Proper pre-trip training is vital to help team members unpack their motivations and goals and address any unrealistic expectations. 

Once the team members have been selected, the process of training and preparing them for the trip can begin. Apart from generally equipping team members, pre-trip training is also a good opportunity to address any concerns, misconceptions or gaps in understanding that were revealed during the screening process.

Evaluate motivations & set expectations

Team members will no doubt have varying motivations and expectations of the short-term missions (STM) trip. Discussing and setting realistic expectations in the pre-trip training will provide clarity for team members, minimise on-field tensions and reduce the likelihood of team members seeking to engage in inappropriate activities during the course of the trip.

To set realistic and appropriate expectations, discussions should cover:

  • the STM trip's purpose and activities;
  • limitations of STM; and
  • the importance of stewarding the STM experience well post-trip (e.g. long-term action, prayer, advocacy, missions involvement and financial support).

Provide Relevant Training

“Wisdom is of utmost importance, therefore get wisdom, and with all your effort work to acquire understanding.”
— Proverbs 4:7 (ISV)

There are many common assumptions and myths that frame the way we think about missions. Many of them relate to either our understanding of poverty, or our awareness of our own culture and how that has shaped our expression of Christianity. Left unchallenged, these become blindspots that inhibit teams' effectiveness in STM and can result in less than helpful engagement with overseas communities and ministries. Good pre-trip preparation should include information or training to broaden team members' thinking around these issues and intentional efforts to debunk common myths.

The resources below are great tools to use to help teams begin to understand the complexities of  poverty and development.


Discuss ethical engagement with children

Talk to team members about ethical engagement with children as part of the pre-trip training. It's an important conversation to have, even if you're not planning on working directly with children on the trip. All teams will come into contact with children, whether it's in a community, a church or while out and about on the streets.  

Provide information to teams regarding the harm caused by visiting or volunteering in orphanages in your pre-trip training. It's very common for STM teams to be invited to visit orphanages when  overseas, even when it wasn’t on the original itinerary. Therefore, it's important to inform teams of the harm this can cause children in your pre-trip training so that team members will understand why, as a child-safe team, you will respectfully decline any such invitations.

Below is a link to a handout you can provide to teams during pre-trip training regarding how they can best support vulnerable children. 

Conduct Child Protection Training

In cross-cultural settings, everything can feel foreign and it's harder to know where the boundaries are and what constitutes appropriate behaviour. This may result in teams or volunteers acting in ways that are inappropriate or doing things that they might not do in their own country.

That’s why it’s so important to give team members clear information and set clear boundaries around their interaction with children before the trip. Clear guidelines can also make team members feel more confident, as they understand what to do and not to do while on the trip. It also makes it easier for team leaders to identify and swiftly address inappropriate behaviour if and when it occurs. 

During training:

  • Distribute and discuss the child protection policy and code of conduct and ask all the team members to read, sign and agree to them.

When the receiving and the sending organisation both have their own child protection policies, you will need to determine if the team members are required to sign one, or both, policies. As the team will be working in the receiving organisation’s context, in most cases they will need to sign the receiving organisation’s policy, at a minimum. If the standards vary between policies, the policy with the highest standards should be upheld.

See Developing Policies & Guidelines for more details regarding child protection policies. 

  • Select a Child Protection Officer (CPO). It’s a good idea to select one team member to be responsible for ensuring that the CPP is followed, and to act as a point person for any concerns or incidents that need to be reported.
  • Explain how to report child protection suspicions, beliefs or incidents and your organisation’s reporting and investigation procedures.

It's also important that team members understand what to do regarding a child protection concern that is unrelated to the partner organisation or a team member’s actions (e.g. if they are concerned about the safety of a child they see in the community).

While team members may feel like they should intervene, they often lack the local knowledge, cultural understanding or language skills to be able to do so appropriately and may inadvertently cause more harm than good. The best way that teams can respond is to contact and inform the local authorities or local child protection organisations (e.g. Childline) that are set up to handle reports, initiate action and refer children to long-term support where necessary. It’s a good idea for the team’s CPO to have these contact details available.

  • Give the team an opportunity to practically apply their child protection knowledge. Discuss potential scenarios and get the group to determine the appropriate course of action. The scenarios should:
    • reflect the place the team are going and the types of situations they may encounter;
    • at a minimum, address the use of social media and reporting child protection concerns; and
    • vary in their degree of complexity.

Leave plenty of time for discussion and guide the group to refer back to the child protection polices and code of conduct to help them reach a conclusion. This will help familiarise teams with the policy and improve their ability to adhere to it during the STM trip.

Provide guidelines on use of images and stories

Provide team members with guidance on the appropriate use of images and social media during the STM trip. Photos and stories have the potential to be a positive tool for advocacy, however, when used insensitively can reinforce stigma, reduce someone down to a label/stereotype (e.g. widow, victim, aids orphan) or inflict a 'second victimisation' on an individual. This is particularly the case when the focus is on a traumatic experience or a highly sensitive issue.

In some cultures, taking photos of local people is welcomed and in others, it's considered intrusive or greeted with suspicion. Find this out and inform the team ahead of time so team members are equipped to build positive relationships with local people. 

Refer to Developing Policies & Guidelines for more information. 

Consider designating a team member as the only photographer when in communities or with children. This limits the number of cameras being used, helps the team be less intrusive and allows the team to interact meaningfully with the community, without the distraction of everyone trying to capture it.

Let’s be honest
We would likely find it odd and be alarmed if a team of 10 strangers arrived in our neighbourhood, church or school and began taking photos of children and posting these photos on social media without asking parents for permission.

It can feel just as odd and alarming to parents and community leaders overseas. Therefore, we need to help team members consider their actions from the point of view of the community members and children’s parents.

This is one of the situations where it can be helpful to ask team members, “what would be okay in your own country?”

Below is a link to a useful handout created by the Chalmers Centre, which outlines 10 key guidelines to consider when posting on social media about a short-term missions trips.