Ethics, Safety and Health
Having a positive impact in international volunteering is an element to be ensured, rather than taken for granted. SODEIT will provide you with self-study pre-departure training. If you are committed to having a positive impact through your volunteer efforts, take the time to prepare using the materials provided to you.
The following are a sampling of some aspects of international volunteerism to keep in mind. Your pre-departure training will explore these issues and many more in-depth. No matter where you go or what you do, being aware of yourself and your new community will help ensure a positive experience for everyone involved. You may also want to check out these issues to consider.
Be Culturally Aware
You have been assisting your host organization with a grant application all week. Progress seems to be slow, and the application is now two days past due. A local volunteer suggests that everyone takes a break to eat dinner together in the market. It is not the first time. At this point, would you be frustrated at the thought of taking yet another break? Most would be.
While at home there may be value placed on getting the job done, in the country you are going to people may put a greater value on the process than on the end result. This is but one example of cultural differences, and culture dictates many aspects of the work that you will be doing. Things we take for granted in our own culture, such as sense of time, norms of social relationships, and how to eat a meal are often starkly different overseas. It is important to become aware of such differences in order to work effectively.
Be a Learner, not a Teacher
If you spend time in a developing country that is very different from your own, you may find yourself full of suggestions for the way things could be done differently. It is difficult to resist the temptation to say, “In my country we…” For example, local people may buy groceries daily rather than weekly. While this may take up considerably more time, it is a better method if they cannot afford refrigeration. While you may have good intentions in suggesting a way of doing things that appears to be better, it may not be a realistic option for local people. Always seek to understand why people do things a certain way.
The time a volunteer donates will add value to the project they are working on. Most volunteers are in-country for four months or less. If this is your case, keep in mind that the length of time you are there is relatively short in comparison to the lifespan of the project. Therefore, it may be difficult to see solid results when you are there. For example, you might help lay the foundation for a new school, but the construction may not be completed by the time you leave. It is important to be realistic and understand there are many factors, including availability of materials and resources, which influence the work that gets done.
You will have a major impact. People recognize the time that you dedicate to helping them achieve their goals and mission. In addition, working in partnership can help to develop local capacity, inspire, and lead to mutual learning. Your acts of kindness will go a long way.
“When they saw my freckles they thought I had a disease. When I explained that I only get them when the sun shines, they thought I was crazy.”
Personal perspectives and cultural norms vary greatly among the thousands of societies in the world today. You will undoubtedly encounter people who react to you differently than your friends or family would at home. Sexual orientation, gender, race, wealth, status, religion, nationality, and political views may affect the way people interact with you. It is important that you can be yourself while being cognizant of what the local views are.
Have realistic expectations of your personal boundaries. While you might be enthusiastic about trying foreign foods, or accepting all invitations extended your way, with time you could find yourself miserable because you feel you have to do something you truly do not want to do. Make an effort to be culturally aware, but also don’t compromise customs that are important for you. For example, if you are a vegetarian it is ok to politely decline a dish with meat.
Go for it
SODEIT will help you prepare for your placement overseas. We also suggest that you take the time to do your own research prior to departing. Once in-country, your coordinator is someone you can always approach to ask the big “how does this work here?” question. As preparation for your time overseas and your placement progress, you will transition from simply observing different cultures and behaviours, to understanding the reasons behind why people do what they do, enabling you to have the greatest impact possible.
Safety and Health
“Is it safe?” This is one of the most common concerns of potential volunteers. The answer is that it is up to us and it is up to you. Your safety and security is our priority. By volunteering abroad in a developing country, you are choosing to spend time in a nation with widespread poverty. Therefore, it is important to be well-informed about how to stay safe, as well as volunteer with an organization like SODEIT that understands the importance of safety for participants.
How do we ensure safety?
Local Coordination – Every volunteer/intern is assigned an in-country Mentor (CM) who is available 24/7, or will be guided by a representative from our project and partner organisation. Whether you have a CM or local project/partner representative, you will have guidance from the moment you arrive at the airport (and of course before you depart). We will help you learn how to live abroad and how to stay safe.
Your accommodation will be located in the safest areas of the cities where we work, no exceptions.
We stay informed. We operate in safe and peaceful areas. If an area becomes unsafe because a natural or manmade disaster or there is a political crisis, we are informed from the beginning and do not send volunteers where there is unreasonable risk to personal safety.
How do you ensure safety?
Follow Local Advice- If we advise you to, for example, stay away from a certain part of town or to not go out alone late at night, please listen closely to our advice. We take considerable effort to make sure you are well-informed. It’s up to you to use the information we give you wisely
Purchase travel insurance. Accidents happen, and by purchasing travel insurance before you depart you will have the coverage you need in case of emergency, a laptop breaking, a wallet being stolen, or needing to buy medication for that stomach bug picked up on a weekend adventure/tour/camp.