An update from the Executive Director, Roger O’Halloran
Palms has a strong relationship with many overseas dioceses and communities seeking qualified and experienced Australians willing to volunteer by sharing the knowledge and skills that will assist to sustainably reduce poverty. Palms is unique in the Church in that it prepares, sends and supports those who volunteer to work in locally owned and managed programs. Requests from Australian religious congregations and other organisations are also met, but like no other international church agency in Australia, Palms enables the sending of lay volunteers from Australian dioceses to dioceses overseas.
In this way Palms international mission and development program has aided an important link with the universal church. At different times, the Australian government has identified the value that such international church links provide in addressing common international aid and development goals and has assisted to fund the Palms’ program. However, they now take the view that it is only efficient for them to work with larger volunteer service providers so future funding is contingent on us presenting as a larger Church entity.
This could assist to realise exciting potential for achieving so many Church goals, not only in overseas programs, but also within Australian communities. This is what led to initiating a roundtable discussion with 20 church organisations who engage in international mission and development programs. On April 10th Palms and Australian Catholic University (ACU) will host the beginning of a conversation about developing a larger entity to facilitate global volunteering on a larger scale.
The hope is that we can work together to develop a program that is recognised by the international volunteering arm of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as having the capacity to address needs on a scale that they find acceptable. The number of requests from overseas communities for Palms prepared volunteers alone could easily reach 100 per annum. What we’re looking for is an organisational structure that combines the strengths of the Church organisations in a way that puts us in a position to secure a contract.
If Caritas Australia, Catholic Mission, ACU, Palms and the many congregations can find an approach to coordinate such a program together, one would expect it to be more effective in engaging Australian communities. A unified effort will provide an opportunity to put the values of Catholic Social Teaching front and centre and increase the numbers becoming aware of the contribution they might make through international volunteering. Increased numbers in turn build a greater awareness of the connection that acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly can bring to the world. Solidarity is then imaginable.
The prophetic voices of those who volunteer in international mission and development can provide a tremendous boost, assisting to evangelise the Australian community both during their placement and after return to Australia. Larger numbers with a firm belief in assisting ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, as well as improved mechanisms for engaging them in church programs and schools provides an extraordinary opportunity. Perhaps DFAT approach achieving the goals of international development volunteering from a different starting point, but they share many of the objectives for engaging with the international communities who seek the assistance Australians can provide.