News: My ongoing re-orientation

My job is a privilege because it is one in which I never cease to learn. My great privilege was realised again in January at Palms’ 94th Orientation Course.

One might imagine that an orientation is largely about participants digesting ideas offered by expert and experienced presenters. That is true; however, the greatest learning occurs when the participants apply their experience, expertise and intelligence to extend the learning. As well as providing a personal learning reward for me as a presenter, this stimulates the reconstruction of thinking around the issues relevant to Palms’ programs.

A high priority for me as Executive Director is to encourage all associated to embrace Palms Australia as a learning organisation. This effectively allows for the “co-creation” of new knowledge and is extremely fulfilling for all who open their hands, hearts, mind and spirit to participate. When I spoke at the Commissioning in January I was pleased to declare my heart-felt sentiment that together, participants and staff, had given ourselves to such preparation.

The course is as important for Palms’ staff as it is for participants because it provides space to understand how we can work together towards achieving Palms’ Mission. It is not just that we co-create effective approaches to achieve development outcomes. The time is vital for developing genuine relationships of understanding, acceptance and care. This, rather than a cold “professional” or simply risk-management approach to preparation, is the key to participants receiving the most effective operational support to meet the challenge of engaging for two years in a culture vastly different from their own.

Professional support and preparation for managing risk will seem sufficient for those who go with the false confidence that by “… imparting technical skills and knowledge, (they will) take on the role of “leader” and (take) control in relationships with locals.” (Georgeou 2012) However, Palms’ participants step outside of our own culture as guests, to receive as much as to give; to discern new wisdom for increasing the awareness, enthusiasm and mutual involvement of Australian and international communities in action to achieve just, sustainable, and peaceful development.

As Anthony Gittins (1996) highlights in his cultural framework, putting ourselves outside of our own culture is how we become most equipped to identify its “structural sins”. It helps us like Jesus, Buddha, Ghandi, and Mandela to free ourselves from cultural constraints and develop new perspectives. We discern afresh values, knowledge and skills to identify and challenge prejudices within our own culture that put barriers between men and women, rich and poor and various ethnic cultures.

Yes, we go out to others with vocational skills, but we must never think for a moment that this is the most important part of Palms’ Mission. We must never think that we have so much more to offer our hosts with our Western approaches, most of which are failing on so many levels. What do we know of sustainability, interdependence, solidarity?

My on-going reorientation came to a peak at January’s orientation. My interaction with participants assisted me to crystallise thinking that has been bubbling away for a couple of years – that the most important thing we as Palms do is commission Solidarity Volunteers as Pilgrims, to develop as Prophets, so that they might become more effective at acting on Palms’ Vision of cooperation across cultures in order to achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty.

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You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. - Kahlil Gibran