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AIDS and HIV

At the end of 2006 it was estimated that 39.5 million human beings worldwide were affected by AIDS. Sixty-four percent of this figure is concentrated in Africa and 22 percent in Asia.

Human behaviour is integral to the transmission of HIV and all efforts to halt its spread need us to understand the social and cultural traditions and values that relate not just to risk behaviour, but also to the appropriateness of talk about sexually transmitted diseases, the stigma of having acquired HIV/AIDS or being in contact with those who are affected. Frontline service workers working in AIDS-affected communities often must deal with government denial and impediments to controlling the spread of AIDS as well as with gender, class and racial discrimination which amplifies the impacts of HIV/AIDS on the poorest people.

In many countries children and families are particularly affected. It is estimated that globally 15 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS and that by 2010 this number will exceed 25 million. Frequently the oldest child, grandparent or another household assumes the responsibility of care for the family, but often children whose parents have died of AIDS are stigmatised and ostracised by their communities because they are assumed to be HIV positive themselves. The consequences of HIV/AIDS for children are far-reaching, increasing their exposure to poverty, malnutrition and illness (physical and psychological) as well as the risks of homelessness, exploitation through labour, begging, neglect or prostitution, violence and abuse, and the likelihood of not acquiring an education.

Child labour

According to UNICEF approximately 246 million children across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa are engaged in child labour. Almost 70 per cent (171 million) of these children work in hazardous conditions in mines, with dangerous machinery and vehicles, or exposed to chemicals and a high risk of injuries related to heavy lifting and fatigue. Most child labourers are invisible, working within homes, workshops or isolated agricultural plantations where detection is unlikely. Millions are forced into work – including prostitution, pornography and as child soldiers in armed conflict – as a consequence of trafficking and kidnapping, debt bondage or other forms of slavery.

The demand for child labour continues due to factors such as poverty, family dysfunction, unemployment, obligations to help support the family, and parents’ negative attitudes towards education. Around the world, children are typically recruited from poor, rural communities. The parents or caregivers of these children often have little education so the children are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation. The invisible nature of their work increases a child’s vulnerability to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, working long hours with little or no pay and prevents children from attending school.

Education

The right to education is one of the basic human rights enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. For an estimated 115 million children worldwide this right has been denied or disrupted. There are many factors contributing to and perpetuating this, including the impacts of conflict, violence and natural disasters in displacing people or leading to the destruction of education facilities and infrastructure.

Gender inequalities, expressed through the relative economic and cultural value of an education for boys and girls, out-and-out discrimination, or a lack of safety for girls outside the home, also mark the record with women and girls making up approximately two-thirds of the world population that lacks basic literacy skills.

Intercultural exchange: working with diversity

“Intercultural Exchange” has become quite a fashionable term, but it is also a complex one. It involves an interaction of the various elements that form a “culture”, including: histories, religions, customs, traditions and languages. An intercultural exchange encourages interactions between people so they can learn about each other’s varying conceptions, perceptions and points of view.

In this section we will briefly examine the way these differences in culture can impact on the daily life of volunteers who must live within a culture different to their own, covering communication, social customs and other customs.

Communication

The culture to which we belong can have a strong influence over the way we communicate with each other. Styles of direct and indirect communication, customs and manners all affect the way people interpret what you are trying to communicate to them.

This means that the culture to which a person belongs shapes not just what people say but how they say it. Cultural styles also affect the context within which we choose to communicate to people, the kind of references we make and the examples we use to make our meaning understood.

Verbal communication

One of the most obvious ways of communicating with others is verbally – through using the sounds which make up words and languages. Words alone have no meaning; they are merely sounds. Only by speaking words within a culture which has assigned specific meanings to certain sounds can we understand language.

Over 3,000 languages and major dialects are spoken in the world today. This reflects the diversity of cultures, societies and ways of seeing the world which make up our ‘global village’. Of course, this huge variety of languages can create difficulties between people who do not speak a common language and therefore have trouble communicating with one another. However, even those who speak the same language can have trouble understanding each other properly. So while we often think that verbal communication should eliminate misunderstanding – this can be easier said than done.

What this means is that we should not assume that our messages have been clearly received, as this is usually only the case when people share the same culture and histories or know each other very well. So it is important to be aware of the way you communicate, especially when trying to build new friendships or other interpersonal relationships. Sometimes this can be difficult, for example, the use of a particular word in one language may have very negative connotations in another language and you might inadvertently find yourself causing offence.

Volunteers must understand the possibility of these communication difficulties before they start on a programme. It is surprising how many conversations you can have in which you believe you are being understood, when in fact it is quite the contrary.

Here are some examples from returned volunteers:

“Personally, I underestimated the importance of the language, which caused some difficulties at the start. I wouldn’t recommend this kind of experience to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish! Some advice: study a minimum of Spanish before leaving.”
– Roberta (European participant in a workcamp in Nicaragua in 1999)

“Don’t be shocked if you are told: ‘You must give me… ‘. This is not more of an order than if you had been told: ‘If you don’t mind, I would like you to give me…’ You shouldn’t feel offended by this kind of discourse even if it sounds surprising at first.”
– Cristian (European participant in a workcamp in Togo 1997)

“In Latin America, aboriginal populations consider the term Indian as a real insult to them – it is better to say ‘native’.”
– Anne (European participant in a workcamp in Ecuador in 1995)

“It was a pity that I couldn’t speak Singhala. We had good communication possibilities with the local volunteers from SCI Sri Lanka as their English was good enough but it was more or less impossible to really speak with the local people of the village due to their total lack of English knowledge. So one had to take refuge in body and sign language which is nice for a short time but which in the end is totally insufficient to have a communication with others that goes beyond asking if somebody is hungry or cold or something like that. In any case, I felt that the village people appreciated it if you try to learn at least some basic words of their language.”
– Isabelle (European participant in a workcamp in Sri Lanka in 2000)

