Recently the Chair of the Palms Australia Board, Liz Stone, sent me an article by Marie-Flamine Lavergne published on July 18. The French are witnessing: “Fewer young people volunteering for long-term missions abroad.” Palms statistics show a steady decline of youth engagement since the 1970’s.
Palms overall numbers also declined from the late 1970’s until 2017, when we took some specific and successful strategic moves to arrest it. The number of assignments filled grew by 20% p.a. until 2020 when COVID had its way. The average age of those sent by Palms since has been around 60.
A Shared Distaste
Researchers in France found that young people identified a distaste I share for the “white saviour complex“. Palms messaging and preparation has questioned this for over 20 years and is why we stress mutual development, identified by the French youth as “everyone learns(s) from one another“. We often explain it using the words of Murri artist, activist and academic, Lilla Watson.
Neither Palms Global Mission nor our NWB program seek to identify people who need to be rescued. Given that, we must deprogram those who present with patronising and paternalistic attitudes. This is assisted in training that interrogates cultural barriers and lies that serve to separate “us” and “them”; what redeemed missionaries like Fr. Antony Gittins (SSP) and catholic social teachers have called the “structures of sin”.
Language and values
The language we use is important in bringing enquirers, applicants, donors and other supporters to think more about Palms’ values and how we live them. It should help us to deprogram the white saviour traits our culture has encouraged. For example, the noun volunteer can characterise one as the person in a relationship providing a benefit to others. Calling Palms Program Participants volunteers could tip the understanding of our program away from its purpose of mutual development.
For a long time the term missionary meant saving people or at least their souls. Most sent as missionaries did come to understand that their liberation was bound up with the that of the people they believed they were going to help. However, language without old baggage will assist Palms’ solidarity values to be lived more intentionally and enable Australian and international communities to clearly appreciate that we each bring various attributes to human development.
This month Palms ability to achieve this mission was reinforced with the appointment of two exceptionally capable Program Coordinators. Each has a unique competence born out of outstanding and varied experience. This and the joy that each exudes gives me the confidence that we also have an antidote to overcome the COVID hangover (that seems to harbour stored existential angst) preventing many Australians from exploring new growth, away from the safety and comfort of home.
Jen Wiggins has responsibility for “Supporting Global Communities” and Noura El Ahmad is responsible for “Activating & Animating Australians”. As a supporter, you can expect a call from Noura to help the implementation of a plan we have developed to recruit a new cohort of program participants who will be reprogramed at our January, 2024 Orientation Course.