Home' Aurora : Aurora July 2013 Contents 14
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
BY BRENDAN JOYCE
BY TRACEY EDSTEIN
A recent government decision to cut the
funding of Catholic volunteering agency
Palms Australia is symptomatic of troubling
trends in AusAID's approach to international
At the heart of AusAID's changes is a
desire to create a single 'brand' of volunteer
which will reflect well on the Australian
government, giving it 'soft power' in its
international relations with neighbouring
Within AusAID this motive is assumed, with
little being asked about whether a single
brand is possible or even desirable.
AusAID, the Australian Agency for
International Development, has a
long history of supporting volunteers
working overseas in education, health,
administration, trades and other disciplines.
For most of this history, AusAID supported
volunteers by providing funds to non-
government organisations (NGOs) which
specialised in recruiting, preparing, sending
and supporting volunteers. These NGOs
included Palms Australia and Australian
Volunteers International (AVI), both
established over 50 years ago.
In 2011, however, the government launched
its Australian Volunteers for International
Development (AVID) program, changing the
model from one in which the government
supports the programs of NGOs to one
in which NGOs are contracted to run a
This continues a trend towards
centralisation and homogenisation which
has been occurring in the volunteer
program since 2004.
In the new model, the individual character
of NGOs is at risk as they are pushed
towards a single, formulaic approach which
prioritises getting large numbers of branded
government volunteers into the field over
the diverse needs of volunteers and host
Palms Australia's representations to then
Parliamentary Secretary Bob McMullan MP
and contributions to the 2009 Australian
Government Volunteer Program Review
highlighted the need for diversity and
flexibility within Australia's approach to
To AusAID's credit they listened and
when creating the AVID program, to be
implemented by 'Core Partners', they
also announced the establishment of
a Volunteer Fund which would support
smaller operators, alternative approaches,
innovations and research into volunteering.
Palms Australia was well placed to apply
for the fund, with over 50 years experience
and networks of Catholic dioceses,
parishes, schools, hospitals, clinics and
other services in Australia and overseas.
This allows us to send volunteers efficiently,
support existing effective projects and
ensure volunteers and partners could work
together in mutual exchange for mutual
When the Pilot Volunteer Fund was
opened, Palms Australia was one of three
agencies to apply successfully, with AusAID
recognising the value of our approach.
For the one year pilot, we promised
to place 20 volunteers for an AusAID
contribution of $500,000.
By contrast, in 2011-2012, the main AVID
program cost $63.1 million and placed
928 new volunteers, at almost $68,000 per
Palms' implementation of the Pilot was
undeniably a success with partners
reporting outcomes in health, education,
community development, agriculture
and environmental management. Two
tremendous examples, Damian Rake
and Miriam Buchhorn of Newcastle, were
highlighted in the December 2012 edition
Despite overwhelmingly positive evaluations
of the Pilot by partners and volunteers
(AusAID rejected our suggestion of an
independent evaluation), the decision was
made to end the Volunteer Fund.
In the letter informing Palms of this decision,
AusAID discussed the economies of scale
of larger programs and the single AVID
brand being compromised by the Pilot.
The first argument is ridiculous. Not only
does Palms Australia provide better value
for money than the main AVID program,
AusAID's own cost-per-volunteer has more
than doubled since 2005.
The second argument is spurious. The
Volunteer Fund was conceived at the same
time as the AVID program, as a way of
complementing it and supporting diversity
and innovation. Furthermore, an effective
program at Palms' scale could never be a
threat to the brand recognition of AVID.
Notably absent from AusAID's rationale
was any argument about aid effectiveness.
AusAID's assumption that a large single
program is the ideal ignores the flexibility
and agility of small programs.
Through Palms' church networks, built
over 52 years, we have insights into
communities often missed by larger secular
Communities value the time we spend
preparing our volunteers to enter into
respectful relationships with their hosts.
They respect our emphasis on their right to
drive their own sustainable development.
They love the fact we do not discount
their faith and culture but work within it to
achieve greater outcomes.
Volunteers consistently report that the
personalised support they receive from
Palms means they do not need the 'big
bucks' to live, learn and be effective in their
The homogenisation of Australian
volunteering into the AVID monolith denies
the diverse needs of volunteers and
host communities and the contributions
which can be made by small dedicated
organisations like Palms Australia.
Brendan Joyce volunteered with Palms
Australia as a teacher in Bougainville,
PNG, in 2003-2004. He has worked at
Palms Australia since and is now the
Assistant Director. At the time of writing,
Palms Australia had received 2500
signatures on a petition to the Foreign
Minister, Senator Bob Carr, asking him
to reinstate the volunteer fund. You can
sign the petition by following the links
at www.palms.org.au or donate to the
program at the same site.
An annual event featuring students from
diocesan secondary schools enthralled
audiences at the Civic Theatre.
Speaking before Diosounds 2013,
Director Stephen Walter of St Mary's High
School Gateshead, said, "The students
look forward to Diosounds every year.
It's a chance to renew acquaintances
established in previous years. While all
the performers have worked tirelessly to
prepare their items, they also love seeing
the creativity and talent of each of the other
Catholic secondary schools.
"Diosounds is an opportunity for all our
schools to celebrate the joy of life that can
be attained through making music."
It's not only the students who look forward
to Diosounds -- parents, families, teachers
and the wider community also know they
will be engaged and energised by the
Education Officer at the Catholic Schools
Office, Carmel Tapley, said, "The standard
of the performances at Diosounds
gets better every year. From soloists,
instrumentalists, bands and mass choirs,
the variety and excellence in music coming
from our secondary schools is astounding.
The music teachers are to be commended
for nurturing our students' talent and also
for their creativity in providing such varied
and interesting performances."
The original vision of Diosounds emerged
from the conviction of Director of Schools,
Ray Collins, that "the performing arts are
central to the establishment of a vibrant
cultural life in a school.
"The joy, fun and enthusiasm displayed
at the Civic Theatre on a cold June night
showed how powerful and uplifting the
production of music, dance and drama
Diosounds 2013 featured a wide range of
musical genres accompanied by dance
and drama. From a capella choirs to rock
groups, from string ensembles to stage
bands, the diversity on stage and the
high quality of the various acts held the
audience enthralled. Master of Ceremonies,
Kyle Minors, student leader at St Francis
Xavier's College, said, "I had never been
to Diosounds, so I wasn't sure what to
expect. I certainly didn't anticipate the
quality of performance that the audience
enjoyed. There was not a single act that
wasn't extraordinary. Even a week later,
San Clemente's rendition of Gerry Rafferty's
"Baker Street" is still in my head."
Bring on Diosounds 2014!
To see a gallery of Diosounds images,
Students of St Clare's High School, Taree having a ball! Photo courtesy of Emma Blackford.
Volunteering should not follow a formula
Dio sounds of success
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