Goals are the outcomes we seek to achieve on a STM trip.
Ethical goals in STM are ones that prioritise the best interests of the most marginalised person in our midst.
Our STM goals motivate us to act. They sharpen our focus and shape our expectations of a given trip. They are the benchmark we use to measure success and acknowledge failure.
Whilst it's fairly safe to assume everyone who engages in STM does so in pursuit of a set of goals, its not safe to assume these goals are shared. Each actor will have a different perspective and a different set of corresponding goals, such as these common ones listed below:
Sometimes these differing goals are complimentary. Other times they are competing or at odds with each other. This means for one person's goal to be achieved, another's must be forfeited or is compromised. Consider this example:
An Australian church's goal is to send a team to visit the child welfare program they support in Uganda. STM trips give members of the church an opportunity to get involved in missions. It changes their perspective, generates buy-in to the church's missions program, and in turn, enables the church to continue to financially support its overseas partners.
The goal of the local Ugandan organisation hosting the team is to strengthen the relationship with the church and secure their ongoing prayer and financial support for their programs. They know that when their donors see the work with their own eyes and meet their beneficiaries they are more likely to remain engaged.
The team's goal is to have a first hand life altering experience of missions. They want to do more than just give money. They want to volunteer their time to directly help the children their church supports. They may not be able to go long-term but they can give a week or two to the cause of missions.
To meet the goals of the sending church, receiving organisation and team members, the end goal of the trip could easily be one which permits STM teams to have direct contact with vulnerable children in a child welfare program. To give them team the first hand experience they desire, this typically means allowing teams to run programs or activities in lieu of paid and qualified long-term staff.
What's wrong with that?
The above scenario seems like a win-win until we put the children and their families goals in the centre. What if their goal is to ensure their children get access to the services and support they need to overcome vulnerability? What if allowing team members to take over the roles of the permanent qualified staff compromises that goal- particularly if there are multiple teams that come in a year creating a pattern of disruption? What if allowing teams to usurp local staff or do for local communities what they are capable of doing for themselves actually disempowers people through the subtle reinforcement of the (White) Saviour Complex? What if they are never even consulted in the process of the STM trip being organised?
The overriding goal
The overriding goal must therefore be the one that puts the best interests of local communities, families and children at the centre. It must be the one that challenges any notions of privilege or superiority and puts communities on equal footing with the organisations that support them and overseas volunteers.
Now lets reorient the goals in the previous case study by putting the community, in particular the children, at the centre.
An Australian church sends a STM team to Uganda to visit a local organisation who runs a child welfare program the church supports. Their goal is to generate awareness of the issues affecting children in Uganda, and the role their church's support plays in assisting vulnerable children. Their hope is that team members will be better equipped to advocate for the project when they return home.
The local organisation's goal is to provide an opportunity for their partner church to get a good understanding of what they do, and the impact of their programs. This will ensure the church remains a committed prayer and financial partner. Staff will do a presentation on the organisation's work and at the end, the team will have the chance to meet a few of the families. The team has been informed that the best way the can support the children is to help promote the organisation rather than work directly with the children in the program.
The team's main goal will be to learn about the program and then help the local organisation develop some communications tools, including case studies, vlog and blog articles and a basic website they can use to promote their work. Hearing the first hand stories from staff and community members will be just as impacting and give the team a real sense of the program's benefit. When the team returns home, they'll organise an awareness raising event at their church and present some of these stories. By doing so they can encourage their church and members of their community to support the great work of their Ugandan partner.
The families' goal is to ensure their children get the best support they can to overcome vulnerability. They are keen to share their positive experiences with the team and meet some of the donors who have assisted their children access the program. In true local style this is best done over a shared meal.
Here the goals are oriented towards a true win-win. The team is positioned to make a legitimate contribution to the work of their church's partner and learn a lot in the process. The children's needs and goals have been prioritised. There is no disruption to their programs and no risks to their safety caused by allowing teams direct access to the children. The interaction with the family is relational. The team is there to learn from them and share a meal This promotes equality and empowerment. The sending church will have a group of informed advocates in their midst with the tools in hand to promote the missions program and encourage giving.
Over all the end goal of this STM trip is 'good' and 'right' for everyone, and is therefore ethical.
Our Goals reflect what we hope to achieve through being part of overseas short term missions or volunteering.
Ethical STM requires that we reorientate the end goal to ensure it is focused on the best outcomes for children and communities. This can mean we have to adjust our overriding goal to prioritise others above ourselves.