Despite many more hours than expected being devoted to implementing the Volunteer Fund, Palms’ collaboration with AusAID is still of significant benefit. Yes, placement start dates have been delayed, but advice about maximising safety and security is now reinforced with documented policies, protocols and procedures. Many who know of Palms’ already wide-ranging risk management documentation and the comprehensive preparation of volunteers might ask, as I did, what could possibly be added?
We now have documented roles for host organisation security officers and enhanced security roles for in-country coordinators; for every volunteer placement there are country security guides and locality security assessments as well as improved pro-formas for volunteers to complete their own personal security plans. AusAID’s ex-armed forces security consultant, Garry Young, was put at Palms’ disposal to thrash out the details of documents thus providing a better consideration of the issues. This means there is less chance that people are unclear about what to do in an emergency, but just as importantly, all will better appreciate unsafe behaviours.
Discussions with counterpart organisations, volunteers and Palms’ directors assisted to achieve even greater clarity. The process has been wearing on staff and has somewhat inconvenienced volunteers and communities, with start dates moving around, but it is a solid investment in security and safety. Professional development and capacity building like this puts down firm footings for the future.
While giving time to documenting practical approaches to safety and security has been worthwhile, Palms’ central focus remains on the value of building relationships of understanding, acceptance and care with people in the local community. As well as enhancing security beyond all practical measures, achieving development outcomes is dependent on such relationships. This is why in our preparation we ask volunteers to centre their first work plan on strategies that build relationships both in the workplace and the broader community.
Networks that assist security and future work outcomes are so created, but when one builds these relationships it ultimately does so much more for us all. The volunteer becomes a herald of cross-cultural understanding and can contribute to a deep peace, enabling universal solidarity. It’s what Barry Morris (see page 22) still does more than 35 years after his placement and he is but one of 1400 volunteers sent by Palms over these past 50 years.
The Palms AusAID collaboration enables us to begin our next 50 years mobilising another 20 volunteers to do the same. It should be no wonder to any of us that AusAID, in deciding to work with Palms, identified that for the number of volunteers being placed, providing 70 % of the cost represented great value. Now with a great foundation in volunteer safety and security, doing it again will represent even better value.