It's common to pick trips based on relationships with the organisations and people who facilitate them.
Relationships are a great starting point, however trips should be selected based on evidence of solid ethical foundations, good practice and sufficient organisational capacity.
Therefore, asking the right questions and gathering detailed information is an important precursor to selecting the right STM trip or volunteer placement. It gives you the information you need to make an informed decision.
Gather information and ask questions
When a trip involves both a receiving and sending organisation, it's important to gather information on both. Focus on assessing the capacity of the sending organisation to facilitate an ethical trip and the receiving organisation's approach to working with communities.
There are multiple ways to gather information including by;
- conducting web searches;
- making contact with the organisation/s; and
- speaking to returned volunteers and team members.
1. Assess the organisation
Below are a list of key question and things to look for when assessing an organisation offering a STM trip:
- Does the organisation have a clear mission and vision statement?
- Is the organisation a non-profit organisation or a for-profit company?
- Is the purpose affirming of the local people and communities the organisation works with?
• The mission and vision is clear and includes phrases such as:
- "... supporting the rights of local people …’
- "... building the capacity of …’
• The mission and vision focus on the deficiencies in the community and places the organisation in a ‘saviour’ position. For example:
- ‘… we aim to rescue children living in poverty …’
• The organisation is for-profit, with its main purpose to facilitate volunteers.
• Does not have a clear mission or vision statement.
• Its mission is to operate long-term residential care institutions and to facilitate trips to visit/volunteer at these centres.
Alignment with good practice
- Is the organisation a registered entity?
- Is the ministry or project culturally relevant and contextualised? e.g. is it utilising local language or heavily dependent on translation?
- Is the missionary you plan to visit associated with a sending organisation which provides accountability?
- Does the organisation or ministry demonstrate a strong commitment to Biblical principles?
- Has the receiving organisation designed its program in response to an in-depth and evidence-based understanding of the community, culture, issues and root causes?
- Does the organisation have staff with the correct technical skills and experience, based on the type of work it undertakes?
- Does the organisation network and collaborate with other organisations working in a similar sector?
- Does the organisation put appropriate boundaries around the types of activities teams or volunteers can do and/or the skills required?
- Is the organisation working towards long-term sustained impact?
• Organisation includes registration details on its website.
• Organisation has completed detailed needs assessments and baselines.
• Organisations working with children and adults who have experienced trauma, have trained psychologists or other professionals on staff.
• The organisation presents a simplistic view of addressing poverty.
• The organisation uses sweeping generalisations when writing/speaking about the target community or issues (e.g. all children are malnourished).
• Organisation is unregistered to complete the work it undertakes.
• Organisation allows people without proper qualifications to undertake work (e.g. under or unqualified medical teams).
• Website contains images of volunteers handing out items directly to community members.
Portrayal of local communities
- Are the photos on the organisation's website portraying local people and children with dignity?
- Does the organisation speak of local people and communities in communications materials in a way that affirms their agency and promotes equality?
• Promotional materials highlight communities’ agency and capacity, and focus on both their strengths and needs.
• Case studies and stories on the organisation’s website focus on the achievement of community members, not solely the work conducted by staff or volunteers.
• The organisation’s website or social media accounts contain mainly photos of children looking sad, in distress and/or alone.
• The organisation’s website contains highly sensationalised information about the communities and the issues they face.
• The organisation’s website or social media accounts contain:
- photos of children inadequately clothed; or
- identifying information about children, (e.g. full-name or specific location), especially when discussing high risk or sensitive issues, like abuse or health conditions.
• Photos of volunteers depict them holding and interacting closely with children.
Commitment to child safeguarding
- Does the organisation have a child protection policy and code of conduct?
- Does the organisation have a formal recruitment and screening process for all STM team members and volunteers?
- Does the organisation have clear boundaries around teams' and volunteers' interaction with children?
• The organisation has a child protection policy which is widely available.
• The organisation clearly states its recruitment process in trip promotional material and/or info sessions (e.g. police and working with children checks).
• Recruitment process does not include any clearance checks.
• The organisation’s child protection policy is not made easily available and/or is outdated or inadequate.
• The proposed trip involves team members taking over the roles of long-term staff in children’s programs, such as schools. *This may be beneficial occasionally but can be disruptive if teams come frequently.
• Organisation does not have a child protection policy.
• Organisation does not have a formal recruitment procedure and allows anybody with the desire to be part of STM/volunteer programs.
• Trips involve team members taking over direct caregiving roles in children’s programs, such as daycare centres, children’s homes, etc.
• The organisation is advertising that teams will get involved in legal matters or child protection interventions, such as raids and rescues.
Approach to STM
- Are there any harmful practices advertised or permitted (such as orphanage volunteering, unqualified medical missions, participation in raids or rescues)?
- Does the organisation advertise STM in a way that promotes thoughtful consideration or is it geared towards evoking strong emotional reactions?
- Is it team-centric or local community-centric?
- Does the organisation reflect the ethical principles outlined in this website?
- Does the organisation have clearly established – and clearly communicate – appropriate boundaries for teams and volunteers?
• The organisation is willing to say ‘no’ when you or other team members make suggestions or tell them what experiences they would like to be part of.
• The organisation has not included criteria for what type of team members or volunteers it is looking for and instead states that it may ‘create an opportunity to specifically suit you’.
• The work of the organisation appears to be designed to create experiences for visitors/volunteers, or to keep volunteers ‘busy’ during their trip.
• The itinerary includes activities clearly designed to evoke emotional responses from the STM team/volunteer (e.g. slum tours, visits to rubbish dumps or red-light districts).
2. Assess Itinerary
To the best of your ability, assess the activities included in the planned itinerary in accordance with the ethical framework.
Use the self-assessment tool below to help you conduct this step. This acts as a further safeguard against joining a team which could cause unintentional harm to the communities and children included in the visit.
3. Select a trip
After gathering and assessing the above information, you're now in a good position to make a decision based on the ethics of the facilitating organisation,
If the trip you were hoping to be part of doesn't meet these ethical standards, then it's important you continue searching for an ethical alternative, even if this means delaying participating in a STM trip.
It may also be a good opportunity to discuss your concerns with the organisation and provide feedback it can use to modify its STM program. This alone is a worthwhile act of advocacy, as it demonstrates to facilitating organisations that there is a growing appetite for ethical STM trips.
Remember to approach these conversations respectfully and with grace. The goal is to promote good practice not condemn good people.