Palms Australia conducts Encounters to Timor-Leste and Kiribati. On a Palms Encounter you are provided a glimpse into the lives of needy communities and discover the relationship between culture, development and volunteering. Catherine Mitchell, an ACU undergraduate and Palms intern gives her account of joining the Palms Encounter to Timor Leste in May.
Almost 3 years ago I moved to Sydney from Coffs Harbour to study a Bachelor of International Development Studies at the Australian Catholic University in Strathfield. As a part of this course, 3rd year students participate in an immersion experience abroad. While many students were not fortunate enough to receive their first preference of country, I was informed of my acceptance into the 4 week Palms Australia Encounter to Timor-Leste, along with 7 other students.
Roaming around the country in a troopy carrier, we visited the Palms volunteers in their placements. Along the way we sighted substantial landmarks, visited museums, villages, hot springs, schools and NGO’s, had homestays with the locals and celebrated 10 years of independence with them; just a few of the many activities we participated in. The encounter opened my eyes to the practical side to what has been drilled into us by our lecturers. The concepts of solidarity and sustainability were rife in the experience, and I finally understood how significant it is to understand and develop relationships; development should not be done for the people, but with the people, and therefore cannot be done in a short timeframe. The roles of religion and culture in a country such as Timor-Leste are imperative when constructing development projects.
Other aspects of development we confronted (through observation and discussions with Palms volunteers and other development workers) included sustainability, permaculture, human rights, corruption/distribution of aid, post-conflict societies, gender inequality, poverty and many more. Daily debriefings all together with our incredible guide, Pollyanna, (a returnee Timor-Leste volunteer) allowed us to process what we were seeing and feeling as well as feeding off each other’s emotions and understanding. Although I have previously travelled extensively throughout Asia, my experience on the Palms Australia Encounter has increased my passion and motivation for a career in this field and I have been lucky enough to become a part of the Palms Australia team as an Intern.
If you feel inspired to join a Palms Encounter and share your world with people of another culture, please visit our Encounter webpage.