With trepidation I arrived at Hartzer Park (Bowral) on January 12th to take part in Palms’ 94th Orientation Course. Embarking on a two-year volunteer position is pretty daunting. Is this the right choice for me? Am I doing the right thing? Am I going with a professional, supportive organisation? All these concerns had floated through my mind since agreeing to participate but especially during the week before the course began. I had volunteered previously with an organisation which had failed to provide a professional and supportive role and I was reluctant to place myself in a similar circumstance.
Upon arriving I was struck by the differences in the participants, such a range of ages and backgrounds. Such superficial differences faded quickly once the introductions began and the common purpose that united as all became apparent – to build reciprocal relationships with an overseas community based on skill sharing and mutual respect.
BAFA BAFA, a cross-cultural simulation, highlighted the different environment we would be walking into and the need for trust in the beauty of cultures different from one’s own. That although you might not always see the point and purpose in the way others do things, time and patience do bring these things to light, and you need to trust in that. This wonderful activity was the topic of much conversation throughout the course.
As was the activity on development; participants adopted roles in a ‘developing’ country such as military governments, banks, land owners, large companies and the poor. By attempting to ‘stay afloat’ where output exceeds input and where players have no idea of the requirements and needs of other groups, participants gained a new perspective into the immense challenges faced by states with little money and infrastructure and players with little experience in running a country!
By the end of the course, our understanding and knowledge had risen exponentially. The bonds and commonality of participants had strengthened as well. Gone were the strangers from different backgrounds, ages, professions and stages of life. Now we were all Palms volunteers with a goal: To bring our skills and knowledge to our community, be that Australian or international, to build relationships and share and gain knowledge from each other. I realised through the Orientation course, a lot like the volunteer experience actually, that we as people will always share more commonalities than differences which gives me hope. I have no fears now about going to East Timor. I am just excited to meet all my new colleagues and friends that I will discover during my journey.
Becc Blundell will work in Fundacao Lafaek Diak in Triloka, Timor-Leste for 2 years. You can support her work at http://www.palms.org.au/volunteers/rebecca-blundell/