“The completion and release of the results of a four-year research project demonstrates Palms Australia’s commitment to continuing to reform and refine its practice in international volunteer sending.” Palms’ Executive Director Roger O’Halloran says.
This week, the first results of the joint study, carried out by researcher Nichole Georgeou from the University of Wollongong, were released to coincide with International Volunteers Day (December 5).
The research involved Ms Georgeou observing and interviewing several volunteers at different stages of their placement process, from preparation prior to departure to their field work in Papua New Guinea and East Timor.
“Palms Australia has always prided itself on critical self-evaluation.” Mr O’Halloran said. “This research demonstrates our honest reflection that if volunteering is to be an appropriate response to global injustice, it must reflect the changing and complex realities of host communities.”
A major finding of the study was that volunteers’ own cultural ideas often affect their ability to work within their host culture. The preparation provided by International Volunteer Sending Agencies (IVSAs) was an important part in reducing cultural tensions.
“Our study found that volunteers are much more effective if they received better cross-cultural community engagement training before they left Australia,” Ms Georgeou said.
Palms Australia currently provides one of the most comprehensive pre-departure preparation programs of all IVSAs in Australia, involving correspondence units and a ten day live-in Orientation Course.
“Palms’ training provides volunteers with critical tools for self-evaluation and sometimes resisting their dangerous tendencies to rush in to ‘help’, before considering the most appropriate and sustainable way to act.” Mr O’Halloran said.
Since 2005, following the cessation of government funding, Palms Australia has relied predominantly on individual donations to fund its work.
“We take seriously our commitment to our donors to ensure their gifts contribute to effective, sustainable development,” Assistant Director Brendan Joyce said. “We may not have the funding of some larger agencies, but our 50 years experience means we have plenty to contribute to discussions about Australia’s volunteering and aid programs.”
Palms Australia’s volunteering program was founded in 1961 and has provided over $200million in services to 38 countries around the world.
This research partnership continues the collaboration between the University of Wollongong and Palms Australia which began in 2004.