Our Team

The Palms Australia Development Philosophy proposes that those at the centre of directing our programs are the communities requesting the engagement of appropriately skilled and experienced others in their development.

These communities and program participants are the core of the Palms Team.  Donors, Australian communities, members, directors, coordinators and administrators are the support team. 

Most are professionals and activists offering their skills on a voluntary pro-bono basis.  Our work endorses a deep commitment to the mutual development of one another.

Anyone wanting to inquire about Palms programs (Australia or Abroad) or join Palms team please do so by contacting us and asking to be connected to one of the relevant team members:


Soraya’s whole working life has been spent living and working in cross cultural communities in Australia and overseas.  Her qualifications include Bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Psychological Sciences, and Masters Qualifying degrees in Adult Education and Social Work, in addition to other graduate diplomas and management credentials. Soraya comes with decades of leadership experience in the community sector, Local and Commonwealth Government, as well as a strong background as an adult educator, community development worker and counsellor.   She has a deep compassion and connection with the marginalised and a passion and infectious enthusiasm for the Vision, Mission, Values and Goals of both Palms’ Global Mission and Neighbours Without Borders Programs.


Jen is passionate about locally identified and led development. Her firm belief in the positive change that can come from intentional people to people links has meant that she has spent over 20 years in the international aid and development sector. She first spent time as a high school teacher in rural and remote areas in Solomon Islands, then followed by working with Save the Children UK in China (Hefei and Urumqi) on their child protection and anti-trafficking programs. This led Jen to many years managing volunteer programs in a number of countries for AVI, before coming to Palms in 2023.  

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Born in Lomé and raised in a multicultural background, Noura is a passionate professional with an adventurous soul. She comes from a diverse background in the non-governmental and overseas aid/development sector, with a strong passion for facilitating co-designed sustainable solutions for vulnerable communities. Her experiences range from volunteer coordination and social care work to food security, protection, education, and emergency response projects.

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Having studied, volunteered and worked internationally, Emily has a passion for cultivating cross-cultural partnerships. Her educational background in Counselling in addition to experience in the higher education sector has led to a desire to support those in need. She aspires to strengthen community and mutual collaboration through creative but authentic storytelling. Emily’s work at Palms centres on engaging participants’ communities at every stage of their journey. She is a strong advocate for gender equality to eliminate violence against women on a local and global scale.

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Following too many years at ruthless corporations, Kevin came to Palms seeking a new path for his love of justice and desire to assist others, along with a taste for culture and adventure! After some years on overseas assignments, Kevin joined the Palms office where he continues to share his passion for Melanesia and the lessons learnt in the field. His latest challenge is bringing it all together to support our operations as Palms’ Finance Officer.

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With a background in education and many years of administrative experience with not-for-profits, Cassandra’s passion for justice and equality for everyone has brought her to the Palms team to assist facilitate mutual development. Her focus is on engaging the Australian community, cultivating efficiency and participant formation to ensure a lasting impact in remote communities around the world. She is keenly building on her knowledge and skills in creative design to assist the team on projects.

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Evelyn has a background in treasury with experience across the Travel, IT, Manufacturing and Hospitality industries. Answering a call from the Lord to use her skills to serve, she is generously volunteering 2 days a week in the office to help with bookkeeping.


Patricia is from the Western part of Fiji. She has a background in Accounting from Fiji and pursuing the same in Australia with experience across the Community Services, Travel, Treasury, Education and Admin fields. She loves to facilitate, budget,  implement  and assess for greater outcomes. Patricia is volunteering 2 days a week as Office All Rounder.

Our Members

Palms Australia is a unique independent and democratic organisation, open to the direction of its members. The board has five directors elected by the membership and three appointed by those five to ensure a strong network and appropriate talents are available to take Palms forward. It is an agency whose legal structure is voluntary, not-for-profit and non-government.

Palms Australia consists of members from diverse backgrounds. If you would like to become a member of Palms Australia or to find out more, please visit our Membership page.

Our Board

Veronica Lawson – Chair

Tutor, North Shore Coaching College

BSc; Dip Ed; BEdSt; M Litt; Grad Dip RE; PhD; M Ed Leadership; Cert IV Training and Assessment

Palms Australia program participant, American Samoa 2022 – 2023

Veronica is an experienced teacher, administrator and principal having worked within the Catholic Education sector for more than forty years. More recently, she volunteered as teacher/mentor in American Samoa, working with principals to provide appropriate professional development for teachers, classroom observations and appraisals and tutoring small groups of students.

Currently Veronica is working as a tutor for the North Shore Coaching College but prior to volunteering with Palms in 2022 -2023 Veronica worked with the Catholic Education sector as teacher, administrator and principal.

Ariana Shepherdson – Treasurer

Chartered Accountant

BCom-Accg (Macq), GradDipCA (CA ANZ)

Ariana has over 15 years of experience working in the accounting profession in both corporate and not-for-profit sectors, as well as in public practice and private organisations. After witnessing the devastating and pervasive effects of poverty as a child, Ariana has a lifelong passion for finding long-term and sustainable solutions to poverty, with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty experienced by individuals, families, and communities. She is a strong supporter of Palms and its unique program of focusing on relationships, its respect for international communities, and Palms’ commitment to sustainable development. Ariana is currently undertaking the Master of Public Policy (Global Development Policy) at the Australian National University.

