During Palms’ Re-entry Weekend, 22nd — 24th May at The Hermitage Mittagong, one of the highlights is the opportunity for returned volunteers to share their stories with people with similar experiences.

One story this year especially highlighted the importance of a Community Development approach — that is, one which is driven by local initiative as much as possible.

“I’d been in placement for just under a year when I was asked to take some visiting Australians up to see a gravity fed water supply system that was not functioning.”

“They identified what they thought were the problems (some holes in the pipes), and promised to return in six months to patch the holes.”

“I found out later that they were totally inexperienced in working with gravity fed systems and didn’t understand the concepts, and that it was going to cost about $13,000 to send them up. I felt I had to challenge this approach.”

“I was able to convince the Australian partner organisation that a local Timorese company, with the appropriate expertise, could be employed without spending so much on flights.”

“We also employed a Timorese NGO (non-government organisation) to manage community expectations and understanding of the project and to provide education about the appropriate use of the system.”

“Doing it this way reduced the cost significantly. The skills of the local experts were respected and used. The project demonstrated the local capacity to solve local problems. Overall, the project this way has a good chance of being sustainable. My opinion is that sending Australian plumbers up to fix the system, at best, would have achieved nothing.”

Thank you to all the returnees for sharing their stories and to Sr Marlene Hixon, who once again facilitated the process.