News: Symbiotic Fertilisation at 51

Regular readers would be aware of both Palms’ celebration of its first 50 years as well as our discernment of the route that will take us into the next 50. Most would also be aware of funding we received through AusAID’s Pilot Volunteer Fund (PVF). It was provided to test the potential of mobilising volunteers in alternative ways to the government’s larger Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.

Discernment of new directions and the PVF created a symbiotic fertilisation of one another at Palms’ Organisational Review in November 2011. Now as we approach Spring we are seeing some early blooms, but more importantly most volunteer involvement with counterparts has created what we might call a bloom space in which beneficiaries can flourish for years to come. The PVF has not been without challenges and consistent with the purpose of a pilot program, all stakeholders will learn from these as well as its successes.

In terms of the objectives of the PVF:

  1. It is clear from recent visits to communities engaging Palms’ volunteers that PVF placements are providing outstanding assistance to strengthen the sustainability of local development efforts. This is notably the case in remote regions where Palms has a unique capacity, through church connections, to partner with community based organisations and to have volunteers appropriately hosted.
  2. A recent Encounter trip to Timor Leste has highlighted these achievements. Participants, now back in their Australian communities, are preparing to connect people and organisations and contribute to Australia’s development efforts. Videographer Jody Muston came with us and captured some wonderful footage of the volunteers in action. Clips will be available on YouTube and will be great tools to assist supporters further promote global citizenship in the Australian community.
  3. We will continue building long-term relationships which contribute to Australia’s development efforts, through the auspices of our new Patrons, former President of Timor Leste, Dr José Ramos-Horta and Deacon Gary Stone. Both will be sworn in at Palms’ inaugural Solidarity Awards Dinner on Tuesday October 16th. At the dinner Dr Ramos-Horta will make a case for Palms to assist strengthen the sustainability of local development efforts that focus on building a healthy population.

Lessons emerging from PVF implementation reinforce Palms’ long-held principles and approach to international development volunteering:

  • Longer-term volunteer assignments (2-3 years) are generally more effective in grass roots placements than shorter-term assignments.
  • Working in remote districts is difficult, but good preparation and support, clustering of volunteers and a strong volunteer ethic can bring options to those with least opportunity.
  • Volunteers can be mobilised at a considerably lower overall cost (around half) of the cost of mobilising volunteers through AVID.

Most volunteers placed under the PVF will finish those placements at the end of the year. We thank them for their willingness to assist the trial of an alternative approach. Some volunteers will return to undertake a more valuable second year where initiatives can be reinforced and built upon.

You may not be able to volunteer just now but, as AusAID pause funding to further assess PVF outcomes, you can help communities host those volunteers who are able to return. Most communities cannot cover airfares, housing or a basic allowance to provide a volunteer with the bare essentials. These costs come to around $10,000 per volunteer per year, but return $70,000 in valuable skill and knowledge development.

Palms can provide tax deductibility and resources you might use to engage your community. You can make your donation online or by calling (02) 9518 9551.

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There is both a moral and social responsibility attaching to these experiences of foreign cultures,
and if nothing awakens in our own soul, making claims and demands upon us,
calling us to change the way we live, then we have been merely parasites and invaders. - David Tacey