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Refugees

Another important aspect of armed conflict, which can be obscured by traditional understandings of war, is the plight of refugees. That is, soldiers are not the only members of society adversely affected by war. In fact the effects are much more wide reaching. This section will introduce historical and contemporary perspectives on the situation of refugees.

The History of the UN Convention on the Status Refugees

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (The Convention) was a response by Western states to the mass migration of displaced people caused by World War II and officially came into force in April 1954. It was drawn up at the same time as the UNHCR was created and is a legally binding treaty, which aims to facilitate the sharing of the refugee burden.

The Convention was drafted by delegates of 26 participating countries, who agreed that a refugee is a person, who has a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ and who is ‘outside the country of their former habitual residence’ because of that fear. Another important feature of the Convention is the principle of non-refoulement, meaning that no refugee should be returned to a country, ‘where his life or freedom would be threatened’.

However, as history tells us, persecution and refugees did not originate in, nor did they end with, World War II. So it was not long after the Convention was drafted that its limitations became apparent: the Convention only applied to those, who became refugees as a result of events occurring prior to January 1951. Consequently, in 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted, which expanded the scope of the Convention definition by removing the geographical and time limitations.

Today, there are 146 signatories to either the Convention or the Protocol or both, but an alarming growth in refugee numbers worldwide over the last few decades has put a strain on many countries’ hospitality.

In this respect, it is important to explain the difference between (a) a migrant; (b) an asylum seeker; and (c) a refugee. While a migrant is a person who has left their country voluntarily and can return to his/her country at any time, an asylum seeker is usually someone who was forced to leave and who seeks protection in another country. However before the asylum seeker can be recognised as a Convention Refugee, they must have already left ‘the country of his former habitual residence’ and must have a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ upon his/her return.

Of course, there are a much larger number of persons, who have been forced to leave their homes but who remain within the borders of their country and those, who have returned (returnees). Taken together, they are the internally displaced (IDPs), whose Government is either unwilling or unable to protect, but who do not qualify for refugeehood. They are just as important, for today’s IDPs might be tomorrow’s refugees.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS)

IDPs are persons who were forced to leave their homes because of conflict, violence or natural disasters but who remain within the borders of their country. The phenomenon is also known as forced migration. But, unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or conventions. Instead, the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement (1998), which incorporates existing human rights and humanitarian law, only provides authoritative guidance to humanitarian agencies.

According to the UNHCR, the estimated number of IDPs globally is 23.7 million in at least 50 countries, compared to 8.4 million refugees. For various reasons, these IDPs are either unwilling or unable to leave the borders of their State and, thus, remain the responsibility of their Government – the same Government, which can often be blamed for their displacement in the first place.

For instance, in the former Iraq, it was the Sunni-led Government of Saddam Hussein, which persecuted its Shi’a citizens. Record number of Shi’a were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Government, many Shi’a have returned to their original homes. However, with most of the infrastructure destroyed by the war, they now find themselves destitute as well as homeless again. (The situation in Iraq is, of course, not limited to only the Shi’a but includes other groups as well.)

We are constantly confronted with media images of the Iraqi war, violence and destruction. But there are many more IDPs in other parts of the world, who deserve just as much attention. Africa, for instance, has for some time been and continues to be the continent most affected by internal displacement. Who can forget the violence and the makeshift camps in Rwanda or the starving population in Ethiopia? Then there is the Americas – the list goes on and on.

There is, however, a group of IDPs, who is especially vulnerable: they are the women (in particular single women) and children. Their plight is multiplied for not only do they lack their Government’s protection but many also don’t have male protection. Females are often exploited and are in constant danger of abuse (both physical and sexual), while male children are often coerced into becoming child soldiers.

Although violence and persecution are the main causes for internal displacement, natural disasters also play a significant part in uprooting people. The December 2004 Tsunami or the 2005 South Asia Earthquake, for instance, turned millions of people into IDPs. Such natural disasters have a devastating effect because, unlike in Western countries, their Government is often unable to deal with the aftermath.

