Participant Testimonies

Liz O’Sullivan – Mae Ramat, Umphang and Klothor, Thailand Jan 2020 – Dec 2021

I learnt as much as I taught: learnt about culture, language, food and a different way of life. I think living and working in Thailand has helped me become a better teacher and a better person. The people were so welcoming and kind, the children so polite and respectful. They always greeted me with a cheery ‘hello teacher’ and offered to help. They came to school with a smile. I am grateful to have had this unique experience, even the challenges that came my way. 

Dr Rosaleen Smyth – Tanzania 2008-2011, PNG 2012 & Thailand 2013-2020

I have enjoyed engaging with students from other cultures while lecturing at universities in Zambia, Australia, Fiji, Dubai, Taiwan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea.  My final experience was as a tutor for the Diploma in Liberal Studies Program run by the Australian Catholic University in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border (1913-1920).  The highlight was the joy of the students and their parents, relatives and friends at their graduation ceremonies.

Liz Keating – Venilale, Timor Leste 2017

The highlight of my assignment in Timor Leste was being a part of my students’ journey towards a brighter future for both themselves and their country.  The students’ dedication to their education was truly inspiring.  For many English was their third or fourth language but they were keen to work in the developing tourism industry and realised they needed to learn English to realise this goal.

Sam Haddin – Bedois, Timor Leste 2013-2015

At first, challenging due to barriers such as language and an understandable  reluctance from my fellow Timorese teachers to open their minds to change. The challenges turned to optimism as my relationship with my colleagues developed and we began to work more cohesively. And finally, a sense of satisfaction and pride in myself and in my colleagues as I witnessed them experimenting with different teaching practices. 

Monica Morrison – Baucau, Timor Leste 2009-2010, 2014

I had the privilege of undertaking a Palms assignment mentoring the teaching staff at the Catholic Teachers College Baucau, and I remember fondly the excitement of Graduation Day, the pride of their families, and the joyful feasting, singing and dancing afterwards .We travelled to remote village schools to observe this young staff supervising their undergraduate students and witnessing the creativity and ingenuity in developing their teaching resources from recycled materials.  Gender equity was an issue, so the words of one of my students is a precious memory: “Mana Monica, you have taught me that learning is for life and women are as clever as men”.

Michelle Kinnane – Dili, Timor Leste 2000

Posted to Dili to teach in the local high school, I never actually made it to the classroom, however, was thoroughly honoured to teach English nonetheless to many who were eager to learn.  In the evenings after dinner, the eager, wide-eyed children from the surrounding district, dressed in their best, would arrive for their English classes.  The joy these sessions gave me is immeasurable. It was also a great pleasure to be asked to teach English to the administrative staff at a local school after hours.  The welcoming and gratitude that I received in my short time there was indeed a humbling experience and one that I will always treasure and be grateful for.

Ann Bell- Liquica, Timor Leste 2001-2003

The highlight of my time as a teacher in Liquica, is a reflection on the generosity and dedication of those sent by Palms with me to Timor leste. Twenty years on, I remember the occasional catch-ups with Leah, John, Caroline, Michael and Annie.  I recall the support I received from these guys, as I lived in an isolated and difficult circumstance. I am still thankful for the care and advice of Dr Colette Livermore who slaved away and worked her magic in Aileu and to Barry Hinton who was based in Dili before doing great things on Atauro.  These two led our first Palms team into Timor Leste when it was still officially a war zone.

Fran Haintz – Abaiang, Kiribati 1993-1994

My experience in Kiribati provided me with the privilege opportunity of being exposed to the beautiful culture of the I-Kiribati. This experience challenged me and my teaching practice and forced me to broaden my ability to be flexible to meet the student’s needs. My experience in Kiribati definitely shaped my thinking about who I was, what drove me, what I was passionate about and eventually, what gets me up in the morning, and that is to empower others to drive their own destiny!