Listening in a Second Language

In order for the workcamp group to be as inclusive as possible, it is important to look out for differences in language abilities. On some workcamps there will be a majority of fluent English speakers who may exclude others by speaking too quickly or using too much unfamiliar slang. This can particularly happen when you are excited, angry or just feeling lazy. While it is often easier to only talk to those who are most fluent, this means that you will miss out on important aspects of your workcamp experience. Some ways of making sure you are understood by everyone include speaking slowly, pronouncing your words clearly and trying to use plain (not pidgin) English as much as possible. You could also try to make the context clear before you get to your main point and try to be consistent with your terminology. This is especially important when explaining how to do certain tasks or when making group decisions.

Non-Verbal Communication

People do not only communicate verbally; they also use body language, or non-verbal communication. The elements associated with body language – gestures, postures, facial expressions, physical movements and voice – can be seen as a complex code that often conveys people’s emotions and feelings more clearly than their words. Regardless of what we might say, how we walk, sit, stand and move affects the way other people will treat you.

Sometimes your non-verbal communication can present an entirely different message to somebody from another culture that what you intended. Just read the following example:

“When I arrived in Europe, I saw young people wearing differently designed dresses and having multicoloured hairstyle. I thought most of them might be mad or half-mad. Honestly saying, at the beginning, I was afraid of those people and also tried to avoid them but after a few days, I learned that those dresses and hairstyles were the latest fashion in Europe.”
Ferdous (Asian volunteer participating in a workcamp in Germany and Belgium, 1999)

Direct versus Indirect Communication

A common source of misunderstanding between “Westernised” and “non-Westernised” cultures involves the use of different styles of communication, especially the use of direct or indirect communication.

In “Western” cultures it is often desirable to use direct communication, or to “come directly to the point”. This is especially so when dealing with matters regarding work. It is a common trend to handle conflicts openly; to point out a problem, talk openly and democratically about it and to criticise inappropriate behaviour. For example, if a person believes that someone in authority is not telling the truth about something they may feel able to insist on the need for clarity, as well as the right to point out contradictions and to make constructive suggestions. People feel the need to understand clearly what they have to do, but also why they have to do something. When they don’t understand the meaning of an activity they don’t feel very motivated to do it.

On the other hand, “non-Westernised” cultures such as Asia, most of Africa and Latin America more often use indirect communication. This can involve beginning a conversation on a personal level, enquiring after family health, how their business is going and so on, before eventually working around to the matters at hand. When issues are contentious, they can appear to be ignored completely. If this doesn’t work then indirect communicators might try to reduce the importance of the issue or to focus on common interests.

Both groups of cultures may interpret the other’s behaviours differently. Direct communicators may believe that indirect communicators lack sincerity or openness. The tendency to initiate personal conversation before business can also be interpreted as a reluctance to deal with the issue.

On the other hand, those used to more indirect ways of communicating with others may find direct communication to be cold and impersonal. Attempting to deal with matters right away may seem arrogant rather than honest, and may make others feel that you are only interesting in the problem and not the person you are communicating with.

Sometime this can cause a lot of problems:

“In our workcamp in India after the first week we got the feeling that our work was really senseless and stupid. We had to move earth from one comer of a schoolyard to another one and some volunteers even presumed that the camp before us had moved the same earth hill from where we had to bring it to where it was now. So we decided to form a committee (only Europeans were elected to it – the Indian participants abstained) and ask for an appointment with the school director. It was a lady. We asked her – maybe in a kind of confronting manner – to give us an explanation why we were doing this kind of work. She didn’t reply directly but answered with a question whether the work was too hard for us. She would give us another work. We said that we just wanted to understand why we have to do it. We would like to know the reason – then she asked other question like whether the climate was too hot for us Europeans or we didn’t like the food. We said No, the food was excellent it was just some of us felt the work senseless. And she offered again another work. We thought her strategy was to comfort us but at the end she asked questions whether we liked India or not. And we realized she just didn’t want to give us an appropriate answer.”
Heike (European participant in a workcamp in India)

Sometimes the different styles of communication can have some funny results:

“The first time I came to Europe, Germany, I was hosted with a local SCI person. He took me to his house. It was around 7 p.m. He asked me if I wanted to eat something. Even though I was very hungry, I said “no” because in Sri Lanka it is not polite to immediately accept an offer of food and drink. One first has to refuse a few times and give the host the opportunity to ask you again and again. So that is why I said “no’: although I was really hungry. But the host didn’t ask me again for the rest of the evening, and I certainly didn’t dare to ask for food, so I went to bed with an empty stomach. Only after several visits to Europe, I learnt that in European culture, people take a “no” for a “no” and this is very different from the Indian Subcontinent culture where it is not polite to be so direct. “
Muza (Asian staff member in SCI)

One of the most important aspects of IVP workcamps is learning how to participate in democratic decision making within your group. Particularly because it is in this area that differences between direct and indirect communication can be the most obvious.
Making a decision between many different alternatives is difficult within a group because you have to balance what you personally would like to do with what others are interested in doing. This can mean more than just compromising, but can also mean trying to read between the lines of what the others seem to be saying. This can be confusing for people who are comfortable with discussing common activities in a group and are used to dealing with a clear “yes” or “no”. They can sometimes expect this level of clarity from everyone and become irritated with those who try to avoid contracting others. It helps to recognise that people who are used to dealing with a clear “No” or direct rejection of a proposal are often simply not trained to read between the words or understand tiny differences in someone’s voice or body language (non-verbal communication). So instead of assuming that the absence of an clear disagreement means a “yes”, volunteers should try to look for other clues about how different members of the group feel about a particular decision.