Despite its original mandate, namely to deal with refugees only, the UNHCR has been assisting IDPs in various countries since the 1970s. Initially, international donors were reluctant to interfere in internal conflicts. However, refugee-receiving countries soon realised that assisting IDPs in their own country is a far better solution than to be overwhelmed with possible refugees at a later stage.

Today, there are various non-government humanitarian organizations (NGOs), which, together with the UNHCR, offer assistance to IDPs in various ways. Amongst others, they provide IDPs with some of the basic human rights, namely the right to protection, food and shelter.

The International Perspective

People and peoples have migrated or were forced to migrate throughout history. However, it is only since globalisation that the magnitude of migration gave a new meaning to the concept. The world became connected as politics, economy, ecosystem and social tapestry of various cultures became deeply entwined – for information links people and technology enables them to travel far distances.

Overwhelmed by the number of persons seeking asylum, destination countries have introduced various deterrent measures in order to control the (unauthorised) migration flow into their territory. Most countries have allocated a certain number of places for newly arrived refugees and are reluctant to exceed this quota. For instance, although conflicts have increased in the world over the last few decades, Australia has only recently increased its humanitarian intake from 12,000 to 13,000 per annum.

As signatories to various treaties, countries have an obligation to provide protection and refuge to those in need. But, as refugee-receiving countries argue, not everyone who presents at their borders is a genuine refugee. Rather – many argue -, they are economic migrants, who had the financial means to travel to their destination. Besides, if they were genuine refugees, they should have joined the queues at the various UNHCR posts in designated countries (which, of course, are not accessible to everyone).

For various reasons – some of which are often not easily comprehensible to the Western world (e.g. people in Third World countries or countries in conflict areas do not usually carry a passport or a birth certificate during their flight) – many asylum seekers, who arrive at the borders of a destination country, present with forged or no documents. In anticipation, many States place immigration personnel at points of departure or transit or they impose carrier sanctions for transporting aliens with inadequate documentation.

While many countries have some form of detention for illegal immigrants upon their arrival in order to verify their identity, legislation often stipulates a maximum period of detention. Detention differs from country to country but it rarely exceeds a couple of months – compared to Australia’s mandatory detention policy, which has held (unauthorised) arrivals in confinement for many years. Lately, a number of States have introduced legislation that makes entry with false travel documents a criminal offence.

As if the practice of detention was not bad enough, Australia and the USA have also introduced border patrols along their coastlines, which indiscriminately turn approaching boats away if they carry human cargo. Australia, too, was first to introduce Temporary Protection Visas, which ensured that refugees left Australia after a period of time.

But, apart from the physical deterrent measures, depending on the review processes available in a particular country, asylum seekers also often have to endure a legal mire and often face long periods of uncertainty while their applications are being processed.

In Europe, asylum seekers are often accused of “country shopping” and returned to the departing country because some have crossed another border in order to feel safe. What needs to be remembered though is that the next “safe” country is often the adjoining country (e.g. Iran/Iraq) and that some of the poorest countries in the world house the largest number of refugees.

Perspectives on Development

Introduction

Participating in an IVP volunteer project will often bring you face to face with the immense inequalities that exist between so-called ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ countries. It is also likely to raise questions and debate on what development is, what its goals are and the best ways in which the goals can be achieved.

The terms developed/underdeveloped/developing, North/South, First World/Third World … are contemporary categories for understanding the world. The terms provide a certain snapshot of the state of the world, at least in terms of the distribution of wealth globally. However, while we live in a starkly divided world, the divisions between rich and poor are found within each country.

This chapter briefly examines the concept of development and sets out some of the important development issues that have been the focus of global campaigns over the last number of years. The campaigns acknowledge that these issues very much interconnect developed and developing countries. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals provide an overall framework for the examination provided.

