Developing Communities at Home and Abroad

Since losing Government funds, Palms’ engagement with Australian communities has flourished. Funnily enough this was one of the major undertakings AusAID was seeking from Volunteer Service Providers who were bidding for a contract at the time. From what we can see, agencies funded to meet the government’s objectives have not had as fulfilling a connection with community groups as that enjoyed by Palms.

Palms had started our CommUnity Initiative long before the government had decided to put volunteer funding out to tender, but there was not always sufficient time to properly engage the community. Although we are now operating on a tighter budget, the freedom from the compliance requirements of government funding has released staff to focus more on this program. Thankfully many volunteers and their communities have also embraced the initiative. It may be that our independence from government funding has encouraged community ownership for what is a more grass-roots program.

Recently Sarah and Damien Beale’s community have demonstrated just how much interest and support volunteers can generate for sustainable poverty reduction through skill exchange. Following is text from an email sent to us prior to their departure:

We can now breathe a little easy as our big dinner dance fundraiser was last Saturday night. The night itself was a huge success (worth all the grey hairs I got!!). We had 217 people at the dinner (with $16 from each ticket going to Palms). Annette Newman (Palms returnee from East Timor) did a brief speech at the dinner and John Newman came along too…it was great meeting them and hearing some of their experiences.

We had a monster raffle and sold almost 400 tickets at $5 each…. we had so many lovely prizes that a lot of people walked away happy. We also had a silent auction for the more valuable donated items, and a sporting memorabilia auction that raised about $4,500. So it looks like the night raised approx $11,000 (and that is minus the expenses like the band)!!! And that is not including all the donations we have received… someone gave us a $5000 cheque on the night, and we maybe have another $2000 donation in the pipeline.

So all up it looks like we may have in the vicinity of over $20,000.

As another volunteer recently remarked,
“People are actually happy to be asked, they want to contribute, especially when they know the needs of the community and how the skills we are able to pass on will assist development in the longer term.”

The volunteer is not left to manage the CommUnity Initiative alone. Before any funds are requested Palms scopes and prepares a profile of the requesting community and the needs that the volunteer will meet there. Below are some extracts from the profile prepared about Sarah and Damien’s two-year placement with Callan Services for Disabled Persons in Papua New Guinea:

In many parts of the majority world, people with disabilities have little or no access to basic services which would enable them to improve their way of life. The number of people with disabilities in countries such as PNG is disproportionately high due to issues of nutrition, malaria, basic hygiene, HIV/AIDS, violence and lack of early intervention. The rugged geography, traditional spiritual beliefs and many languages exacerbate the difficulty of providing necessary services, training and resources.

Callan Services, founded by the Christian Brothers in 1991 has, with the assistance of many Palms volunteers, trained people throughout PNG in areas such as disabilities, community-based rehabilitation, eye and ear health and special education.

Sarah is a registered nurse specialising in Critical Care. She has several years experience at St John of God Healthcare, Subiaco and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands. She has volunteered locally in a number of capacities, including for 10 years with St Vincent de Paul. Damien has worked since 2002 for the Cerebral Palsy Association of WA as a Speech Therapist involved in the School Age and Early Intervention Programs. He has run workshops for teachers, parents and staff and has worked cooperatively with physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Together they will contribute to reducing poverty in Papua New Guinea, by training local staff to continue the work long after they return home.

Their full profile and the profiles of other volunteers are available by clicking the link to the ‘Our Volunteers’ page at And while you are there you will see that Palms’ role in educating and informing the Australian donor community continues through the preparation of quarterly reports on the progress of the placement. With the accompanying analytical questions, community groups and schools have found these to be an invaluable resource for developing global awareness.

The funds raised for Sarah and Damien and other volunteers through the CommUnity Initiative make it possible for the communities to receive and host the volunteers. They are allocated to direct costs such as initial training, travel costs, support from Palms personnel, insurance, and in communities unable to cover it, a local living allowance and accommodation. All donations to Palms are tax deductible.

In the end the money expended by the donor goes a long way further than the usual donation as it is more than doubled by the sacrifice that is the contribution of the volunteer. And the further investment in the awareness and development of community among those who get involved brings rewards far greater than anyone might at first realise.