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Perspectives on Peace and Conflict

It is easy to say we are International Volunteers for Peace but much harder to explain what we mean by peace. Often peace is only understood as the absence of war. This means that peace is only understood in terms of what it is not. Building up an idea of what peace might be is an important aspect of volunteering with any peace organisation. This section will provide some background to how peace and conflict are understood through a variety of perspectives. These perspectives are not included in order to tell you what you should think about these issues, but rather to provide some examples of how others have thought about peace and conflict.

What do we mean by peace?

International Decade for a Culture of Peace

A good place to look for a positive definition of peace is the UN’s notion of a “Culture of Peace”. They have defined this culture as “consisting of values, attitudes and behaviours that reject violence and endeavour to prevent conflicts by addressing their root causes with a view to solving problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations”. In order to foster this culture the UN General Assembly designated 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

The UNESCO document “Mainstreaming the Culture of Peace” explains that the idea to use the term culture of peace was inspired by an educational initiative called cultura de paz developed in Peru (1986), and by the Seville Statement on Violence (1986) adopted by scientists from around the world, which stated that war is not a fatality determined by genes, violent brains, human nature or instincts, but is rather a social invention. Therefore, ‘the same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace’.

The Seville statement stakes out eight action areas, which are the focus of the Decade for a Culture of Peace. These areas are:
– Fostering a culture of peace through education
– Promoting sustainable economic and social development
– Promoting respect for all human rights
– Ensuring equality between women and men
– Fostering democratic participation
– Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity
– Supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge
– Promoting international peace and security

Each of these actions areas are linked to specific tasks – so fostering a culture of peace through education includes promoting education for all, focusing especially on girls; revising curricula to promote the qualitative values, attitudes and behaviour inherent in a culture of peace; training for conflict prevention and resolution, dialogue, consensus-building and active non-violence.

If you want to find out more information about the UN’s action plan for developing a culture of peace you can download the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (A/53/243) from the UNESCO website.

Conscientious Objection

This term commonly applies to those who refuse to participate in war. Conscientious objectors will refuse to be drafted or conscripted into military service and will also refuse ‘peace time’ military service. It is thus the refusal to accept war as a method of resolving disputes. Conscientious objection to war can also entail the refusal to pay taxes, which will support a country’s military. An example of this can be found in Henry Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience”, which influenced Gandhi’s methods of non-violent resistance, where he recounts his experiences of being jailed after refusing to pay taxes. A more modern Australian example is David Keenen, editor of the magazine Non-violence Today, who withheld 10% of his tax payments from the Australian Tax Office and instead donated them to an organisation researching alternatives to armed defence. Keenan eventually faced court and was threatened with bankruptcy. The full history is available from his website –

While Australian now recognises the right to conscientious objection, this was not always the case. From 1911 to 1929, all males aged 18-26, regardless of their personal beliefs, were required to complete military training. Australia also introduced conscription during World War II and the Vietnam War.

Compulsory military service was quite common in Europe and still continues today in countries as varied as Israel, South Korea, Sweden and Bulgaria. In Germany, for instance, nine months of military service is required by all males after they finish their studies, though there are provisions to complete was is called ‘civilian service’.

During the early 1900’s, at the time when SCI first began, there was no option of social service and instead military service and conscription were common. SCI’s founder, Pierre Ceresole, sought to challenge this and was himself a conscientious objector, refusing to pay military taxes and conscription and was imprisoned several times as a result. This was an irony because Ceresole had inherited a small fortune and believing that it was immoral to have large sums of money that he had not earned, he donated it to the Swiss government.

Ceresole set out to establish an ethical alternative to militarism and so developed the idea of “a peace army”. The early SCI workcamps were to be examples of this ‘peace army’ and showed that young women and men could serve the world in more peaceful and productive ways. Through this example and other direct action, the early SCI confronted the militaristic culture in Europe. SCI is partly responsible for the cessation of enforced military service and the recognition of conscientious objection as a legal alternative in many European countries.


Non-violence can be understood as a group of doctrines that reject war and every form of violent action as a means of solving disputes. This understanding links non-violence to pacifism, though there is a difference in the approach or the two groups and the methods that they might use to achieve their goals. Non-violence might refer to a personal commitment to reject violence in all its forms. But non-violence has also come to refer to certain methods of bringing about revolutionary social change without the use of force.

