Sending your volunteers overseas can be a hugely enriching experience. It can benefit your organisation which can provide on the ground support to projects, while the people who go have enriching and often life changing experiences. However those who run the organisations must be careful to disclose the risks that the volunteers may face. For many, being overseas will involve exposure to new cultures, different standards of living, and different levels of security and safety.
In finalising arrangements for those you select to go overseas, we suggest some points which you may want to consider include:
- Language: We suggest you create a “key phrases” summary of the typical words used for greeting, asking for food, saying thank you etc.
- Culture: Consider creating a briefing for those coming about your culture and any key differences that they should be aware of eg is tipping common? Any cultural taboos?
- Travel: Describe the best route to get to your location (train, bus, taxi etc) and anything else they should know eg.,any transport vendors to avoid?.
- Immigration: the difference between paid working/volunteering and what is permissible, including visa requirements.
- Living options: Where the volunteer will live and if there are different options (including family considerations).
- Legal issues: Who is legally responsible in the event of things going wrong. (See discussion at the end of this article regarding a Deed of Release)
- Discipline: The organisation’s rules about persoanl conduct and the consequences of not abiding by them (eg being asked to return to their home country).
- Orientation: Consider having a program of orientation for people when they first arrive, or at a pre-trip event .
- Costs: What will be covered by who and what it is expected that will be paid for eg food.
- Schedule: The usual schedule and rhythm of life and what is expected eg special groups / services / evening meetings / small group participation.
- Privacy: Any policies around sharing of material about the experience and obtaining consent to use the person’s picture and information in publicity, if needed.
It is important that where possible, you give your volunteers adequate training to prepare them for this exciting time. Cultural insights and training for their particular roles will help make the transition easier. It may be good to consider some language training before and after they go with that as well.
Despite the training that is provided to volunteers, an organisation should make it clear that it cannot take on the responsibility for everything that happens while overseas. Organisations need to be careful to make clear that they are unable to take on the risk against situations like civil unrest, accidents, injuries and sickness. Nor can the oprganisation be expected to be responsible for events that might arise because a volunteer acted outside the applicable rules and guidelines.
For this reason we encourage organisations to sign a Deed of Release with their volunteers before they embark on their journey. This Deed could acknowledge that the organisation will assist where it can, yet it cannot guarantee the safety of the volunteer.
The Deed can also set out the terms of the nature of the relationship which can be altered to each organisation. This can require the volunteer to seek independent legal and medical advice prior to the trip. Organisations can also use this Deed to cover the use of photos and film for promotional purposes.