The concept of development
‘Development’ denotes growth, maturation, advancement. When considered in terms of the social or individual ‘development’ is understood to be about movement or change from a situation of lack and limitation to one of sufficiency and capability. This means that development is a process of transition. However, the fact that economic and social development are discussed in the context of ‘developed’ and ‘underdeveloped’ countries means that development is also commonly considered to have an end-point and that there is an ideal-state for human society, represented in and by ‘developed’ countries.

The dominant political, economic, cultural and other explanations of development usually start with an examination of how ‘developed’ countries came to achieve their situation of sufficiency, capability and advancement in industrialisation, science, knowledge and organisation. These explanations propose conditions under which development prospers, and support the formulation of models that can be applied in ‘underdeveloped’ countries. In these dominant theories the goal of development is assumed to be the reproduction of the achievements and ideal-states found in ‘developed’ countries.

Alternative theories of development question and critique any or all of these dominant explanations and the models of development that are based on them. The most radical alternative theories of development challenge the proposition that the goal of development is the reproduction of the economic and social situations of ‘developed’ countries.

All ideas on the goals of and models for development also carry with them ideas about the type of contributions that governments, societies and individuals need to make, and especially about where, when and how external contributions should be made.

In the following sections, we will look at development theories, the UN Millenium Development Goals, and some issues for development.

References and further research:

Bolan, S., 2007, “Uganda launches education campaign for war-affected children” – http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/uganda_38329.html accessed 13 Mar 2007
Human Rights Watch, 2006, “Lessons in Terror Attacks on Education in Afghanistan”, July 2006, Vol. 18, Number 6(c) – http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/afghanistan0706/index.htm accessed 14 Mar 2007
International Labour Organisation, “International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour: IPEC” www.ilo.org/childlabour
Larson, Ann, “The Social Epidemiology of Africa’s Aids Epidemic,” African Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 354. (1990): pp. 5-25
Treichler, Paula A., “AIDS, Africa, and Cultural Theory,” Transition, No. 51, (1991): pp. 86-103
United Nations Capital Development Fund (2007) . About UNCDF. Retrieved 7 March 2007 from http://www.uncdf.org/english/about_uncdf/index.php
United Nations Capital Development Fund (2007) . About UNCDF: Local Development Retrieved March 7, 2007, from http://www.uncdf.org/english/local_development/index.php
UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006, http://www.unaids.org/en/HIV_data/epi2006/default.asp accessed 1 March 2007
UNICEF Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse – Child Labour http://www.unicef.org/protection/index_childlabour.html
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf, http://www.unicef.org/girlseducation/index_bigpicture.html
UN High Commission for Refugees – “Educating Refugees around the world” -http://www.unhcr.org/partners/PARTNERS/3fcb52bf1.pdf
UN Millennium Development Goals, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/index.html accessed 28 May 2007
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2006,
http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2006/MDGReport2006.pdf accessed 28 May 2007
Make Poverty History Policy Platform, http://www.makepovertyhistory.com.au/downloads/MPH_policy_250207.pdf accessed 28 May 2007

Some examples of development theories

Macro-economic development

– often attempt an explanation of the historical development of (Western) economies
– identify barriers to growth within other economies – the barriers identified have shifted or been augmented over the last 50 years, with the need for transparent governance practices being one of the most current. This is evident, for example, in the Australian Development Assistance Program
– propose development models that will remove these barriers
– may variously identify private enterprise or state institutions as the prime actors in achieving development, and so include both capitalist and socialist models of development. May also variously advocate centralised, localised, privatised and government-led policies and programs
– are linear in approach, reasoning that if attention is given to specific ‘key’ factors within the social, economic or political situations of an ‘underdeveloped/developing’ country then economic development and social betterment will follow
– have the benefit of furthering understanding of some of the factors that hinder development and identifying opportunities and limitations.