This means that it is important to remember that “Yes” can mean much more than an agreement. It can mean “I am listening to you”, “I understand”, “Maybe but I have my doubts”, as well as the standard “I agree”. Also shaking your head doesn’t always mean no – in some Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and some Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, people shake their heads to indicate agreement, instead of nodding. A firm shaking means agreement; a wavering shaking means there are some doubts. This can be quite confusing to people from other cultures.

Social Customs

Gender Issues on International Exchanges

The relationships between men and women in different cultures can be quite different and as a result there can often be misunderstandings about the way men and women relate on a workcamp. This means that it is important to consider the culture and ethnicity of a person before judging their views on how men and women should behave. It is all too easy for women from western cultures to view non-western women as being oppressed, with few rights or access to what they believe is a proper way of life. On the other hand it is just as easy for non-western women to view western women as “loose”, with no self-respect or values.

It will be important that the volunteer keeps in mind to distinguish the “workcamp reality” from the “the reality of the country”, where the workcamp takes place. In most cases, the situation on the workcamp is much more flexible.

In written reports of past volunteers, you will sometimes find strong comments from western volunteers about the conditions of the women in the countries where they volunteer, or hear inappropriate comments about the ‘freedoms’ women in western countries are believed to ‘enjoy’. But often people forget to link such comments with the broader social, cultural and historical context of the country they are staying in, and unintentionally judge men and women on the basis of incomplete information and their own perceptions, which are often from a very limited angle. In culture there is no absolute truth, and wisdom should be sought in trying to understand why cultures operate the way they do and how changes in society and culture occur.
Gender Balance in the Workcamp

Generally in non-western countries there is a minority of local women participating in the workcamps, whereas the majority of volunteers in western workcamps are women. Volunteers in non-western countries often complain about this gender imbalance, while the volunteers from these are quite surprised to find such a high number of female volunteers in the workcamps in Europe, America and Australia.

It can be difficult for women from some non-Western countries to be involved with a voluntary international organisation, often for socio-economic or other cultural reasons. For example, they may lack foreign language skills or have no free time to spare, particularly if they are expected to participate in the traditions of their culture, such as household chores and living at home. This leaves them with less free time to engage in voluntary work. However, there can also be issues to do with maintaining a certain reputation or standing within a particular community.

“On the workcamp, there was only one Indian female volunteer, the others were all male volunteers. A pity for us, girls, because contacts with Indian men are more difficult.”
Barbara (European participant in a workcamp in India 1992)

“5 girls among 20 boys, it’s quite few! And no local girl apart from the campleader!”
Cecile (European participant in a work camp in Ghana 1999)

“Being the only girl of the camp, I had a sort of honour treatment. Everybody was kind to me and they made everything to let me feel easy; even, when we went to the market, a typical masculine environment, when we went to visit the groups of women, when I was invited to a marriage party, when we went out of the village for excursions.”
Roberta (European participant in a workcamp in Bangladesh 1998)

Intimate Relationships in the Workcamp

Volunteers, both men and women, have to be very careful in establishing relationships with other volunteers of the workcamp, especially local volunteers.

Local volunteers can misunderstand behaviour which for the international volunteers might be considered normal. When participating in international workcamps, volunteers should try be aware of any adverse consequences of developing close relationship with other volunteers in the workcamps or with local people outside the workcamp, which might be due to different cultural understandings of what such a relationship entails. If you are either gay or lesbian it may be difficult to identify whether or not cultural cues operate in similar ways to those of cultures which are more familiar to you, so it is important to make sure you understand these cues before starting a relationship.

In some countries, there is a a skewed perspective of the sexual attitudes and availability of Western women, often due to media images. This can result in the harassment of some female volunteers on workcamps in both Western and non-western countries, but it is more likely to happen in workcamps in Western countries, where there is nearly no social control on an individual’s behaviour. In some cases it can really spoil a workcamp for the female volunteers involved. The problem is partly based on the assumption of the volunteer that the sexual freedom of western women means they are sexual available for all men. It is difficult for some to understand that the personal sexual freedom of some women does not necessarily mean sexual promiscuity.

We were a group of 23 volunteers and there were no local female volunteers, only male. There were only 3 girls, me and a French and a Swiss girl. Between the Swiss girl and the Moroccan volunteers there was a heavy atmosphere; this was because her behaviour and her attitude to dress. It was nothing “special” for us (northern volunteers) but for the locals it was a misunderstanding behaviour…
Anna (European participant in a workcamp in Morocco 1999)

While a cross-cultural romance can give you the opportunity to glimpse another side of the culture of the country where you are volunteering, please be aware that you may not always be aware of the consequences for yourself or your partner. Many cultures do not approve of casual sexual relationships or same-sex relationships, which means that reputations may be compromised, undue expectations raised or there might be more severe consequences. As a result it is important to think carefully before being swept up in a new relationship.

How to behave as a female/male volunteer in the local community

On some workcamps there can be very different expectations about how you will behave while in the local community versus how you can behave within the workcamp. This means that you should try to get to know more about the culture and habits of the local community where the workcamp is placed. This includes learning about what kind of behaviour is appropriate when you go to the market to buy food, look for a bar or club to go to at night, accept invitations for dinner, visit the city or attractions, and so on.

