News: Programs and Support

Reflections by some recently returned volunteers

While all volunteers are recruited, prepared, placed and supported with the intention of achieving the entire PALMS Mission, some volunteers get the opportunity to open their palms in particular ways to different aspects of our mission. The following are personal placement reflections from just two of the twenty PALMS volunteers who returned from placement in the last twelve months. They highlight two key elements of the underlying vision and mission of PALMS.

Christina and Colin ~ Catholic Teachers College, Bacau, Timor Leste

Aspect of PALMS Mission ~ building the capacity of individuals and strengthening institutions through the exchange of knowledge and skills.

“Going to East Timor in early 2003 as volunteers was the answer to our prayers. Both of us were assigned to jobs in the same establishment; and it was work that we were familiar with; Christina as Office Manager and myself as Business Manager.

Of great importance to us was that we were mandated by PALMS and the Catholic Teachers’ Training College we were working for, to transfer skills to our East Timorese staff. Although we had jobs that needed our attention, always our major focus was building the skills of our staff. Within three weeks of arrival we had our skills transfer targets for Office Management, Finance, Security, Maintenance and Transport sections (with a total of almost thirty staff) written into the College’s Strategic Plan. We had our goals and they were written down for all to see. Most importantly we kept to those goals and ultimately developed a ‘Skills Transfer Model’ that could be modified for any area of work.

From the beginning we recognised that many of our local staff could benefit from the development of their self-esteem. Unless this happened we knew that trying to train them in aspects of finance and administration would be extremely difficult. So, with the assistance of translators we introduced weekly staff meetings, where the staff was encouraged to speak and express not only their concerns, but also their praise for each other’s efforts. Initially I chaired the meetings and gradually the trainee managers were introduced to the chair. How fulfilling it was towards the end of our mission to see not only the trainee managers, but also other staff taking a turn at chairing the meetings. So enthusiastic were they that even the security staff who had worked through the night used to come to the morning meetings of their own volition and at their own expense!

However, the transfer of skills was by no means one way. We learned so much from our beautiful East Timorese staff. And ohhhhhhh how we admired their ability to live, love, laugh and squeeze so much out of life.”

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