We have been asked if we would be interested to run the two-week Palms Encounter visit to East Timor for a group of Year 11 school students. I indicated that it should be possible and the inquiring teacher said he would investigate further. The teacher believes that Palms’ approach might be less like the parasitic tourism offered by adventure tour companies.
The powers-that-be want to know more about how their students might be involved in helping the poor people they would be visiting. Perhaps teaching some English, or building something for them and maybe enduring some of the hardship of their lives. Students will encounter people living simply, but we do not pretend that, in two weeks, we can make any sustainable contribution to the development of the communities we visit. Nor do we patronisingly pretend that in two weeks we might endure what we often imagine to be the deprivations and hardships of their lives.
Palms Encounter will not reinforce the single undignified image, already dominant in our ‘developed’ world, of the dependant poor just to make media heroes of your students and, by association, your school. Let me use the rest of this space to touch on some of the activities and outcomes we hope to achieve for your students and by extension what might be gained for your school.
Students will experience: A fishing boat trip to an island across the sea; a troop carrier drive into remote districts; a hike up the tallest mountain; a swim and snorkel in a tropical lagoon; a night or two in a local village; a game with local teenagers; exotic food at the market; simple food and great flavours in homes and local wurrungs (restaurants); visits to the clinics, schools, water projects and centres for disability to witness skill exchange and interview Palms’ volunteers and local counterparts and face unexpected and confronting challenges to their world view.
Students will reflect daily, come to judgement and ponder action on: culture, development, volunteering, health, education, sustainability, victims, oppressors, innocent bystanders, interdependence, the common good, love, humility, justice, ecological sensitivity, respect, grace, human dignity, integrity, responsibility, transparency, creativity, community, the co-existence of simplicity and richness, deep peace and solidarity.
Outcomes – As a result of the activities and reflection our pilgrims will:
- Encounter the self “… awaken ‘foreign’ parts of their psychological being or lost dimensions of their spiritual ancestry”(Tacey, D (2000) ReEnchantment – The New Australian Spirituality)
- Better appreciate the diversity and dignity of people of a culture different from their own.
- Tread more respectfully upon another’s sacred ground
- Connect their school to the community and volunteers encountered on the journey
- Challenge the limitations of our limited economic and individualistic lifestyles to encourage just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful development
Warning!!! Seeing through the illusion of individuality may puncture the bubble of the ego. If this is the adventure you want for your students and school we’ll take them.