“The problem to be a girl, single not married, a non-believer (not even a Catholic) which means that you are certainly going to be followed in the street; to be whistled at, honked at.”
Aurore (European participant in a workcamp in Morocco 1998)

“Girls must pay attention, when they are alone after the sunset. Generally even during the day, in the more tourist places they are followed by local men. It’s always better to dress with long skirt or trousers, and never with a top that shows too much… “
Marzia (European participant in a workcamp in Sri Lanka 1999)

As you can see from the examples above, many of these cultural expectations will involve different understandings of how women and men should behave. In many African, Arab or Asian cultures, for example, the division between men and women is almost a division between two different worlds, both with proper rules and attitudes…

“When I first came to Bombay – I wanted to visit someone I had met before. I had been given his address but I couldn’t find his house. When I was looking around I saw a young lady passing on the other side of the street and I crossed the street to ask her for the way. When she saw me approaching her, she looked at me in a kind of panic and ran away as fast as she could in her sari. I felt shocked. I mean she behaved as if I had made attitudes of attacking her. It was during the day and there were other passengers in the street, so what? I even had not yet opened my mouth to ask her a question”
European participant in a workcamp in India

“We could understand the role of each member of the family, the women’s role which is really a major one (to take care of the children, to cook, to clean, to wash, to fetch water… Girls don’t go to schools, they help the women, boys generally go to the Koran school and sometimes to a public school when the family can afford it, but they should also help in the fields. No doubt they are better considered than the girls.”
Thomas (European participant in a workcamp in Morocco)

“The man makes sure that the weak women do not work too hard and keeps the heavy stuff for himself. The problem is that women can do 98% of the tasks and the men wait to do 2% for the whole day. In the fields, the men ride the horses while the women keep running across the fields.”
Tancrede (European participant in a workcamp in Senegal 1998)

“All over the country women’s conditions are very low, even if in the towns some women are employed in offices and work outside the house. Generally women are shy and seem to accept their subdued condition. Many women, especially in the country, wear black dresses and cover their face when outside the house. Mostly in town but also in the countryside the law of the strongest is applied in all sectors of life and hierarchies are always respected….It’s normal that men order women…”
Roberta (European participant in a workcamp in India 1999)

Dress codes and personal hygiene

All over the world you may find different dress codes which have their roots in culture, religion, tradition and climate. Social norms may differ widely from culture to culture – while it might be acceptable to walk up to a Miami (Florida, USA) or Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) shop front in just a bikini and shades, in certain countries it could result in being stoned to death or imprisoned indefinitely.

Especially in countries ruled by religious authorities, dress codes may be defined by religious practices seen as more important than personal liberty. A woman without a headscarf in Afghanistan commits a crime punishable by beating, but in another country it might be a reason for execution. In such countries you simply have to follow the dress code if you don’t want to get into serious trouble. Yet even in countries with a more liberal approach a certain degree of care must be taken. The best thing to do is to follow the example of the local people.

What you wear may also depend on the occasion, such as weddings, funerals, services, and theatre. Western volunteers often dress far too casually for formal events. In Europe you might be stopped in front of the church if your top has no sleeves and you are wearing shorts or a mini skirt. In Asia – in India, for example – it is felt that displays of the naked body (both male and female) in public places are disrespectful, especially on a foreigner. Women should especially cover the upper part of their arms and body, as these areas are considered erotic.

Western volunteers, unused to hand washing, may often wear clothes that appear unacceptably dirty to the local people, to whom cleanliness is essential.

“I travelled to the next town and queued for ages at the bank. When I got to the counter, the teller looked in disgust at my dusty apparel and said ‘Come back when you wash your clothes. ‘ This was really awkward, as I couldn’t then get back for two days. She refused to serve me in filthy clothes.”
Leif (Norwegian volunteer, Ghana 1988)

Generally in a workcamp situation wearing long trousers should prevent undue attention, as well as safeguarding against sunburn, mosquito bites, thorny bushes and so on. Bathing during workcamps in Sri Lanka is usually at public water spots such as wells, streams, and rivers. Women who participate in workcamps will need to practice adorning the “diva reddha” (bathing sarong from Sri Lanka) from the neck to the knees.

“The living conditions of the native populations don’t exactly match the ones volunteers are used to… However, careless dressing habits on the part of the volunteers (dirty or torm clothes) really offend the local people who are always carefully and properly dressed.”
Anne (Ecuador 1995)

More generally, while in some countries it is not uncommon for males and females to share the same shower facilities, this certainly cannot be done in others. In many places it is not acceptable that a volunteer of any gender will wash him or herself totally naked in front of somebody of the opposite sex, or allow a situation where they could be confronted with this. These and similar matters will require some sensitivity from international volunteers.

Other Customs

There may be other customs to observe during your participation in the workcamps. These customs vary from country to country. For example, in may countries it is considered very rude to show the soles of your feet to anybody. You could cause terrible offence if you used your left hand to pass food or to shake hands with somebody. It can be considered very rude to leave your shoes on when entering a house. Speaking directly to a woman you haven’t been introduced to could cause her great distress and would outrage her family. While, in western society a woman would be very insulted if she is ignored and might interpret what is intended as politeness as rudeness or as degrading treatment of women.

Many of the countries that participate in exchange programmes are former colonies. White Westerners must take care to avoid offending anybody by appearing superior – for example, by starting sentences with, “You people…” Frustration with primitive tools or unexplained delays can result in this reaction, which could be very damaging to budding friendships. Likewise, years of handouts by “benevolent” Westerners have given non-Western countries the impression that all Westerners have an unlimited supply of money, which they will give when asked; after all, they have so much equipment and can fly all over the world. The truth is that although young Westerners may certainly be rich by some standards, the person who volunteers is usually on a very tight budget, so they need their equipment and don’t have money to give away!