One of the key ideas that underlie the possibility of non-violent social change is the recognition that those in power can only remain there with the co-operation of the larger population. That is, without a police force, without tax collectors, without transport workers, or even without people to patronise business, a society cannot operate. As Henry David Thoreau writes in his essay “Civil Disobedience” – “when the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished”. A system can’t work if no one will participate in it.

A second key idea is that to end up with just ends you must use just means. For many, using violence to fight for a more peaceful society is self-defeating. But further, non-violent action for social change fundamentally relies on co-operation of individuals rather than their obedience. This can help develop the seeds of democracy, as Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall suggest in their book, A Force More Powerful. They argue that non-violent resistance movements, which do not use top-down power, are more likely to be run democratically from the start and so have the potential to produce quite different end results than more violent revolutions.

There are many different methods that can be used by non-violent activists including; strikes, consumer boycotts, factory slow downs, petitions, raising media-profiles and vigils. However, you are really only limited by your imagination. Gene Sharp’s book The Politics of Non-violent Action, for example, provides a suggestive list of 198 methods of non-violent action.

In 1989, thirteen nations comprising 1,695,000,000 people experienced non-violent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations … If we add all the countries touched by major non-violent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa … the independence movement in India…) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that non-violence doesn’t work in the ‘real’ world – Walter Ives

New Wars and Old Wars

In her 1999 book New and Old Wars, Mary Kaldor argues that understanding war as a conflict between states, fought by adult male soldiers, obscures the modern day realities of armed conflict. She suggests that there are three key differences between new and old wars. These differences include why wars are fought, how they are fought and how they are funded. Traditionally wars are understood as conflicts fought by state actors with the aim of capturing territory, paid for by the state itself. New wars are more likely to be motivated by identity politics with the aim of population control and may be funded by a variety of global actors. Because aims are often to create a ‘purified’ state, new wars are marked by dramatic increases in refugees and the internally displaced. They are also more often directly specifically against civilians. Those fighting in new wars are not exclusively male soldiers, but include women and children. Examples of such new wars include the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and the Darfur region of Sudan.

In the following sections, we will look at three different aspects of these changing forms of conflict; the place of gender in conflict, the plight of child soldiers, and refugees.

References and further research:
Coombs, Moira “Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Australia” Australian Parliamentary Library Research Note no. 31 2002-03
Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Fact Sheet, “Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Programme”
Hathaway, J., 1992, “The Emerging Politics of non-entree”, Refugees, December
Kaldor, Mary (1999) New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era Cambridge: Polity Press
Noll, Gregor, 1999, New Issues in Refugee Research, Working Paper 4, “Rejected asylum seekers: the problem of return”, University of Lund, Box 207, Lund/Sweden –
Non-violent Peace force International
Thoreau, Henry David (1993) Civil Disobedience and Other Essays New York: Dover
UN, “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly – on the report of the Third Committee (A/61/436), 61/137”, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sixty-first session, Agenda item 41, 25 January 2007, United Nations, General Assembly
UN, “1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees”
UNHCR, 2007, Informal Consultative Meeting 27 February 2007 – The Protection of Internally Displaced Persons and the Role of UNHCR
UNHCR, 2006, Internally Displaced People, Questions and Answers, UNHCR
UNHCR, 2006, Measuring Protection by Numbers – 2005 November, 2006 Release
UNHCR, 2006, Refugee Numbers 2006 Edition, Basic Facts
“The Wall Behind Which Refugees Can Shelter – The 1951 Geneva Convention, 50th Anniversary” in Refugees, Vol 2, No. 123, 2001
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia

Gender and Peace

“Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men” – UN Security Council.

Gender refers to how women’s and men’s roles, social relationships and expectations are built by society. Different cultures have different ideas of what is suitable for men and women to do and to be. This often changes within a culture during a crisis situation like war, when women may take on traditional male roles.

“People are born female and male, but learn to be girls and boys who grow into women and men. They are taught what the appropriate behaviour and attitudes, roles and activities should be for them, and how they should relate to other people. This learned behaviour is what makes up gender identity and determines gender roles, which are made to seem natural and ‘the norm’.” – Diakonia Council of Churches, South Africa.

Boys are socialised to deny feelings, compete with or dominate others, and are often brutalised to prepare them for military service. Girls are socialised to deny their intellect, to place the needs of others first and to remain passive and silent in the face of injustice. Women are socialised to be ‘carers’ and this may be one reason that 85% of IVP volunteers are female.

