Palms Australia’s Encounter trips are unlike any other commercial tours or voluntourism programs, and for a good reason.

While Exposure-Immersion experiences in developing communities can be a great source of personal growth for people of all ages, it is unethical to use them for this purpose if they have negative effects on the host communities. The program must have merit of itself or the participants attracted will simply be using the immersion as a guided tour. The experience must also be relevant to the context and not simply a “youth camp in a poor country”.

Negative experiences for the host community can range from inconvenience or cost, to damaging the integrity of the group through insulting, patronising and neo-colonial behaviours. These can be avoided when the host community can participate in the planning of the activities, and when adequate cross-cultural preparation and support is given to the participant. We’re proud to say that Palms Australia’s Encounters do both these things.

Full participation of the host community

The community must participate in deciding the programs available and the sorts of participants they would benefit from meeting. For example, sometimes a group of 16-year-old boys would be the best group to meet with a community, sometimes the worst. The community should indicate which times least interrupt their own activities and, in consultation with tour organisers, decide what activities would be appropriate for participants. The program should not be carelessly tacked on to the community’s schedule of activities or the experience will suffer and it will more likely be an inconvenience.

There are some communities that have the structures and systems in place to cater for visitors and could offer a mutually beneficial program. The community should be able to request that its actual costs are covered by participation fees.

Cross-cultural preparation and support

The importance of cross-cultural preparation must not be underestimated. It heightens the experience for the visitor by providing a better understanding of the reasons for cultural differences. It reduces the likelihood of simplistic generalisations, unfairly insulting or romanticising the host culture as lazy, greedy, dirty or noble, peaceful or simple, and therefore provides the sort of guests the hosts deserve.

It results in an informed questioning of the visitor’s own culture, which leads to improved engagement in challenging the injustices and prejudices that exist at home. It promotes mutually enriching and challenging relationships of acceptance, understanding and care.

An understanding of sustainable development

Though short-term exposure tours are not development activities, an understanding of development theory and practice is important. Participants must be given the understanding necessary to avoid the mistakes of the past, including simplistic evaluations about what would “help these people”. The importance of community-driven, culturally-appropriate development must be emphasised. Any work-like activity that is undertaken must be understood as an opportunity to participate in the hosts’ lives, not as “us” helping “them”. Participants must understand the potential damage by wantonly distributing gifts, particularly to avoid reinforcing colonial notions of “charity” and to reduce the opportunity for genuine relationships, both for this and future generations.

If you’re ready for a genuine, ethical encounter with a new culture, why not apply for one of our upcoming Encounters to Timor-Leste? Complete the form on this page to get started, or call us on (02) 9560 5333 to find out more.