Socialising

In Western countries it is unusual for one person to pay for everything on an evening out. Usually people pay for their share or take turns to pay in a ‘round’ system. They would feel that somebody who eats and drinks but does not pay their share would be behaving in an unacceptable fashion. In non-Western societies the person who suggests going for a drink is seen as issuing the invitation and is expected to pay for everything all night.

In general western volunteers may have more ready cash than their fellow volunteers from poorer countries. It may be inconsiderate to keep flashing money about and to keep bringing drinks or sweets back to the camp, when not all volunteers can afford these extras. It is also important to take this into account when organising weekend or evening activities. Please try and only suggest activities which everyone will be able to afford. This may mean that you will have to put off expensive guided trips, helicopter rides or white-water rafting trips until after the workcamp ).

In Western countries there is a “Pub Culture”. A lot of socialising is accompanied by drinking alcohol, which may or may not take place in a pub. Within many indigenous cultures and various non-Western countries this may not be the case. It may be offensive to insist on consuming alcohol when it is not the local custom. Likewise, some of your fellow volunteers may not be used to spending so much time at the pub, so try and be sensitive to this.

Food and Drink

One of the most interesting aspects of visiting a new continent is experiencing new foods, and should be a pleasant element of the programme. However, there are some issues that volunteers should be sensitive to. In general, foods in western countries are blander than Asian or African foods, and visitors may need to add spices to make them more palatable. Many dishes will also contain pork or beef, which will not be acceptable to everyone. Eating customs also vary widely and you may find themselves eating with their hands or eating from a common dish, in this case make sure to check which hand you should use (usually not your left). In general, although it will be necessary to inform your host if you refrain from certain dishes for moral or religious reasons, being prepared to welcome new experiences will enhance your visit and ensure that you don’t offend your host.

Hospitality

Southern and Western cultures differ greatly in regards to hospitality. Guests from Asia and Africa sometimes feel neglected or even rejected by their Western hosts because they expect them to care for everything the whole time. If a European goes to Asia, everything is taken care of for him or her from their arrival at the airport until the moment of departure. However, in Western culture it is important that everyone is given their individual space. This includes travelling, discovering the world and developing experiences by themselves. While Westerners like to travel and see a country without their hosts, visitors from other countries may find it terrifying to have to travel alone.

Westerners expect to be called in advance if somebody is coming to visit them. “Why didn’t you call?” is what guests from Africa, Asia or Latin American may hear from their hosts in Europe when they appear all of a sudden at their place. In many less industrialised countries where not everybody has a telephone, nobody feels disturbed if a visitor arrives without any announcement. On the contrary, it is regarded favourably if you do so and people will offer all their hospitality to you.

In Western cultures small children are supposed to control their curiosity and not to ask a stranger where he is coming from or going to, and not to touch the guest’s belongings. However, in many cultures a foreigner is always new and strange. Children’s curiosity is boundless and they do not feel compelled to restrict it. Europeans sometimes report from their stay in Africa, Asia or Latin America that there were children all over the place all the time and they had to get used to it.

“In the family and even the village where we were staying, it was the first time that foreigners were hosted. This, at first, influenced our tutor’s behaviour. He was always asking us ‘Where are you going?’ It was sometimes embarrassing. Many children were daily invading our hut, which was turned into a centre for children, thirsty of some northern exoticism. 30 people were sometimes piled up in a.4 square meters. It was a bit suffocating.”
Thomas (Maroc 1999)

“We were welcomed like kings by the villagers. We were invited to take part in the local events and were often given presents. After the workcamp I went back to the village, it was unbelievable…Impossible to walk a 100 meters without being asked in to eat something, to have a soft drink or to be given a coconut…The villagers were constantly offering their devotion, their help, their joy and their presence”.
Louise-Marie (Togo 1999)

“From my point of view; the most difficult thing on the workcamp was to overcome some cultural differences such as the position of women, rules you should respect in the morning, during the meals, welcoming and departing rituals which you need some time to get used to and stop blundering”.
Laurence (Senegal 1996)

The lack of privacy which is so normal in most of the world takes some getting used to by Westerners used to individual space.

Rhythm of Life

In traditional societies time is felt completely differently to those who live in industrialised countries. The traditional society is fundamentally an agrarian one, so the concept of time can be more linked to the revolving rhythm of the seasons – for example, planting and harvesting than to the clock. Another example of a more rhythmical idea of time can be seen in the wheel of time found in Buddhist religions where time is considered as the circle as life.

In Western societies it is generally felt that time is linked with progress; if it is not used it will be lost. A popular saying is “Time is Money”. Western culture and capitalist values can train many people to feel bad when they can’t make use of time. Leisure time for them is not normal; it is often deemed lazy time and only respected as a reward for having finished a hard day of work.

Some volunteers from western cultures may feel unable to tolerate forced leisure time when they are in a workcamp in Africa, Asia or Latin America. They are almost unable to sit down and do nothing, so when there is no work organised, or there are not enough tools for everyone to use, they can’t stand it. Some even prefer to break off and leave the camp in order to travel around. It can be good to be aware that these feelings are not natural but cultural and reveal what types of activities are valued within your culture and which are not.

Often this frustration develops because volunteers may imagine that they have come to a distant country to “help the poor” or “develop” a country. What they may not realise is that one of the biggest challenges of participating in an intercultural exchange is to enter another culture and adjust to the different rhythm of life.