Gender is also about the power balance between men and women. Women are under-represented in all levels of decision-making, law-making and law-keeping. Because the experiences of males are seen as ‘normal’, women’s experiences are marginalized. These two factors can result in women and girls having little or no say in decisions that affect their lives. There is a need for more women in leadership and for processes to be made more transparent and accountable.

Ideas about masculinity and femininity lie at the roots of violence and are used to support armed conflicts. There is a continuum of violence, from domestic violence to violence in the public sphere, which every peace and justice movement must challenge. UNESCO’s Women and a culture of peace programme states: “Gender inequality and inequity are themselves major causes of the culture of violence and mechanisms for its perpetuation”.

In conflict situations it is women and children who suffer the most, yet women are often the first to reach across ethnic and religious divides in order to rebuild communities torn apart by violence. Women’s different perspectives are a valuable resource in the peace process. The silence around sexual violence against men and boys during war must also be broken.

Gender awareness is important for all peace and justice movements. Because gender is constructed by society, harmful stereotypical notions of male and female roles can be challenged. Gender justice must encourage the greatest possible participation of both women and men on equal terms in society. Gender equality is a necessary pillar in building a culture of peace.

United Nations Resolution 1325 (Adopted by the Security Council, Oct 2000)
Engendering IFOR – June 2002, p.17-20
UNESCO: Women and a culture of peace programme.

Child Soldiers

Often we imagine that wars are only fought by the adult members of armies, militias or guerrilla groups. However this is far from the case, in fact, many children are directly involved in armed conflict. Child soldiers are children under 18 years old that have been recruited into government armed forces, government militias, factional groups and armed opposition groups. The UN estimates that more than 300,000 children are actively involved in armed conflict around the world ( Africa has the greatest problem where it was estimated that up to 100,000 children were involved in armed conflict in 2004 ( However, child soldiers are also recruited in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Most of the soldiers are aged between 14 and 18 years however children as young as 7 years old are recruited ( Children are forcibly recruited into armed conflict. However, many ‘volunteer’ to become a child soldier as they see few alternatives to enlisting. For instance, circumstances including poverty, lack of work opportunities, limited access to education and the promise of an income are some reasons for joining. Many children living within armed conflict due to war and economic and social disharmony witness family members and friends being killed and brutalised by the forces. Consequently, recruitment is seen as the only option for survival.

Girls are reported to have enlisted to escape violence, sexual abuse, domestic servitude and arranged marriages. However, once they have joined they are especially at risk of rape, sexual harassment and abuse as well as involvement in military fighting. Orphans are particularly vulnerable. All children are subject to harsh conditions including torture, insufficient food, harsh discipline, hard labour, brutal training regimes and dangerous activities such as weapon use and laying explosives. Besides fighting in combat, child soldiers perform duties including cooking, domestic labour, guards, portering, spying and sexual slavery. Many report that their ‘initiation’ involved killing their best friend or family member to test whether they can be trusted. They are forced to commit terrible atrocities and if they don’t kill, they will be killed or beaten so they are left with no option if they are to survive. Hundreds of thousands of children have fought and died in armed conflicts throughout the world.

International legal and policy frameworks for the protection of child soldiers involved in armed conflict are being developed. The International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 1998, permits those found guilty of the recruitment of children under the age of 15 years to be prosecuted for their actions. Furthermore, more governments are now agreeing to legally enforce international laws that ban the use of child soldiers in armed conflict ( Although programs such as the demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) are established to help child soldiers learn new skills and reintegrate into their communities, funds and resources to support such programs are limited. However, if these programs are to be successful, long term investment is required.

Useful websites:


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


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” – accessed 13 Mar 2007
Human Rights Watch, 2006, “Lessons in Terror Attacks on Education in Afghanistan”, July 2006, Vol. 18, Number 6(c) – accessed 14 Mar 2007
International Labour Organisation, “International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour: IPEC”
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
United Nations Capital Development Fund (2007) . About UNCDF: Local Development Retrieved March 7, 2007, from
UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2006, accessed 1 March 2007
UNICEF Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse – Child Labour
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child –,
UN High Commission for Refugees – “Educating Refugees around the world” -
UN Millennium Development Goals, accessed 28 May 2007
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2006, accessed 28 May 2007
Make Poverty History Policy Platform, 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.


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.


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.


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.