“Palms Volunteers Make Our Community Complete”: A Visit to Timor-Leste

“Palms Volunteers Make Our Community Complete”: A Visit to Timor-Leste

Palms Country Program Coodinator, Christine O’Halloran recently took a field trip, visiting our volunteers and partners in Timor-Leste. For the volunteer, a visit by Palms staff is often a welcome change from feelings of isolation, however good their placement. These trips provide valuable support, but also produce just as valuable feedback from our volunteers and their hosts which constantly helps improve the Palms program. There is no editorial comments to conclude Christine’s article: The host communities speak for themselves.

“Palms volunteers make our community complete”

In early June I visited Palms volunteers and partners in Timor-Leste. It was a busy couple of weeks meeting with partners, discussing current and future volunteer positions that will assist in further strengthening their organisational and staff capacity.

There has been much debate around the effectiveness of international volunteering and questions around how it enhances the capacity of organisations and local staff members where volunteers are requested. In travelling around the various host organisations I see first-hand and am inspired by the part Palms volunteers play. They are great examples of what international volunteering is supposed to achieve.

Palms volunteers, come with a perspective and approach, developed and nurtured through our preparation and support, that sees them not as ‘experts’ who come to provide a solution, but as co-workers, sharing their skills with organisations and communities to help achieve their own development goals.

Our volunteers, spend time building their own capacity to live and work effectively, by learning language, understanding the cultural context, and most importantly building positive relationships within the community. Relationships and cultural understanding takes time, but investing the time ensures that placement outcomes are locally owned and sustainable.

According to feedback during this trip and from ongoing communication, our partners have reiterated how much they value:

  • Our model of development volunteering that enables host organisations to determine their own needs, and request volunteers with particular skills to assist in achieving outcomes;
  • Volunteers who spend the first six months of their placement, building their own capacity and immersing themselves to ensure that their work is locally relevant and sustainable;
  • How well our volunteers lay the foundations for a lasting, continued exchange of skills and;
  • The credibility our volunteers give to inspiring and strengthening local volunteering within some of the organisations.


These are some of the comments received from host organisations:

Dili “…the volunteers have adapted very well, they are learning our language and show respect for our culture”

Atabae “…when the volunteer is not here the community feels like something is missing. We are sad when they leave us after two years because we learn so much from one another”

Maliana “…volunteers who listen allow us to learn and share our ideas together”