Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

The hardest part of many volunteer placements is the finish. Despite the excitement of returning home to family and friends, saying goodbye to the people who have welcomed you into their community for two years can be very difficult.

Volunteers often add pressure by attempting to achieve as much as possible for their hosts before finally departing. Some are tempted to extend their placements, even indefinitely if they are unsure of the extent to which their work is sustainable.

Palms’ focus is always on enhancing sustainability and for this reason we encourage volunteers to consider localisation of skills and responsibilities throughout their placements, to establish an exit plan with their counterparts for the final six months and to respect the capacity of their counterparts, remembering that the community’s strength and resilience, which existed before the placement, remains the key to their ongoing development.

Anne Chapman is one volunteer who has taken these lessons to heart. It did not take her long to recognise the capacity of John, Afon, Maria and Abel and to begin mentoring them as teaching assistants.

Together Anne and her assistants have worked with over 200 students and 110 adults, implementing 300 days of English classes per year. As a result, more than thirty students can speak confidently in English on a variety of topics; ten students are capable of translating oral speeches; thirty students have received scholarships for further study in Dili; female students are more assertive and confident in their participation; and two of the teaching assistants now have paid employment.

Anne’s tremendous impact is beyond doubt.

Of course, Atabae’s education programs still have room to grow, but it is a mark of terrific progress that the community now have confidence in John, Maria, Afon and Abel to lead the way. This increased confidence is evident in their most recent request to Palms Australia.

No longer is the priority receiving a volunteer to focus on classroom teaching. Now, Atabae’s teaching assistants have asked for a teacher to focus on enhancing their skills in program planning, delivery, assessment and evaluation. New objectives include more student centred learning and a greater proportion of female students.

It is incredibly encouraging to see a community like Atabae empowered through their relationships. For this reason, Palms Australia agreed to again find a volunteer to meet their request.

Heather Henderson, from Brisbane, has answered the call. Her 17 years experience as an educator and her willingness to engage in extra-curricular and co-curricular activities will be a great asset to Atabae.

While it may take some time for Heather to adjust to her new surroundings, we know that Atabae will welcome her and assist in her transition, so that together they can work together to continue building their educational capacity.