When asked about my work I have frequently reflected on how privileged I am to work with so many, willing to give so much. Have I now been called to a harder mission?
Those volunteering for a Palms Global Mission have an adventurous dimension that entices one into relationship with them and makes working on their preparation so mutually rewarding. Recent research tells us that we may need to do more in preparation to help volunteers to exchange culturally bound donor understandings of aidfor greater openness to Lilla Watson’s idea of mutual liberation. Working together with volunteers on such struggles provides the grist that makes such relationships even more fulfilling.
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson
Then there are the visionary people in the community organisations with whom we explore the potential of particular volunteers to assist in the sustainable reduction of poverty. In recent times we have been lucky enough to have a number from host communities share a little of our hospitality. The humility, fun and faith of Veronica, Celina, Angelino and Fr. Adriano from East Timor have enriched the life of our community, our office and my family when staying in our home.
It’s a Palms mantra that mutually enriching relationships are the premise for everything else we do. Care between staff and volunteers, between staff and hosts and between volunteers and hosts arises when person-to-person communications are open, or leave us vulnerable to the other. Some suggest this is stating the obvious, but mutual liberation based on mutually enriching relationships is not the obvious priority of the money-centred culture in which many of us grow up.
In our more competitive environment, business “success” is easier when we avoid open, person-to-person relationships that encourage caring about the other. In the past I have been rudely reminded that not all in our culture are seeking relationships of understanding, acceptance and care. Certainly if an agent puts distance between two parties it does not encourage one to be open, empathetic, or vulnerable to the other.
Once, perhaps looking for support from the owner of a building we occupied, I explained to an agent that while the business was well supported it was still a struggle to be profitable. I mentioned that we paid award wages and superannuation, which I knew, from our employees’ prior experiences in the industry, was unusual. The agent simply said that we needed to be more commercially realistic.
This experience, what Christine has identified as a cultural clash, has been painful and costly. Being involved in commercial dealings, where a willingness to be vulnerable might invite destruction rather than encourage empathy, is a challenge, but perhaps this is where we are meant to be. Perhaps, as well as putting our values on the street for public consumption, we are being drawn to the confronting edge to learn how our values might ameliorate the more manipulative aspects of our culture.
Palms’ core mission is cross-cultural development volunteering, but we cannot ignore what Cyril Hally (R.I.P.) called a “crisis” and a need for a mission to address it within our own culture. Our cross-cultural experience provides us with learning about alternatives and our commercial activities confront us with learning from home. As difficult as it is, we are well placed to address the challenge of promoting relationships of understanding acceptance and care to the point of sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense, with people of a culture different from one’s own.