Director’s Musings Part 2: Reframing Volunteer Engagements

Director’s Musings Part 2: Reframing Volunteer Engagements

By Roger O’Halloran

How might Palms attempt to improve the way we walk with global communities seeking to host a volunteer?

Last week the Devpolicy Blog (24/1) reinforced Palms approach, especially of seeking local solutions for local problems.  It also provided links to directions by which we might slightly reframe future volunteer engagements. Check PDIA and have a look at TWP who discuss a related model.

In essence they encourage a similar methodology to the Cardijn “See Judge Act” process.  This, as Cyril Hally outlines in the footnoted reference, was the Paulian methodology from our inception in 1956.  We have from time-to-time included it in a session at Palms Orientation course, but not really refined it adequately for appropriate integration into development assignments.

A methodology that further assists local solutions for local problems will provide a better framework for mentoring than mentoring initiated by a stranger to the community.  It enables ‘buy-in’ by all at key points of identifying issues and plans, rather than assuming that all see the issues in the same way. It also should avoid such problems as the mentor preparing mentees for work that does not exist, or is based on Western models that are inappropriate in local circumstances. 

In every assignment (e.g. at schools, health facilities and other community organisations) such processes can assist to identify the preferences and therefore strengths each (mentor and mentees) bring to building capacity.  However, the application of such methodology goes well beyond workplace mentoring.  Cardijn employed it to assist young workers to identify injustices and encourage social action to overcome the structural barriers to these injustices in their workplaces.

If those who volunteer are to assist facilitation of the process as Cardijn has done, they will need to be prepared.  Ensuring that locally driven opportunities for change are able to emerge and constraints to such change are better identified and addressed requires a delicate engagement.  Ideally, this can be investigated as part of the situational analysis we ask the volunteer to do in the first 180 days of a Palms Assignment.

As part of our review of the January course staff have been considering appropriate preparation.  At the moment only a very small part of one course session gives lip service to Freire, who, along with Cardijn, might be considered a father of the process.  We are thinking a new session devoted to approaches that better support local initiatives, both in and beyond the workplace, could serve as an introduction to e-learning or podcasts.  Such may also include approaches to appropriate advocacy that is implied by Palms Vision and explained in Palms Mission as:

“Advancing the awareness, enthusiasm and involvement of Australian and international communities in shared action to achieve just, sustainable, and peaceful development.”

We want to facilitate this type of local problem solving and perform a brokering and facilitation role rather than providing solutions.  At the Commissioning Ceremony and Solidarity Awards to be held at the end of the course (Sunday July 14th), we will ask a guest speaker experienced in this work to help us launch the approach.  Members and supporters will be encouraged to attend and assist to develop the process in following courses.


For more insights from Roger (and insights into how overbearing I am as an editor) see Part One.