The concept of relationships is the central theme of the Palms philosophy. We encourage our volunteers to live in their new community for at least six months, building up networks, relationships, understanding and situational awareness before they try to make any changes to the way things are done.
Beyond the volunteer, Palms as an organisation believes very strongly in maintaining strong and healthy relationships with our partners, those communities and organisations who host Palms volunteers. Just one of these many “organisational” relationships has been the one with the Ahisaun Disabilities Foundation, in Dili, East Timor.
The first Palms volunteers to work with Ahisaun, Michael and Cheree Flanagan, arrived in Timor in early 2005, at a time when Ahisaun was using a loaned house for the residence and office. Cheree said, about her first days, “I spent the first week in tears! We taught English all day, and didn’t stop for lunch because there was no food”. Michael and Cheree worked well with the Ahisaun staff and members, and developed a working relationship between Ahisaun and New Zealand Aid while they were there. Unfortunately 14 months into their placement they were evacuated in April 2006, and didn’t return because of Ahisaun’s concern that things still weren’t settled in Dili.
In late 2006, Daniel Gilfillan went to work with Ahisaun and picked up where Michael and Cheree had left off. Through linkages with the Podmore Foundation in Australia and the Embassy of Japan, Daniel and Ahisaun’s Director, Mario, were able to arrange for the construction of a purpose-built facility for Ahisaun; their own place to replace a house on loan, with a greater capacity for male and female members.
By this stage, in partnership with Palms, Ahisaun as an organisation was beginning to be noticed in Timor, by Government and international organisations. Mario, however, felt that Ahisaun still didn’t have the skills “in-house” to keep the momentum going. Through the Palms Reverse Immersion program, sponsored by the Podmore Foundation, Angelino from Ahisaun came to Sydney to complete three months work experience at Palms. Angelino’s English has dramatically improved, as has his understanding of supporters’ need for information. He has seen the administration in the Palms office, and he has developed new networks of support for Ahisaun. We are also learning much about Timor-Leste, disability and Ahisaun by hosting Angelino.
Mario had already requested more volunteers from Palms before Angelino came to Australia. Ahisaun is very keen to capitalise on Angelino’s experience, and Lukas Rajnoch and Kristina Gunawan will provide Angelino with support and reinforcement as he puts his new skills, knowledge and awareness into action on his return. Kristina will also be working with Ahisaun’s treasurer and secretary to build up their financial management skills, using small business projects as a practical base. Lukas will work closely with Angelino and Mario on their agricultural projects, as a project manager, mentor and mentee.
Longitudinal relationships, such as that between Ahisaun and Palms, result in more effective development. Each volunteer builds on the work of the previous one, but in different areas, reflecting Ahisaun’s changing needs. In this way, the process does not stagnate, dependency is avoided and new directions can be explored. Central to this process are mutual respect, dialogue and flexibility.