Palms Australia is far from alone in providing professional development assistance to community organisations in the Asia-Pacific. Governments and fellow not-for-profits run similar programs that respond to requests for skill-building by sending professionals abroad in long-term engagements. We asked our partners in Timor Leste why they chose Palms Australia as their preferred provider for assistance and what qualities they look for in foreign professionals.
Why do organisations seek Palms’ assistance?
Representatives from both Bedois Parish, Ahisaun Foundation and Balibo Community Learning Centre shared that strengthening their respective organisations through an injection of new ideas and capacities was the primary reason for engaging foreign staff. Pre-school teachers from Bedois Parish noted that local staff and teachers could be inspired by diverse thinking on education and that providing students from poor backgrounds the assistance of a native English speaker gives them language learning opportunities typically reserved for their better-resourced peers.
Why, specifically, they had chosen Palms varied. Sister Imelda, Director of Bedois Parish Pre-School, shared that Palms participants brought with them a ‘willingness to understand the culture and learn the language’. Joaquim Soares, Director of health services provider Klibur Domin, said that a volunteer organisation with whom they had previously worked had poor communication and that Palms was accessible and receptive.
What do organisations look for in foreigners who come to assist?
Our partners create each position description and dictate the qualifications and experience they expect of a foreigner who volunteers to assist them. For those who have the appropriate skills and experience, our partners have consistently indicated that adaptability and flexibility are the most important traits they value in a Palms participant.
Staff at both Balibo CLC and Bedois Parish added that a willingness to participate in cultural events was essential to fostering a strong relationship with the local community.
What barriers do foreign professionals face when working with local staff?
On the importance of being a part of cultural events, Balibo CLC’s Rino Fernandes noted that though many foreigners know Timor as a conservative Catholic country, going to Church every day is not enough: “Not everyone goes to Church in Timor now, so going to cultural events is most important”. As a guest in another community, assuming that certain events and activities are more significant than others can be a barrier to building genuine relationships.
Both Bedois Parish and Ahisaun representatives shared that language was a significant barrier during the early months of a Palms assignment. Overcoming language barriers takes time and patience, just one of many reasons why short-term engagements rarely achieve sustainable objectives.
Joaquim Soares added that volunteers who are keen to share a strategy that has worked in their home country, before taking the time to understand the local context, was a challenge.
What is the most important thing foreigners have learned from your organisation?
Overwhelmingly, our partners have admired the way Palms participants have embraced Timorese culture. Ahisaun Director, Senor Domingos, and Finance officer, Senor Augusto, shared that participants had learned to work with limited resources to achieve results. Joaquim Soares from Klibur Domin that participants are able to adopt ways of thinking that are adaptable to local conditions and that they have a greater appreciation for the differences between Australia and Timor Leste.
Sr Imelda of Bedois Parish said that participants learn that things do not happen quickly, they require patience.
We invite requests for assistance from community organisations in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. If you would like to engage an Australian professional to work with your staff, complete a request form and we will be in touch.