time preparing it for postage. We do however appreciate it may have taken more time for John Bradley to format it, especially on this first occasion. We thank him again for helping us to achieve savings by volunteering his skill. I hope at least that a new format will have made more of you curious enough to look through it when previously Palms Post may have remained, with the difficult-to-remove sticky tape, in the pile of unopened, uninteresting and unwelcome mail.

Palms Post format is not our only new development. If you did remove the sticky from the last issue, or looked at our web site recently, you will have noted much more that is new. As wonderful as www.palms.org.au was, is even better thanks to the efforts of another very skilled volunteer, Hien Nguyen.

Last year, new Palms’ network member, Glebe Catholic Parish, assisted to pilot a new programme: Reverse Immersion. In the hope of contributing to a fledgling tourist industry at home, two hospitality students from Timor Leste were sponsored to work at our Fair Trade Café, and so appreciate the preferences of Australian patrons. Those who did open the last Palms Post, or meet them in person, could not forget the serene smile of Veronica, or the knowing (perhaps mischievous) grin of Celina. Preliminary feedback from their school is that the three-month experience gave them and their school more than anyone had imagined.

Certainly the girls’ humble presence in the Glebe community and among the staff and customers at the café gave all pause for thought about another world and way of being. It was perhaps a reverse mission. Cardinal Pell met the girls and, after further evaluation by Christine and Ben on their current Timor Leste field trip, we will continue discussions with him about getting more parishes engaged in building these “…relationships of understanding acceptance and care…” through the immersion of up to eight students each year.

Ben’s visit with Christine to Timor Leste will also give your Palms another opportunity to break new ground. He is talking with communities who might participate in the new Palms’ Encounter Programme, explained further in this issue.

An Encounter Course provides participants (maybe you and some friends) with skills for encountering those of a culture different from one’s own, which, increasingly, we are called to do in our everyday lives at home. Good initial encounters can form the basis of successful relationships. The course also provides preparation for those who take a 10 – 14 day Encounter Visit to a Majority World community.

Continuing the talk of new directions (and this is not just visiting the past) Palms has approached the Rudd Government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Overseas Development, Bob McMullan, about a new partnership arrangement. Because we are a broad interdependent network Palms has survived without government funding for nearly five years. Indeed our work has thrived through many innovative processes in which Mr McMullan has expressed interest. We have asked therefore for some initial funding for 2009-10 to further develop such processes so that, as new ways of taking the Australian Volunteer Programme forward are being considered by him, we might make a sound contribution, and be a vital provider of effective volunteers in future years.

We can take pride in breaking new ground so long as we remember that our innovations have been born out of our vulnerability. As explained in the preparation of volunteers, being vulnerable encourages one to live justly, love tenderly and walk humbly in interdependent relationships where all work in solidarity for the common good.

Despite the extras government-funded volunteer agencies are able to offer, Palms’ volunteers are sought first by overseas communities who come to understand the way we work. Australian institutions and communities are engaging, through Palms, in partnerships of mutual development with requesting communities. Palms is the network, owned by us all, that really does encourage just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful development.

As an institution or individual, increasing your support now will impress the government to get engaged in this best practice. Please do consider implementing approaches to growing our network that are outlined in this issue.

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A partnership is not about money changing hands. A true partnership is about ideas changing minds. - Jan Vandemoortele