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What to Expect on a Workcamp


In Europe, international workcamps can last from ten days to three weeks. The international workcamps in Africa normally last from two weeks to almost a month and workcamps in Latin America generally last from three to four weeks. Asian workcamps can have a very different length, ranging between three days up to three weeks. Usually, the work will take place from Monday to Friday except for Muslim countries where the official free day of the week is mostly on Fridays. The weekends are normally free to enjoy and plan leisure activities.


English is the most common camp language. If you need another or an additional language, this will be stated specifically in the workcamp description.

Activities in Workcamps and Projects

Generally the local organisation defines its own way of working and this sometimes reflects the work that will be expected from the international volunteers. It can involve:
Animation and social training
Leisure time activities with children
Construction, renovation and manual work
Path cleaning, reforestation and agricultural work
Arts (e.g. music, theatre)
Raising awareness

Other workcamps can be more directly related to basic community development such as the building of roads and clearing parts of the jungle for bringing clean water to the village. Often the work can be physically strenuous and different to what some volunteers will be used to. Usually care is taken that there will be several refreshment breaks during the day.


During the work camp the volunteers can be hosted in a variety of accommodation: in family houses or in a building provided by the local co-ordinators, in a youth hostel, or in tents. Although anything is possible, it should be kept in mind that accommodation is nearly always simple and sometimes primitive. It is preferred that people bring their own sleeping bags unless otherwise written in the work camp information sheet.

It is expected that the volunteers will participate in the daily life of the hosting community with the aim to maximise the exchange with the people concerned with the project. This is even more so in the exchanges, which take place in Latin America where the international volunteers are mostly hosted individually with local families.

Extra Costs

In addition to the IVP membership and application fees, Australian volunteers pay their travel costs from Australia to the work camp location, insurance cover (see insurance section) and in some countries, there is an extra project fee which is paid to the hosting organisation. Food and accommodation are provided and paid for by the project host. In the case where there is an extra project fee, this covers not only the costs of board and lodging for the programme period, but more substantially, it is used to support the organisation and its programmes. In countries where this fee is charged the host organisation depends in most cases entirely on the voluntary income to run their programmes. Organising workcamps costs money, as it needs a fair amount of preparation and co-ordination throughout the year. The fee paid will help cover these pre-programme costs.


Workcamps offer an excellent opportunity for exchanging ideas about social, political and other issues about the local situations. Apart from the daily work of the project, it enables volunteers to have the opportunity to participate in debate, propose visits and meet with other local organisations. Every work camp does not have an organised study programme. Often the informal talks with other volunteers, project workers or local people give the scope for debate and learning. However, on many workcamps an effort is made to organise a more structured study participation, either closely linked with the social aim of the project organisation or linked to national or international campaigns SCI is implementing at the time.

Work Camp Leader or Coordinator

In most camps, though not in all, a work camp leader or camp co-ordinator will be appointed to facilitate the camp. A large part of the role of the co-ordinator is simply being the point of communication between the camp organisation, the host project and the volunteers. It is the primary task of the leader to try to meet the aims and expectations of all three. This should be done in the most harmonious way so that all are satisfied and so the maximum numbers of objectives are achieved.

A camp leader’s function is threefold: to lead, organise and mediate as appropriate. But above all, a camp leader is a member of the group and the relationship with the volunteers should never be hierarchical, even if participants expect him/her to play a decisive part in the course of the camp.

What can volunteers expect the camp leader to do?

– Organise orientation and evaluation meetings
– Include volunteers in decision making processes
– Liaise between volunteers & project partner
– Co-ordinate work and rosters
– Consider the needs of different cultural backgrounds and help with overcoming language barriers, but not being a translator
– Lead the theoretical discussion about the project’s work & goals
– Help with conflict solving
– Initiate discussion about political, social, cultural affairs related to the camp
– Represent SCI in public
– Inform the volunteers about the work, structures & aims of SCI
– Keep track of the entire program

Group Dynamics

How will the group interact?

Each group you work with on an international project will interact differently. Good internal group dynamics are ensured if there is awareness of each other and the forces in operation.

The activities necessary for effective group operation can be learned. It is usual for people to automatically assume ‘roles’ and take on ‘functions’ within the group that can help or hinder cohesion. It is important to encourage behaviours that help a group to function well. When one or several people seem to be having a negative influence on the group dynamics, Non-Violence theory encourages us to separate the ‘person’ from the ‘behaviour’. In other words don’t blame the person but address their behaviour. Sometimes having a provocative person in a group can lead to real issues being aired, leading to greater understanding and help group-building.

One of the main tools to better group dynamics is to learn and practise ‘listening skills’. This involves really listening to what the other person is saying, trying to understand where they are coming from rather than just having a conversation. We find this easy to do when we have a rapport with someone, but need to make sure we practise it with those with whom we perceive differences.

Each workcamp group will go through stages as the volunteers get to know each other better. One way of understanding these stages is to use Bruce Tuckman’s theory of group development. Tuckman described four stages of group development: forming, storming, norming and performing. The descriptions which follow have been adapted from Wikipedia.


In the first stages, the team meets and learns about the volunteer project, the work, the living arrangements and will decide how to share tasks and may set up cooking and cleaning schedules. Team members tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. Team members are usually on their best behaviour and interested in getting to know each other better. Mature team members model appropriate behaviour. Workcamp leaders will usually be directive, setting up meeting times and facilitating the development of work schedules and leisure activities.


Once the volunteers have got over their initial politeness, they will start to get to know each other on a deeper level and this is usually when differences begin to arise. The group is usually figuring out how they will interact with each other, how they will function independently and what leadership model they will accept. Team members open out to each other and confront each other’s ideas and perspectives. Individuals may become competitive or overly attached to their own ideas. In some cases, this stage can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences needs to be emphasized. Leaders of the team during this phase still need to be directive in their guidance of decision-making and appropriate behaviour.


At some point, members adjust their behaviour to each other and develop work habits that make teamwork seem more natural and fluid. Team members often work through this stage by agreeing on rules, values, professional behaviour, shared methods, working tools and even taboos. Team members begin to trust each other and motivation increases as the team gets more acquainted with the project.


High-performing teams are able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. Team members have become interdependent. By this time they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channelled through means acceptable to the team. Workcamp leaders during this phase are almost always participative, but the team will make most of the necessary decisions.

Adjourning and Transforming

Tuckman later added a fifth phase, adjourning, that involves completing the task and breaking up the team. Others call it the phase for mourning. This can be quite a difficult phase of a workcamp. You may have developed quite strong bonds with your fellow volunteers. Goodbyes can be very upsetting and tears are quite usual. You may feel it hard to get back to ‘normal’ after such an intense two weeks, but keeping in touch with each other after a workcamp can help ease the transition.

In the next section we discuss managing conflict in groups