“In all these countries, everything is very slow, in accordance with the local motto ‘Take your time!’ And this is true in all the fields of life (bus timetables, appointments).”
Benedicte (Nicaragua 1999)

“We had been warned that we shouldn’t expect too much work and to be ready to face campleaders who took their role very seriously.”
Raphail (Togo 1999)

“The rhythm is very different. Everything is slow. Once I had to wait for more than one hour to exchange money at the bank… just one example among others. Even on the workcamp you should be armed with patience!”
Louise-Marie (Togo 1999)

“There was some tension because all the Western volunteers wanted to go on working while the Ghanaian volunteers wanted to stop because of the heat… mainly because they have a much slower rhythm of life than ours.”
Maud (Ghana 1996)

Local Beliefs and Religious Practices

From the very beginning of civilisation, religion has played a crucial part in human life and society. Unfortunately religion also has been and still is one of the greatest sources of conflict in the world. One of the most fascinating elements of taking part in a workcamp is the opportunity to live and work with people of very different faiths. The fact that the international workcamps are inter-denominational is surely one of the most positive aspects of the whole concept. For many volunteers it may be their first experience of living and working so closely with people of different faiths and getting to know them properly as people. The opportunities to promote understanding are wonderful.

“I had never before heard the wonderful stories of Ganesh and Shiva and the many Hindu gods. Seeing how they are such an integral part of Indian life, how my work mates accepted their existence unquestioningly was a revelation.”
Anne (India 1999)

“Joe was one of seventeen children. His father had three wives and he considered them all his mothers. Somehow in Ghana this seemed quite natural. The Muslim way of life no longer seemed so alien and vaguely threatening to my Catholic conditioning.”
Avril (Ghana 1998)

“The church service was so strange and quiet, not at all like a service in my country, .with drumming and dancing “
Ernest (Ireland 1998)

Some religious practices may be difficult to accept. Some religions may see women as having different roles, while the sacrifice of animals may seem barbaric to Christians who sacrifice symbolically. The important thing is to avoid insulting one’s hosts by criticising their religious practices. In most countries religion plays a very important part in the lives of the people, and so much can be learned by observing and respecting the beliefs of one’s hosts.

Learning about the dominant religions of one’s host country prior to travelling could be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of preparation for the visit. Indeed, showing that you have researched a little about their faith will please your hosts. You can then test your preconceptions as you learn more during your visits

Environment and sustainability

This document summarises a collaborative seminar for volunteer workcamp organisations held in Akranes, Iceland, in 2005. The seminar addressed a lack of knowledge and skills within the volunteer sector to operate in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

We all live on the same planet and we all have a responsibility towards it and the living beings that depend upon it. Humans are an integral part of the global ecological system and our actions impact upon it from the local level (e.g. rubbish thrown on the ground) to the global level (e.g. climate change caused by carbon dioxide released by humans). Workcamps are no exception to this and it is therefore important to think about their potential environmental impacts.

In this section we will look at water and land useenvironmental sustainability and ethical banking and investment.

References and further research:

European Union http://europa.eu.int, see environment sections.
United Nations Environment Program http://www.unep.org
International Energy Agency http://www.iea.org
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change http://unfccc.int/
Centre For Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology http://www.crest.org/
European Federation for Transport and Environment http://www.t-e.nu/
UK National Society for Clean Air http://www.travelcalculator.org/
http://www.wastewatch.org.uk/
http://www.recyclenow.com/
Fair trade labelling info http://www.fairtrade.net/
World Water Council http://www.worldwatercouncil.org/
Emissions Calculator http://www.climatecare.org/

Water, Energy, Land use, Transport, Waste

Water

Fresh water is a finite resource essential to life on earth. Water is often diverted and used without regard to downstream environmental or anthropogenic users. To supply excessive urban and agricultural demand, large areas of land are destroyed to build infrastructure, reservoirs and pipelines causing environmental and social degradation. Where it is scarce, wars have been and are being fought for access to fresh water.

Water is commonly used for urban and industrial effluent discharge and waste disposal causing pollution of freshwater and marine systems. Underground water supplies are non-renewable and can be polluted naturally (eg arsenic ground waters of Bangladesh) or anthropogenic (eg leaking nuclear wastes in USA). Changes to groundwater levels connected with poor irrigation practice or unmanaged clearing of vegetation can lead to salinisation of arable land.

Workcamps should integrate measures for water conservation wherever possible – follow the hierarchy, ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle’.

Energy

Fossil fuel energy production is the world’s leading source of greenhouse gases causing global warming. Atmospheric pollution from power stations damages natural habitats and affects human health. Mining, generation and distribution of electrical power is detrimental to the land and water. Using renewable energy and or minimising energy used in the workplace, accommodation and during leisure time, contribute towards minimising these impacts.

Land Use

Growth of urban areas, agricultural intensification, vegetation removal and fragmentation all cause environmental degradation on a large scale. In workcamps that involve land management (e.g. organic farming, planting trees), it is important to consider short and long term impacts.

Organic Produce

Organic produce, avoids the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers that harm soil, wildlife and aquatic systems. Use organic produce wherever possible.

Transport

Fuel use for transport is a major source of global pollution. Air travel is the most damaging for the environment and should be kept to a minimum. Avoid short-haul flights where trains or buses are a viable alternative. Vehicles exhaust causes high rates of childhood asthma.

Transport infrastructure, dissects natural habitats reducing floral and faunal mobility. Impermeable roads reduce water infiltration and change surface flows while the traffic adds heavy metal pollutants to the run-off waters.

Workcamps can encourage travel by less polluting transport (to and from the project and at the project). Both participants and local people can investigate more sustainable forms of transport.

Local Produce

“Food Miles” (the distance travelled by food before it reaches your plate) cause pollution via transportation. Buying local products saves energy and therefore pollution.

