Madeleine Whitby knows exactly how lucky she is. "Poverty
is a game of roulette, and by any other spin of the wheel, I could have been born
into a brothel in India, a slum in the Philippines, or a refugee camp in
Somalia," the 23-year-old said. "It's all a game of chance. No one
deserves to be born into a life of poverty."
After finishing Year 12
Madeleine took a gap year and traveled to Africa. "Before
that trip I knew the definition of poverty, but I had never really seen or felt
it. I realised just how lucky I am, and also how unfair the global economic
is I inherited my economic standing. I was born into a middle-class family in a
wealthy country with a stable government. I didn't
deserve it more than any other child around the world –
I was simply lucky.
believe in what Nelson Mandela said: 'Overcoming
poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and
apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and
eradicated by the actions of human beings'."
Madeleine enrolled in ACU's Bachelor of International Development Studies. As part of
the degree she completed an immersion experience in East Timor with Palms
Australia – an organisation which recruits, prepares,
sends and supports skilled volunteers to reduce global poverty.
a volunteer sending agency, working in numerous countries, across a number of professions.
For example, there are teachers in South Africa, medical officers in Zambia, nurses
in Ethiopia and accountants in Timor-Leste," she said.
also offer encounter trips, which is what I did. Participants travel around East
Timor, visiting Palms volunteers, cultural sites, museums and local development
organisations. I was very excited but nervous about the encounter… I have travelled to places similar to Timor before, such as
Ghana, Kenya, Indonesia and Thailand, but never to a country with such a recent
and raw violent past."
Madeleine spent a month in
East Timor and said it was one of the best experiences of her life. "I learnt so much about good and bad development during that
month. I also learnt a lot about myself. The main challenge I had was
constantly being around people I had never met before. I like my privacy, so
spending 24 hours a day with people could be hard.
highlight for me was the two homestays we did – the
first in Dili and the second in Atabae. The families were so generous, kind and
loving, it was extremely hard to say goodbye, and I shed more than a few tears." Back in Australia, Madeleine applied for an internship with
Palms, and got the job.
since been interning in the office for one to three days a week in a variety of
areas. I manage the Facebook and Instagram pages, write content for the website
and blog posts, and work on the logistics for future encounters," she said.
"It's an amazing place to work. The vibe is always one of
positivity, fun and hard work. Everyone in the office is friendly and ready for
a laugh, or cake, or an abundance of coffee. I hope to be able to continue
volunteering here for many years.
believe in what Palms does." Every volunteer commits to between one and three
years in their placement, and they all have qualifications and at least five years' experience in their area. There is also compulsory pre-departure training for all volunteers which covers topics such as living and
working cross-culturally, the importance of engaging respectfully with local
partners and working in solidarity with all those involved.
development needs local voices. We as outsiders do not know the real needs,
desires, issues or problems of a community. Engaging with that community is
pivotal in creating just, sustainable development."
This story first appeared in Insight, written by Caitlin Ganter.