Helena Charlesworth – Sacred Heart College, Bikenibeu, Tarawa, Kiribati 2007-2016

The Year 12 Arts class of 2015 was certainly one of the highlights of my teaching assignments with Palms.  The quiet leadership and influence of the form captains was superb.  As a result, throughout the year there was a feeling of joy, care for one another, receptivity and enthusiasm amongst almost every student.  Birthdays and feast days were celebrated with love and that class was an absolute delight for me to teach.

John Grogan- Teaoraereke, South Tarawa, Kiribati 1981-1983

The Kiribati people are very welcoming and embrace education. Students overcome formidable daily challenges to attend school. Their faces light up with new knowledge. Their singing in Mass is angelic. I enjoyed teaching the students AFL. I fell in love with Kiribati. I experienced how PALMS Teachers tangibly change students’ lives and are touched by the communities we serve. Through PALMS and the MSC, we are humbly part of a goodness bigger than ourselves which will outlive us all. Teaching in Kiribati, through PALMS and the MSC, will always be a deep part of my soul.

Brendan Phyland – Chanel College, Rabaul, PNG 1980-1981

Teaching at Chanel College was my very first appointment as a teacher.  It’s hard to be specific about any one highlight, however the experience of teaching in (what we called then) a 3rd World Country and providing teaching and learning in another community was invaluable and l often reflect on the many fun experiences l had teaching in PNG.  I learnt lifelong skills in communication and trust and often found myself thinking about my life and community in Australia.  I was very involved in the local sports of Rabaul and Kokopo coaching the newly formed Kokopo Australian rules Football Team and played in the PNG Tennis Open.  My life was centred around teaching and recreation, and I loved attending the celebrations of the local indigenous community.  A wonderful journey of Life which I hold deeply as l now near my retirement from Education after 42 years.

Sue Murry – Bomana PNG 1979-80

Although it is such a long time since my days on mission with Palms.  Memories of my time as a teacher at Marianville High School are still very clear and continue to bring me much joy.  I have always felt blessed, proud and privileged to have been part of the Marianville community for those 2 years.  This year I joined the Marianville Alumni Facebook group and have shared many of the photographs I took at Marianville.  It has been so heart-warming to ‘reconnect’ with some of ‘the girls’ and to know how happy they have been to see the photos.

We enjoyed two stints, early and late 80s, teaching at Chanel College, Kokopo, PNG.  The young men were mainly from the Islands of PNG and Bougainville.  Whilst we taught them the NSW curriculum they taught us so much more.  Our second and fifth babies were born there; our kids became very much part of the culture.  A wonderful experience in our family narrative!

Mary McGrath & Peter McPhee – Kokopo PNG 1981-1982, 1988-1990
Lyn O’Shannessy & David Murray – Leulumoega tuai village, Samoa, 1999-2000

I have so many highlights from my time spent teaching in Leulumoega tuai village Samoa, teaching Year 11 students and preparing them for the National Exams.  It’s difficult to summarise into a few short sentences but despite pre-conceived ideas of volunteering to make a small difference in the world, my time teaching in Samoa was truly life changing for me.

Through the journey of contributing to sustainable development, the lessons learnt from working side by side with Samoan teachers, students and their families have shaped my professional direction and led to significant attitudinal change even now, 30 years later. The Samoan community have an incredible generosity of spirit.  They unconditionally welcomed my late husband, David, and I, and shared their stories, their music, their laughter, their tears, their food, their courage and their homes.  I will forever remember Friday morning assemblies, where 300 student voices would sound like 3000 voices.  Every song was sung in 4-part harmony, in perfect pitch and with so much enthusiasm and love.

I remember the local teachers; my colleagues who became good friends, coming to work each morning from their small modest village homes; carefree, faith filled, content and happy.  Living in the moment and taking each day, each hour as it comes.  In my moments of complexity now, I still often reflect back to my time in Samoa with great admiration and respect for the people and in

particular the community of Pope Paul VI.  I thank them for all their support and unconditional acceptance and love.  I will forever feel incredibly blessed and enriched by my teaching experiences supported by Palms.