Directors reflection by Roger O’Halloran
Feature image: Science students with Colleen Keating in Madang, PNG 1969
On October 10th, 2021, we were scheduled to celebrate 65 years of the Paulian Association/Palms Australia at our Solidarity Lunch in Sydney. It has now been transferred from Rydges to Zoom. Click here for details.
Appropriate to their name our Paulians initiated many activities to foster justice and inclusion, including Project Compassion (1966). Most enduring, and central to our celebration is the Palms program, responsible for recruiting, preparing and supporting Australians in global mission since 1961. The speaker at our celebration will be Professor Paul Kelly (Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and Palms Program Participant – Malawi 1991-1994).
Having the event online will provide so many more members, Palms program participants, partners and our broader network with the opportunity to celebrate a remarkable Diamond Jubilee. So many more who identify with, and value Palms program will be able to attend. Rather than a dull Zoom conference call, this will be a fast-moving, boundary-pushing event with merriment and playfulness encouraged.
Before COVID the number on a Palms’ assignment was growing by 20% p.a. (2017-20) in response to Palms expansion strategies. Projections indicated 50 in placement by 2023-24. Travel bans have seen numbers abroad decline, however in the past 12 months 21 new applicants have responded to requests from global communities highlighted on Palms website.
We plan for 15 to attend a January 2022 orientation course. Seven others have already completed preparation and 5 repatriated last year await return. We have the capacity, if the virus allows, to have at least 27 in placements again by the end of 2022.
While the core activity of Palms Australia is restricted by COVID we continue to innovate ways of building justice and inclusion, using existing capacity and experience. Two new strategies in particular are worthy of consideration and support as ways of achieving Palms’ Vision.
New Strategy 1 – Community Development in Australia
A concept of Pope Francis expressed in FRATELLI TUTTI has inspired Palms members and staff during lockdown to develop Neighbours Without Borders (NWB). Drawing on our experience since 1961 of preparing people for cross-cultural engagement NWB is designed to assist communities embrace their diversity and flourish in growing harmony. This is important in an “Australia … still … struggling for an identity that includes all its citizens: one that the citizens can accept as truthful and then work together for the common good of the society.”
Palms has begun offering NWB to local governments, schools, churches and other communities. It begins by assisting communities to explore and replace any suspicion and fear of difference, with recognition of, and excitement, for community growth. The process provides creative frameworks and activities that enable all cultures and sub-cultures to bring their strengths to inclusive community development.
As Pope Francis says a “People is not a logical category, … Rather, it is a mythic category …. To be part of a people is to be part of a shared identity arising from social and cultural bonds. And that is not something automatic, but rather a slow, difficult process… of advancing towards a common project”.
New Strategy 2 – Advocacy
Withdrawing from new partners in Myanmar was one of the most difficult retreats due to COVID. While the relationships were embryonic, the communities of Myeik in the Southeast and Pathein in the West demonstrated extraordinary hospitality from our first assignment scoping visit (2017) to the 2019 Encounter. Watching Myanmar suffer through a military coup at the height of COVID is heart wrenching and no longer being there through assignments is no excuse to do nothing.
Inspired by the creative resistance of Myanmar youth dancing for democracy and by “Red lips speaking truth to power” (see here) Palms is exploring the potential for advocacy. Australian school systems so far approached have enthusiasm for reproducing the audacious and innovative insolence being expressed, particularly by Myanmar’s Generation Z. Given the military’s ruthlessness, we are seeking the guidance of our Myanmar partners to pursue a risk adverse approach.
Palms latest Podcast released in conjunction with this Palms Post explores the issues with a young citizen in Myanmar. It is an important exploration of some of the approaches we can take to sensitively “Reach Beyond the Barriers” to remain in solidarity with them at this time.
Get Ready to Act
As these strategies are being developed further Palms looks forward to contacting members and supporters to discuss your engagement and collaboration in implementing them. During the ongoing placement hiatus, we will seek your help with the groundwork to build the necessary relationships with Australian communities and schools. Indeed, it is a great time to demonstrate that our Palms can Reach Beyond to inspire justice and inclusion despite the virus.
 Aboriginal Affairs; Justice and Peace; Solo Parents (1978); Hosting Timorese Refugees (1977).
 Kinne, Warren SSC (2021) “A Better Kind of Politics” https://www.columban.org.au/media-and-publications/newsletters-and-bulletins/columban-ebulletin/archive/2021/ebulletin-vol-14-no-7/duplicate-of-migration-a-heart-open-to-the-whole-world
 Pope Francis “FRATELLI TUTTI” https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html, (para. 158)