Waste

Most waste is buried or dumped on the ground and some is disposed at sea, leading to pollution of soil and water. As putrescible waste decomposes it releases methane gas, one of the greenhouse gases. This methane should be tapped to produce energy, and the decomposed matter should be reused as fertiliser. However, recycling waste materials is energy intensive requiring mechanical extraction processes and transportation.

Follow the waste hierarchy, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”: Reduce the amount of waste produced and purchased. Find new uses for clothing, paper and plastic waste. Recycle only when it cannot be reduced or reused.

Environmental sustainability, policy and action

Establish a statement or policy on environmental performance including specific goals and indicators. Volunteers on a workcamp can set personal standards, make respectful enquiries about why environmental issues are not addressed and offer viable suggestions for improving the sustainability of their project.

Promote environmental inquiry, action and collaboration. Group discussion of environment and sustainability at every workcamp allows sharing of knowledge, debate, understanding and compromise. Where possible the host organisation and/or community should participate to aid understanding of local issues and knowledge. Change is hard, so participants may only adopt environmental practices when they are comfortable with the idea and the activity.

Environmental management requires active feedback: Monitor the environmental performance of participants, camp activities and local community. Adjust responses to match changing situations and understanding. Reassess regularly.

Tips for good environmental practices

The following are some options for a project, workcamp, at the office and at home:

Create a climate of energy-awareness.
Purchase energy efficient equipment
Share facilities and appliances (e.g. fridge, car)
Reduce unnecessary heating and lighting
Use natural light and energy efficient light bulbs
Don’t buy products in excessive packaging, or single-use, disposable items (eg disposable plates, cups, cutlery) where alternatives exist.
Buy recycled paper (then print on both sides)
Buy recycled or reusable products (e.g. rechargeable batteries)
Buy biodegradable cleaning products. (eg bicarb. soda or vinegar)
Use water based and/or non-toxic paints
Set up recycle sorting system with clearly marked bins, e.g. paper, glass, plastic, aluminium/tin cans. .
Properly dispose of, recycle and resell your office equipment including furniture, computer, etc.
Walk, cycle or use public transport wherever possible

 

 

Ethical banking and investments

Individuals and organisations can change accounts and investments to banks and building societies considered to be ethically sound. There is no single definition of an “ethical” bank, but factors may include:

– not investing in governments or businesses which fail to uphold basic human rights or have links to oppressive regimes
– not investing in the arms or oil trade;
– actively financing companies, institutions and projects that add social, environmental and cultural value in their work;
– promoting equitable partnership in developing countries.
– supporting local environmentally sustainable initiatives

Fair-Trade

Fair-trade products ensure higher prices for farm produce in less economically developed countries. The resulting financial security permits local farmers to provide reasonable wages and conditions to workers. Indigenous cultures, local industries and environmentally sound agricultural techniques are less compromised by these fairer trading deals. Fair trade suppliers sometimes invest in infrastructure and education in the communities where they buy their raw products.

Getting Further Involved

Getting the most out of your volunteer project includes devoting some time to evaluating your experience. So upon your return home IVP will send you a workcamp evaluation form. Please fill this is and return it as soon as you can. This will help IVP to improve its services and provide feedback to our partner organisations. In addition, please send us your stories and photos, which we will include in our newsletter.

There are also many other opportunities to become further involved with IVP when you return. In fact IVP is run on a voluntary basis by people like you, who have been inspired by participating in workcamps. You might want to develop an Australian workcamp around an issue important to you or train to become a workcamp leader yourself. Other opportunities are available in a variety of areas, including co-ordination, administration, publicity, fund-raising, accounts, newsletters, Australian workcamps and web-site management. Experience is valued but not a requirement. So if you would like to contribute, please contact us and get involved!

After returning from their workcamp, many volunteers want to get active in their local branch. This can mean many things from editing a newsletter, to training campleaders, being member of the board or organising info-evenings. All the SCI branches are different and have their own focuses, but all of them are willing to receive volunteers to help with different tasks. You can maybe join the local group in your town or a working group gathered around a certain theme. Beside doing a valuable work for SCI you will also meet people with the same values and learn a lot about working in an NGO. You can find your local branch here.

International Trainings

Through your local branch you can also receive information about the trainings and seminars organised by SCI. They often cover important themes for SCI, such as human rights or conflict resolution, or they aim to teach new organisational skills for volunteers, such as project management or fundraising. These events are educational and informative, but in an informal way. The interaction between the participants and they way they learn from each other is an equally important aspect.

SCI also has several annual meetings, which can be organised by a working group, a seminar preparation team or are part of the constitutional obligations, like the annual meeting. In these different meetings the SCI activists have a chance to exchange their opinions and plan future activities. In the annual International Committee Meeting decisions covering the whole of SCI are discussed and voted for.

SCI runs also regular international projects, which are multilateral projects between many branches and partners. Often they are related to the workcamps, for example bringing an educational theme to a workcamp by a special messenger. For example look at the Youth Transcending New Frontiers website.

International working groups

SCI has several international working groups that focus on either a particular region or interest area, for example, MIDI (Mediterranean Working Group) or the Refugee Working Group. These working groups are made up of SCI branches, groups, partner organisations and interested individuals. They are recognised every year by the International Committee Meeting where their budgets and plans of action are approved.

The working groups are important for SCI as they bring people together to plan and develop their actions in a more focused way. Working groups are the specialists in their fields and have a number of different tasks. For example; communicating with new potential partners, organising seminars, overseeing the activity of branches, making decisions at the annual meeting and being the public face of SCI in that particular region or interest area.

