Feature image: John Bradley in Samoa with Year 9 science students
In 2022, Palms revamped the Community Connections program to increase support for participants in the field and increase awareness and action for sustainable development in Australian communities through Community Support Teams (CST’s). Since then, the program has undergone multiple improvements to create stronger links and support for sustainable development initiatives from the Australian community.
A Community Support Team (CST) is a team of three or more individuals made up of friends, family or community members who have been nominated by the Palms participant to provide prayer, personal, professional, advocacy or fundraising support throughout their placement.
Whilst our Palms participants share exciting posts and photos of their overseas placement on their social media account, the friends and family who make up the CST may hear a different story.
A Palms placement involves practicing cultural humility on a daily basis. This can be a difficult transition for our participants as feelings of isolation and culture shock kick in. The support team, along with Palms staff, can provide a listening ear allowing participants to ‘take off the mask’. Being supported by the family and friends can create a strong sense of belonging that helps participants through various cross-cultural adjustments.
In most cases, the CST’s work starts before the participant’s placement begins. Participants can be so busy preparing to go on placement that they may not have time for a proper goodbye. The Support Team can organise a ‘Sending Ceremony’; an invaluable event to acknowledge their commitment to reach beyond. Participants such as John and Frances held their Sending Ceremony at their local church. This also provided an opportunity to fundraise for their placements.
Being a CST member also means learning about cultures in a new way, without the Western lens. It involves getting to know what a host community values, celebrates and struggles with so the Australian community can better understand the challenges they face and find ways of supporting the Palms participant.
Maura O’Connell, a member of Frances’ Support Team writes:
“Being a part of this team has broadened my understanding of the wonderful work of Palms and the special people who volunteer. I’m learning more about Thai education, culture, spirituality, geography, and climate as well as the challenges and joys of taking on this experience of a lifetime. There are times when I think I am there as I read the news emails and flick through amazing photographs of cultural events and beautiful people.”
Needless to say, support comes in many forms. At times, the support provided may feel sporadic or minimal. It can range from sharing stories and articles on social media, to having a conversation about the participant at a sausage sizzle, or sending a weekly text message checking in with them. These small actions come together to provide support not just for our participant but the host community and the overall goal of reducing global poverty.
Fr Andrew Doohan, a member of John Bradley’s Support Teams writes:
“I must confess that I am not always a good correspondent. I don’t always write to those I should write to or respond to missives I should respond to… The one thing I can do – and reasonably, without sounding immodest – is pray. And John, and his mission in Samoa, are prayed for each day, as part of my commitment to supporting him while away from his home and parish. The emails I receive from John often feature in that prayer, particularly when specific issues arise in daily life, and I believe that this small contribution is one way of supporting John during his placement.”
With many of our participants nearing the 12 month mark in the field, we would like to extend our thanks to all of our Community Support Teams who have been supporting them in whatever way needed.