PALMS Re-Entry Weekend for Returned Volunteers

Held at PALMS offices – 15 October 2005

And so there we were, in PALMS Croydon Park offices (Sharon Attard, Jenny Kondylas, Grace Tai, Christina Etuale, Colin Small) – just five of us ready to participate in our re-entry weekend. As we later admitted, most of us had questioned our need to be there. After all, we had been on an orientation program, spent time overseas in a developing country as volunteers and had returned to Australia. Each of us had been back in Australia for several months and we were carrying on with our lives as before. Even if life had its little tribulations whilst we were on our overseas missions, living back in Australia was easy. Did I say easy? Oh dear – not so! It appears that we, like many other volunteers before us, had found the transition back to our old lives difficult.

Under the comfortable but able direction of Sr Marlene Hixon we acted out several psychodramas. It wasn’t long before some of the baggage we had brought back with us started to filter out. And once it started, there was no stopping it! Between the five of us we had plenty of ‘stuff’ that we had been nursing since the completion of our mission.

As volunteers for periods of up to two years, wonderful, open, eager-to-learn, warm and welcoming people in various developing countries had accepted us. We hadn’t just been trainers and workmates; we had been invited into their lives and in some cases had become part of their extended families. What’s more, we had enjoyed that feeling of belonging and being needed. We had become part of a totally different way of life and we had started to understand the overwhelming and continuing needs of our new family. And then, quite suddenly we were due to leave – our mission was finished. We felt that we had built up their skills and expectations and now we were letting them down by leaving. They still needed us! There was unfinished business! There was unanimity among us that those that we were leaving behind appeared to be more understanding than we were about the inevitability of the parting. To us, as volunteers, the situation was too difficult to comprehend.

But all credit to the talents of Sr Marlene and the honesty and openness that she engendered. Through her gentle, persuasive talents we all managed to grasp that we had played out our roles to the best of our abilities. We had made a contribution that had been valuable and valued by all those that we had served. That part of our mission had been carried out. We began to see that now we have a different, ongoing, but equally important role. Our new mission is to work out how we can foster a climate where others can be recruited to expand and continue the good work! And we need to engage even those who will never go away in the belief about the human connection that can exist with those we might initially see as “other”. That’s the new challenge!

We all thank Roger and all the staff at PALMS for organising our re-entry; for providing the venue; the food and drinks; and of course our special gratitude goes out to Sr Marlene for helping and nurturing us through our muddled thinking so that we finished the day on a collaborative ‘high’.

Colin Small – on behalf of the group of returnees.