The preparation for solidarity abroad also applies at home.
On January 14th we were lucky enough to commission twelve more Australians who will help to build the skills of remote communities in Timor-Leste, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Kiribati and possibly Kenya. With another forty firm requests unmet, we now plan to stage a similar sized or even larger course from July 7th-14th 2018, for what will be Palms Australia’s 100th Orientation Course.
It remains important for the people being sent, as well as the receiving communities, to build soundly on initial enthusiasm. As far as I have seen, Palms Australia still offers the most comprehensive preparation of any agency sending Australians to volunteer. We provide frameworks that assist Australian participants to appreciate the culture and development context they come from, as well as the one they will be working in overseas.
With development that builds on community strengths and likely cultural change, tools for analysis are more important for guests from abroad than a list of “facts” about either culture or development. Even with great frameworks, participants require the patience to consistently revisit their initial analysis. It can take six months of language learning and relationship building to appreciate the cultural and development contexts, which is why we encourage two-year placements.
With Australia Day recently behind us, I can’t help but apply this thinking to Australia’s colonial history. Most who arrived on 26 January 1788 had little preparation, or intent, to take Palms Australia’s approach of engaging in mutually enriching and challenging relationships of understanding, acceptance and care with people of a culture different from one’s own. The English arrived with guns to assuage their initial fear and used them to assert their colonialist culture and destroy the Indigenous culture.
I expect that most Indigenous Australians would find it difficult to celebrate Australia day on January 26th. Many other cultures that call Australia home also have little connection to this date. If we are to advance Palms Australia’s vision of “People cooperating across cultures in order to achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty”, I do believe that it is important that we contribute to the discussion around finding a new date.
Last year we saw the development of groups (or ‘Clusters’) of returned volunteers considering how they might contribute to achieving Palms’ vision and values in Australia. Promoting engagement and celebration of an Australia, inclusive of all cultures, is one important goal that Cluster Groups could action in their communities in 2018. It is my hope that communities overseas and in Australia can work towards achieving the solidarity that lies at the core of Palms Australia’s values.
If you’d like to develop your capacity to work effectively across cultures, I encourage you to join us for our 100th Pre-Departure Orientation Course in July 2018, which is open to everyone.