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

Exposure-Immersion experiences in developing communities can be a great source of personal growth. However, it is unethical to use them for this purpose. These tours can be exploitative if they have negative effects on the host communities. The immersion 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. Host communities avoid these experiences when the community can participate in the planning of the activities, and when the participant receives adequate cross-cultural preparation and support. 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. 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 create minimal interruption to their own activities. Consequently, in consultation with tour organisers, the community should decide what activities would be appropriate for participants. The program should not be carelessly tacked on to the community’s schedule of activities. In doing so, the participant’s experience will suffer and it will more likely inconvenience the community.

There are some communities that have the structures and systems in place to cater for visitors and could offer a mutually beneficial program. Communities should be able to request that participation fees cover their actual costs.

Cross-cultural preparation and support

Palms highly values and never underestimates the importance of cross-cultural preparation. Preparation 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.

Cross-cultural awareness 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 understand how to avoid the mistakes of the past, including simplistic evaluations about what would “help these people”. Therefore, Palms preparation emphasises the importance of community-driven, culturally-appropriate development. Participants should understand that any work-like activity that is undertaken is an opportunity to participate in the hosts’ lives, rather than “us” helping “them”. Participants must understand the potential damage by wantonly distributing gifts. This is critical to avoid reinforcing colonial notions of “charity”. They 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.