IVP volunteers may come across examples of macro development projects supported by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and national development assistance agencies such as AusAID.

Local development

– highlight the need for members of communities to be actively engaged in their own economic and political development
– emphasise assistance that creates local capabilities and sustainable economies
– some versions may still be linear in approach; others, especially those that are founded in an ecological perspective of the objectives and impacts of development, are more wholistic
– generally recognise that each community is unique and that assistance must be tailored to local needs in order to be effective and provide lasting benefits; genuinely people-centred development theories regard all communities as possessing at least some of the resources required, rather than having to rely totally on external inputs
– conversely must find ways to resolve the limits to local resources and to integrate local responses with national policies and programs. Decentralisation of national government, not just in service provision but also in priority setting and decision making, is seen as fundamental to the success of local development models
– generally share the current macro-economic development concern with transparent and accountable governance, and equitable access to reliable infrastructure.

IVP volunteers may come across local development projects supported and delivered by non-government, not-for-profit organisations based within countries they visit as well as international organisations such as Oxfam. Micro-finance is another initiative that they will often encounter, in which small amounts of money are lent through locally-managed and socially-inclusive services to allow individuals to create and expand business initiatives that are appropriate to the local area and resources.

SCI and IVP are not development organisations, but the philosophy and values of SCI and the purposes of workcamps orientate SCI and IVP towards a theory and model of local development aspiring to achieve the goals of local communities through the cooperation of people from all over the world.

The UN Millennium Development Goals

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim to halve global poverty by 2015. All members of the United Nations have agreed to work to the achievement of these goals, pledging aid assistance and integrating commitments to the MDGs in aid and development programs. The reality is, though, that the funding provided by the developed world is falling far short of the targets set and the levels required and undermining the achievement of specific goals.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2006 progress:
In 1990, more than 1.2 billion people – 28 per cent of the developing world’s population – lived in extreme poverty. By 2002, the proportion decreased to 19 per cent. However the number of people going hungry increased between 1995-1997 and 2001-2003. An estimated 824 million people in the developing world were affected by chronic hunger in 2003.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

2006 progress:
Net enrolment ratios in primary education have increased from in 79 per cent in 1990 to 86 per cent in 2002 in the developing world, ranging from 95 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean to 64 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

2006 progress:
Women’s political participation has increased significantly since 1990. One in five parliamentarians elected in 2005 are women, bringing the percentage of parliamentary seats held by women in 2006 worldwide from 12 to almost 17per cent.

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

2006 progress:
Though survival prospects have improved in every region, 10.5 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2004 – mostly from preventable causes.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

2006 progress:
Though the issue has been high on the international agenda for two decades, ratios of maternal mortality seem to have changed little in regions where most deaths occur (sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia). Skilled care at delivery is one of the key elements necessary to reduce maternal mortality. Though all regions show improvement, only 46 per cent of deliveries in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost half the world’s maternal deaths occur, are assisted by skilled attendants.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

2006 progress:
Several countries report success in reducing HIV infection rates, through interventions that promote behaviour change. However, rates of infection overall are still growing. And the number of people living with HIV has continued to rise, from 36.2 million in 2003 to 38.6 million in 2005.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

2006 progress:
Deforestation, primarily the conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at an alarmingly high rate – about 13 million hectares per year. Per capita CO2 has remained fairly constant between 1990 and 2003, at 4 metric tons per person. But due to population and economic growth, overall CO2 emissions continue to rise, especially in the developing world, where growth has been most rapid.

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

2006 progress:
Aid to developing countries has increased steadily since 1997, reaching $106 billion – one third of one per cent of donors’ combined national income – in 2005. Developing countries have gained greater access to markets over the past decade. Three quarters of their exports entered developed country markets duty-free in 2004. Future debt payments for 29 heavily indebted countries have fallen by $59 billion since 1998, bringing their debt service to less than 7 per cent of export earnings.

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/