Preparation is Key
Why do international volunteers need training? · Volunteer Preparation
A simple question with so many answers. In our experience, pre-project training is essential for the success of most projects as well as for the wellbeing of the volunteers. Let’s not forget that most volunteers are not experts or trained professionals. Therefore, a bare minimum of alignment of the expectations of the volunteers with the values and needs of the hosting projects is a must, fort starters.
“Being the change, you want to see in the world”
Very often we meet prospective volunteers who wish to change their lives and do “something useful”, combined with travelling and learning more about the world we live in. It is natural for people who are exasperated with the current state of the planet to reconsider how they live their lives. Many people simply want to “do something”, to take action together with others.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put your solidarity into action, on the contrary. “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a good old quote from Mahatma Gandhi which many of us can identify with.
Good intentions are not enough
However, there are challenges that need to be addressed. Basically, international volunteers go to unfamiliar places with the aim of “helping others” – but to do this in an ethical way, they need to do a lot of unlearning. They need to put aside many of the traits that have made it possible for them pursue an international volunteer opportunity in the first place: Personal ambition. Ability to get things done. Focus on results. A strong will. Good intentions and a belief in their own forces.
Don’t get us wrong – all of the above are important skills to have, but only if used in moderation and only if the volunteer acknowledges and understand that these skills can get in the way of what is in fact needed at the project.
Put your personal ambitions aside and listen
First of all, people who are inclined to have the above mentions skills need to adopt another mindset. As an international volunteer you need to be able to listen. Be patient. Accept that you don’t always understand why “things are like they are” at a project until you have observed it for months. Things can be more complex than you think. As an international volunteer you cannot assume that what you think is a no-brainer solution will be met with scepticism.
Examining what your role as an international volunteer is and getting your head around how to get into listening and learning mode is something that requires discussion and training.
“The training period before going to the project changed my mentality and taught me how to approach various situations that I didn’t consider I might encounter. It was about considering others and completely discarding selfishness – we were a community and a team which needed to support each other.
There was no escape if we had a conflict – the only option was to solve it, and this played a huge role in my life afterward since I knew how to approach stressful situations. Knowing who to trust, breaking away from the influence of the media, learning practical skills, and entering the right mindset was extremely important for the project work and for my personal development.”
Be realistic about your role · Part of volunteer preparation
When volunteers are well-trained, they will be better prepared to listen to experts, namely the hosting communities and project leaders. They will have more realistic expectations about their roles and therefore they will enjoy the project period more and perhaps make a better contribution to the project.
If a volunteer is prepared and ready to approach various situations with the right mindset and skills set, they will of course be more useful for the project. The risk of them hurting themselves or others around them will decrease and they will be less likely to hinder the project because of lacking skills or needing time to understand things which they did not expect.
Learn from the experts
Some people make the mistake to fall into the mindset of the “white saviour”. They assume they are the experts and know a lot more than the people in the country where they are volunteering. This might have a devastating consequence for all people involved in the volunteering project – not getting any useful work done, focusing on the wrong tasks, doing more damage than good. Always be considerate and remember you are a visitor and that the people in the hosting community are the experts who know what is needed and what solutions would work.
How we see it here at Take 10?
In our experience, to understand the reality of the community that will host you during your volunteer experience, you need to do your homework before departure: Study the history of the destination continent and the country. Know the basics of international and economic development as well as political science and power relations. Understand the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals and how governments, NGOs and communities worldwide are working towards their achievement. Understand that many “poor countries” are in fact rich. They were – and are being – robbed. And so on.
The better you understand the full context of why marginalised communities are in the position they are in, the better you will be able to contribute to the solution.
Aligning expectations prior to departure
Practical or professional skills that you have can of course be of good use – if this is what the community is requesting. The best thing you can do to prepare yourself in terms of using your skills, is to communicate with local project leaders prior to your departure, so you can familiarise yourself with the situation at the project and discuss what kind of tasks you could be part of solving.
On another note, you also need to examine your personal and social skills and think about whether you need to strengthen some of your weak points before going to the projects; being resilient in unfamiliar situations, having the ability to take initiatives, honing your communications skills (remember that listening is perhaps the most important part here) or something as simple as being patient.
Modules of the preparation period
The training during the first period of the Take 10 Volunteer programme consists of group and individual activities – lectures, studies, discussions, investigations, and field work.
The topics covered during those intensive three months of preparation aim to supplement and sometimes challenge the traditional schooling system.
The modules include global affairs, political science, international and economic development, eco-literacy, volunteer ethics, event management, project skills, planet protection and more.
The Take 10 Programme
Preparation – training, practical skills, teamwork, setting goals
Project work – in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique or India
Conclusion and information activities – reflection, bringing the good message out
What skills can I develop as an International Development Volunteer?
Through the different periods and elements of the programme you have the possibility to develop the following skills:
- Solidarity Mind-Set
- Interpersonal Skills
- Team Work Skills
- Public Speaking
- Decision Making
- Investigative Research
- Proactive Problem Solving
- Project Management
Read more about other aspects of volunteer preparation
On International Charity Day we ponder the differences between charity and solidarity. Charity, according to the United Nations, plays an important role in bringing about positive change. Is this true?
What does it mean to be a solidarity activist? Solidarity activism’s essence consists of fighting shoulder to shoulder with others to bring about positive change in the realms of equality, justice and prosperity.
Reflecting on your experience is an important aspect of any volunteer programme. It is highly valuable not only for you but also for others. What did you learn from reality?
Are you researching how to go about volunteering abroad in a responsible & ethical way? In this post we share some resources that we think could be useful for you – at least we hope so!
“Take your time. Prepare yourself. The longer, the better. Be realistic about your skills and use them wisely. And finally: Work with people. Solve problems shoulder to shoulder.”
Sustainability reflects “the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely”. A development project needs to ensure that all factors involved – environmental, social and economic – are in balance.