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.
The following tool has been designed to help you with this evaluation . The sections in this tool are also summarised in the information below.
STEPS to ASSESS & SELECT A STM TRIP:
1. Assess the organisation:
Using the questions in the tool and with the ethical framework in mind, find and assess the organisation's:
- Vision & Mission Statement
These statements play an important role in ensuring organisations have a clear focus and strategy. Organisations with clear vision and mission statements and are more likely to program based on what's best for the local community rather than trends or the interests of donors or volunteers.
- Website, Social Media & Communications
Ethical organisations prioritise the dignity of children and communities over the emotional pull of an image or story. When organisations lack boundaries in their communications, they are less likely to uphold healthy boundaries in their programs, including their use of STM teams.
- Child Protection Policy & Procedures
Failing to be clear about what is and isn’t appropriate when interacting with children places children at risk. It also makes an organisation more vulnerable to being targeted by someone seeking easy unregulated access to children in order to exploit them. Click here for more info.
- STM Approach & Procedures
Ethical organisations approach STM with the needs of local communities and organisations as their main priorities. To safeguard local communities they will also have in place proper recruitment and screening procedures for volunteers and STM teams.
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.
2. Identify any high-risk areas
Remember good intentions don’t automatically result in good outcomes. Volunteers should therefore seek alternatives to any practices where there is a well-known and documented risk of harm, either on an individual or on a systems level.
HIGH-RISK AREAS TEAMS SHOULD AVOID:
Visiting or volunteering with children in residential care
(i.e. orphanages, children’s homes, children’s villages, shelters, rescue homes, etc)
Click here for more information unpacking the harmful effects of orphanage volunteering.
Participating in 'raids and rescues' for children or adults
(i.e. ‘rescuing’ of trafficked victims, child protection interventions, removing children from situations of abuse or placing children in residential care)
These activities should be left to relevant in-country authorities, licensed organisations and professionals.
HIGH-RISK AREAS TEAMS SHOULD APPROACH WITH CAUTION:
- Engaging in humanitarian/disaster relief work or in conflict zone:
Due to the complexity of crisis situations, volunteering in post disaster/emergency contexts should be reserved for specialised volunteers being deployed by disaster response agencies. Non-specialist teams should consider waiting and supporting the long-term rebuilding efforts after the initial crisis has passed.
- Providing medical care:
Even for qualified doctors, there are risks to providing medical or dental treatment to people overseas without knowledge of patient’s medical histories. Surgeons and specialists should volunteer through formal hospital skills exchange and volunteer programs to maximise impact and ensure proper after care and follow up arrangements are in place.
Doctors may also need to apply for local licenses or special government permission to practice in a foreign country, so make sure you look into this well in advance and acquire all appropriate license
3. Assess Itinerary
Using the questions in the tool and in accordance with the ethical framework, assess the activities included in the proposed itinerary.
Focus on determining if:
- you have the appropriate level of skills, qualifications and knowledge for the activities you'll be involved in;
- you would be happy if a team did the same proposed activities in your community, school, church, workplace or with my children;
- the trip will build the capacity of local people and not do things for communities that they are capable of doing for themselves ; and
- the proposed outcomes of the trip are realistic and appropriate.
4. DETERMINE IF TRIP IS ETHICAL
After gathering and assessing the above information, you're now in a good position to decide if the STM trip you are considering is ethical.
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 raise your concerns with the organisation and encourage them to consider changes. 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.