Palms has been approached to provide volunteers to two places where Hindus make up the vast majority of the population, although any investigation will show that the two places are very different. On my return from Timor-Leste in February I managed a short scoping visit to Nusa Penida to better appreciate the requests and the capacity to host volunteers.
Penida is a half-hour boat trip from Bali, but couldn’t be more different to Denpasar and its tourist infested environs. There are dive trips that stop just off the coast of Penida, but few come ashore to discover the exquisite natural environment and modest people to which Bali tourists were attracted pre 80s. The prime tourist motivation now appears to be cheap holidays that exploit low paid Balinese service sector workers who are unable to afford land in their own country.
The community organisers and authorities we met realise that the massive resort developers see Penida as their next opportunity. There is no extreme hunger or malnutrition in Penida. They seek volunteers to assist develop a more eco and culturally friendly tourist industry that will improve incomes for locals and help them resist selling their land for short-term economic gain and the longer-term exploitation they see across the water.
A few days in Penida introduced me to the gentle traditions of the Hindu faith. I visited the temple within a mighty cave in the mountain where a priest blessed me with water before and after describing a tradition that echoed many of the values and inclusive ideals encouraged in the gospels. Reflection since tells me that any pilgrims we send in the spirit of Solidarity Volunteering will indeed return with prophetic narratives that could assist to reconceptualise and reimagine love as inspired by Jesus.
In Chennai the request is for teachers at a secular and fee paying school. We have been told all students “… are welcome despite their background or religion. We also take in children with disabilities and learning difficulties.” They believe “The Australian curriculum, pedagogy and way of teaching are sure to make a difference to the entire institution.” No doubt the school caters to families from the middle classes who might envisage their children being prepared for the Australian University system. The school probably knows they will attract these parents by having Australian teachers on staff.
So, why is Palms considering a school that is not catering to the poorest of the poor? One reason is the placements provide a different opportunity to achieve Palms Vision: “People cooperating across cultures in order to achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world free of poverty.”
In a school such as this in a country with a rigid caste system there is an opportunity to undertake a mission recently enunciated by Pope Francis when addressing teachers:
… witness with your lives what you are communicating … impart knowledge and values with words but it will be more influential on the kids if your words are accompanied by your witness …
We are told that there is in Chennai an opportunity to unassumingly give such witness by spending time during the weekend and other spare time with the poorest of the poor.
This will provide opportunities to talk with students about how they spend their spare time; many opportunities to remind them, as Pope Francis is doing repeatedly, that education should “… prepare you not to be wrapped up in yourselves or in your own little world, but to open yourselves to others, especially to the poorest and most in need, to work to improve the world we live in.”
Proceeding with these placements we will require teachers willing to give witness, tempered of course with a culturally appropriate approach. Unlike many other placements this will be with people of a very different religious culture. Fostering mutually enriching and challenging relationships of understanding, acceptance and care will enable volunteers and the local community to share different worlds of meaning.
If you think you might like to assist Palms to precede with either Penida or Chennai placements please let me know how.