These are the working groups currently active in SCI:

Abya Yala – Latin America working group
AWG – Africa Working Group
Midi – Mediterranean Working Group
Sava – South Eastern Europe Working Group
AIWG – Asia International Working Group
RWG – Refugee Working Group
EDWG – Environment and Development Working Group
YUWG – Youth and Unemployment Working Group
LTEG – Long-Term Exchange Working Group
WWG – Women’s Working Group

Medium and Long-term Volunteering

SCI’s Long Term Volunteering (LTV) programme gives the possibility to stay abroad from 3 to 12 months, working in a project that co-operates with the local SCI-branch or partner.

There are a large number of possibilities: working with disabled people, disadvantaged youth or ethnic minorities, in an ecological community, in a local SCI office, or an orphanage.

Long Term Volunteering is not only work, but also an experience of living abroad learning from the culture and the people, getting deeply involved with the project and its ideas.

The term LTV is used in SCI to refer to all the volunteers committed to a project for more than two months. The volunteer is provided with food, accommodation and some pocket money and is usually covered by a basic SCI insurance. Travel costs to the project are generally covered by the volunteer. There are no age limits to be an LTV. If you are interested in being an LTV please contact your local branch.

SCI has a long history of involving Medium Term Volunteers (from three to six months) and Long Term Volunteers (six months to two years) in projects run by SCI and partner organisations. Indeed many of the actions undertaken by SCI in the early part of its development were projects that lasted several months or even years.
In 1934, Pierre Ceresole, the founder of SCI, headed a team of international volunteers, who worked alongside local volunteers for several months in the rebuilding of an entire village following a devastating earthquake in Bihar, India. This eventually led to SCI being invited to a newly independent India in 1950 to help rebuild a new refugee township (for displaced people from the Punjab region of Pakistan) in Faridabad, outside New Delhi. The action continued for over two years. SCI also carried out similar work in Karachi, Pakistan at the same time.

During the Spanish Civil War, SCI organised a two year programme of evacuation for women, old people and children from the fighting zones as well as providing feeding programmes and social activities.

SCI organised a programme of medical and social work in a slum colony in Algiers, Algeria from 1949 to 1953.

In the middle Sixties IVS in Great Britain set up its programme of Long Term Volunteering in Southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and later Mozambique), Cameroon and with SCI projects in Southern Asia (Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka). VSI, the Irish branch and several other branches also recruited and trained people for this programme. The programme was organised by IVS, until the late 1980’s when it was taken over by a newly formed organisation, Skillshare Africa.

Many Asian MTV’s and LTV’s have taken part in medium and long term projects in Europe since the 1950’s, although many more Europeans were able to work in Africa and Asia. Some of the projects were long term projects undertaken by SCI in Europe and some were organised by partner organisations in Europe.

“Long term volunteering to me, means an active and positive way of life to keep the human spirit alive. As ordinary men and women we will then be capable of doing extraordinary things.” Ganesh Dorairaju, SCI Malaysia LTV in Europe

During the 1989 ‘Volunteering as a Way of Life’ seminar held in the Netherlands, SCI volunteers set up a Long Term Resource Centre to develop and support medium and long term volunteering within SCI. Since then the SCI has produced:

A handbook on medium and long term volunteering. This can be downloaded from www.sciint.org/publications.phtml
A regular vacancy list on medium and long term volunteering in many countries
A set of practical selection and placement procedures for medium and long term volunteering
Regular training courses, seminars and festivals on the theme of medium and long term volunteering

Several of the SCl lnternational Working Groups are keen to develop a programme for medium and long- term placements on a North/South basis. The programme is still at a very early stage and only a handful of volunteers, mostly from Europe, have been able to take part.

Volunteers wishing to participate in this programme usually have to pay their own travel cost from their home country to the local project. Food and accommodation is usually paid by the project, as well as in most cases, though not always, a small sum of pocket money.

One benefit of this programme is that there is more integration into the local community.

For more details of medium and longer term volunteering within SCI, contact your SCI branch.

The application procedure in principle is:

1. information of the available LTV projects is gathered every two months in the Vacancy List. This list can be ordered from the SCI office of your country.
2. when you have found an interesting place, fill in the LTV application form. It can be ordered from the branch as well.
3. when the branch has received your application form, they will call you for an interview. The aim of this interview is for the branch to get to know you better (and recommend you to the hosting project) and for you to get to know more about SCI and the LTVing. In some countries preparation information seminars are organised instead of interviews.
4. your application form and letter of recommendation from the organisation is sent to office of the country where the project you are interested is located. All communication goes between organisations, not between you and the hosting project.
5. the office in the hosting country passes your application to the project where you apply to and they take the decision whether to accept you or not. In some cases the project will contact you personally to learn more about you.
6. the office of the hosting country will contact the office of your home country to tell about the decision.

It is advisable that in as early stage of the process as possible you try to contact other volunteers who have been to the same project or same kind of project to find out more. There might be some reports from old volunteers available also.

When you are accepted:

1. you will receive an infosheet and travel directions to the project.
2. there is an inscription fee you have to pay to the sending organisation. The amount varies form country to country as well as when this fee is paid (sometimes when you send you application, sometimes only when you have been accepted)
3. it is up to you and the hosting project to agree when you will start in the project.
4. be aware that the SCI insurance has only a basic coverage and it is highly recommendable to take a private insurance
5. the sending organisation should point out a contact person for you who will stay in regular contact with you during your LTV
6. in the hosting project you should have a work support person who helps you with all things linked with your work
7. for social life and getting used to the new culture, a mentor should be appointed
8. when 1/3 of your project has passed, there should be a mid-evaluation to see how your project is going
9. after the project there should be a final evaluation with the hosting project
10. a written evaluation should be sent both to the sending and hosting organisation. The sending organisation should arrange a meeting with the returned volunteer to discuss the experience