By Roger O’Halloran
In the last 16 months I have written about receiving a significant donation. It’s probably enough to recruit, prepare, send and support about 15 placement requests per annum for around 10 years. At a recent discussion I attended with other international volunteer sending organisations someone suggested that international volunteering to assist build the capacity of people and organisations elsewhere may come to be redundant anyway.
At Palms, however, we believe undertaking international assignments has so much more to offer. It also enables connections between Australian and international communities to advance awareness and enthusiasm for shared action to achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty. This requires journeying in solidarity with people of a culture different from one’s own in the hope that we learn as much from others as they do from us. Because Palms wants to do this beyond ten years we have adopted a plan for our own sustainable growth.
It’s exciting to have this opportunity to invest in the future. However, critical to the success of building connections or capacity building is the recruitment of appropriately skilled Australians. At Palms’ AGM last month Peter Maher asked a simple, but key question: “How many people are coming forward to be sent?” My aforementioned discussion with sending organisations also revealed we all have a harder time recruiting people for the one to two year assignments that assist sustainable development.
Our analysis over some years suggests a number of factors. In my Palms Annual Report Director’s Report I mention problems with a fractured church and competing with voluntourism, but a line from Fatima Measham’s Eureka Street article (26-10-2018) “we do not really give ourselves enough credit to withstand change.” made me think that we might be dealing with a bigger social malaise.
Measham was making the point that “…intransigence mars our discourse” and goes further:
“This is a time of intense contraction, people collapsing inward from anger and despair, or keeping to the tribes they have defined for themselves. There is a palpable sense on all sides that something fundamental is being lost. Under such conditions, it is hard to get people to concede that what they believe might be incomplete. No one wants to give anything up.”
Essential to recruiting for Palms’ Mission is people accepting that what they believe might be incomplete. And they have to be willing to give up lots. However, those who have done this in the past speak of an extraordinary opportunity for personal growth; an opportunity to stretch one’s comfort zone.
I was privileged on Tuesday to have Geoffrey Picker share exactly these sentiments at an Information Session in Canberra. Geoffrey went to Papua with Palms in 1961. His handout is published on Palms’ website.
If people have become fixed and reluctant to change have they stopped looking at the very experience that provides the antidote that will see us grow in the diversity offered by change? Measham suggests that to get people to think again in a variety of public policy areas we need to keep asking the old question: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” That’s a start, and may just work if we can have the discussion in the public space, face-to-face, using processes designed to have people explore ideas together rather than in their social media corners.
We thank returned volunteers who recently took up a suggestion to talk about their experiences to people across the table in their local cafes and pubs. We call it “Meet and Greet” and hope more of you will take up the opportunity to have those important conversations with the two or three people in your area who enquire about volunteering. We also still need to take a different tack in the hope of providing forums that disrupt the process of discourse that sees us retreat to our tribes in the false fear that we otherwise need to give something up.