Engaging the Australian Community

As one of the many AusAID funded Palms volunteers of the last 20 years with little fundraising experience, I was a little concerned, when accepting my current position one year ago, that the change in Palms’ status would render my role predominantly a fundraising one. I do not enjoy asking for money any more than the next person and am well aware of the “donor fatigue” which only increases with a different collector at the station each day.

Since then, I and other returned and departing volunteers have spoken at churches, schools, clubs and workplaces. Not once did I feel like I was asking for a handout or was an irritation to the people present. This is a credit to the system of Community engagement, education and development that has developed over the 45 years of Palms’ existence.

People like hearing Palms volunteers’ stories. The experiences of a volunteer provide a positive contrast to the fear propagated by much of the mainstream media. The stories shared are an example of entering into an intercultural relationship with open hands. The handshake still has its original meaning, “I mean you no harm and I trust that you mean me no harm.” When we offer our hands in mutual trust, and when that trust is rewarded, the fear, self-interest and defensiveness modern society instils in us dissipates.

The fact that many are inspired to contribute financially after hearing such good news is not surprising but can often overshadow the importance of having the stories heard. I therefore thank all the speakers of the last year and encourage others to consider sharing their stories. Too often we underestimate their importance.

Palms CommUnity Partnerships, which have taken many different forms, have also reduced my fear of the ‘F’ word (fundraising). This year we have found and been found by enough creative minds to organise trivia nights, movie nights, cake stalls, bike rides, sausage sizzles, pancake breakfasts, chocolate drives, computer maintenance and other events and services which I may have overlooked. The most strikingly simple one was a woman who explained to me that she invited a different group of friends to her house every few months for dinner and each contributed $20 to support Colin McDermott’s placement in Yarapos, PNG.

Open Hands Day was a modestly successful way of getting Palms’ message into schools. Many schools had a “Gold Coin” day and learnt about the value of volunteering. We hope that this event will grow as word-of- mouth spreads. Mark June 1-10 on your school, business, club or parish calendars.

With a reduced staff, the necessity for local volunteers has only increased. For the work of Damian, Barbara, Barbara, Frank, Virginie, Daniel, Shreeza, Yoshimi, Simon, Wayne, Judith, Susan, Eddie, Gino, Tony, Marie, John, John, the girls of St Scholastica’s and all of our state representatives, board and committee members and facilitators at our Orientation Course, we thank you. The value of this donated time is inestimable.

The Fair Trade Coffee Company offers community involvement in a number of ways, the least of which is buying a great-tasting coffee. We see the potential of this café as a venue for justice. Already, we have witnessed NGOs holding meetings there at Palms’ invitation and of their own volition. As well as the obvious financial benefits, the café also provides a great place for the public to practise justice.

Recent contributions from Vodafone Australia Foundation and Crown Financial have added to the support received from our Global Volunteer Network members. We hope that more businesses and organisations will recognise the value and sustainability of grassroots skill development.

While all these events provide both financial support for Palms and a positive engagement of the Australian community, we will always rely on the support and initiative of our members. So next time you are having a party, why not a PNG party; meet your next client at The Fair Trade Coffee Company; check out our website and pick a volunteer to follow; mention us to a journalist you know or when your Boss mentions “corporate social responsibility”; consider supporting Palms with your school or workplace’s next casual day; and share your stories – they do make a difference. And we promise not to ask you to collect at a train station.