John Bradley

BOptom (Hons), GradDipEd, GradCertRE, MTh

Palms Australia program participant, Kiribati 2001-2003, Samoa 2023

John Bradley was elected to the board in 2023. John worked in private optometric practice for 20 years before volunteering with Palms Australia as a secondary teacher in Kiribati from 2001-2003. He commenced his formal teacher training by correspondence whilst in placement and completed it upon return. John worked as a Science, Physics and occasional French teacher in Catholic secondary schools in several locations in regional NSW. He completed a Master of Theology degree in 2014 and maintains an ongoing interest in the dialogue between Science and Religion. After retiring from full-time work, John continued as a casual teacher and tutor. John volunteered again as a secondary teacher and teacher mentor in Samoa in 2023.

John’s Science and Religion backgrounds and his links with Pacific cultures inform his understanding of, and advocacy for, climate justice. John values involvement in the local community, and he has recently completed 40 years of service as a leader in the Scout Association.

Rachel Donovan

Communications Consultant

BA (Honours), MA (International Affairs), M International Law, Cert IV Training and Assessment

Rachel Donovan was a community radio broadcaster in western Sydney before volunteering as a communications lead with the Community Radio Association of Timor Leste (2014-2016) and the Press Institute of Mongolia (2016-2018). Rachel worked with Palms Australia as Communications Officer for 18 months before moving to Papua New Guinea where she worked with the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office and, from April 2022, with the United Nations Population Fund. 

Sam Haddin

Teacher & REC, Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School

BEd (Primary), BSocSc (Psychology)

Palms Australia program participant, Timor Leste 2014-15

Sam Haddin was elected to the board in 2020. Sam volunteered with Palms Australia from 2014-2015, with her main role being that of teacher mentor to the teachers of two schools in Dili, Timor Leste. Since returning from her placement, she has been teaching at Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School in North Ryde. She was appointed as the school’s Religious Education Coordinator (REC) in 2017. Through her role on the school’s leadership team as REC, she has had experience in developing and implementing annual improvement plans and has been involved in the organisation and strategic planning of the future direction of the school. 

Her experience as a returned volunteer gives her a unique perspective to bring to the Board of Directors. Her insight into the realities of living and working as a volunteer in the field will be beneficial to the decision making process and in the continued support the Board of Directors gives the Palms office staff, volunteers and partners.

Soraya Kassim

Executive Director Palms Australia

Soraya has over two decades experience working in advocacy, community services, community development and counselling, since leaving roles in the Commonwealth Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and of Industry, as well as a stint as a Ministerial Adviser.  She has led national programs and a state peak body.  Soraya also has experience as an entrepreneur and is currently completing her MBA at AGSM. 

Jennifer Newman

Author, Activist, Educator

Jennifer grew up in Narromine, NSW; descended from long lines of Wiradjuri and Australian yarn spinners, Jennifer lives by the Cooks River on Wangal Country, where she contributes to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander forums and river care groups. Jennifer is a member of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Aboriginal Lead Trainer for the NSW Community Housing Industry Association and has delivered Aboriginal Studies talks and courses for local and international universities, training centres and community groups. She has for many years provided this perspective to assist prepare participants at Palms Orientation Course. Knitting stories together, Jennifer strives for recognition and connections necessary to walk together comfortably with care and respect on Aboriginal land.

Bishop Tim Norton SVD

Auxiliary Bishop Archdiocese of Brisbane

B AppSc; B Th; M Th

Bishop Tim Norton SVD was ordained Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Brisbane in 2022. Bishop Tim is a former Australian leader of the Divine Word Missionaries, for whom he was ordained a priest in 1991. His first parish postings were to Mexico before he returned to Melbourne, where he had worked as a part-time physiotherapist during his seminary studies. From 2014-2021, Bishop Tim ministered in Italy before he returned to Australia to take up his role in the Brisbane Archdiocese. Bishop Tim’s intense interest in interculturality and mission will bring a valuable perspective to the Palms Board.

Liz Stone

General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia

BA, MIntS, Grad Cert Leadership, AGIA

Elizabeth Stone, known as Liz, was elected to the board in 2020. Liz is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA). Liz worked with the Caritas Internationalis family of agencies and with Caritas Australia over two decades. Liz has been a member of the Governance Institute of Australia since January 2016. Liz is a long-standing Member of Palms Australia and in November 2019 participated in Palms’ inaugural Encounter Visit to Myanmar and Northern Thailand.

Our Patrons

Palms Australia is proud to have the following patrons of our organisation.

H.E. Dr Jose Ramos Horta

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Past President and Prime Minister Timor-Leste

Deacon Gary Stone

Australian Defence Force Chaplain
Peacekeeper Timor-Leste
Founding member Friends and Partners with East Timor

The role of patron includes, but is not limited to:

  • Enhancing the status of Palms Australia by their willingness to be publically associated with the objectives and activities.
  • Providing advice and counsel on general directions or specific activities of Palms Australia.
  • Attending public events of Palms Australia as VIPs and from time to time, participate in significant events.
  • Attending fundraising events or support fundraising activities.

Members may nominate further individuals, whom they believe would assist promote the vision and mission of Palms Australia.