You've done a lot of work to reflect, pray, select and prepare. Now it's time to pack your bags and turn your planning into action.  

And in the excitement, don't forget to stay the ethical course ... 

Proactively avoid the common stumbling Blocks

Being immersed in a foreign country, and a radically different environment, is challenging and fun but it can also be a little disorienting. It's easy for the unfamiliarity, excitement and emotion to cause us to lose sight of the ethics.  

Make sure you have intentional ways to keep the knowledge and training you gained in the pre-departure stage at the forefront of all decision making on the trip, especially when:

Making changes to the original itinerary

Slight adjustments to the itinerary happen on every trip and you need to be flexible and accommodating to the needs of the receiving organisation and the communities you'll be visiting.

However it's also common that once on the field, volunteers are offered additional experiences and asked to participate in other unplanned activities. When this occurs, it's important you make sure that you stop and assess the activity and whether it's an ethical choice. 

One common example is being offered opportunities to visit orphanages or other residential care centres.

It often looks like this: the team or individual is in a local community and someone offers to take them to an orphanage, either because they presume this is something that volunteers usually want to do or because they see it as a way to solicit donations.

It may be tempting to take up such an offer, knowing it will add another interesting experience to the trip, however, due to the known harm it causes, it’s important to decline such invitations. This might also be a good opportunity to have a discussion with team members about harms associated with visiting and volunteering in orphanages.

You can use the information and resources found here to better understand the issues relating to residential care.

Taking Photos and posting online

When you see a confronting scene of a child or community, it can be tempting to want to take and post photos without carefully considering if doing so would be ethical or harmful. 

“When we enter a low-income community, we have to adjust our habits and ask ourselves whether we are “doing unto others” well. The stories we are hearing and the scenes we are seeing aren’t ours to share with the rest of the world automatically ... a picture of a hurting, vacant-eyed mother may be emotionally compelling but it doesn’t prioritise her dignity. A picture of you with malnourished, needy looking children may make for a great profile pic but it can treat those children and families as a spectacle.”
— Helping without Hurting, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Remember to continually consider the 10 points outlined in the handout in the link below: 

Interacting with children

Children often can evoke a strong response and when a child is in need it can be hard not to want to respond or intervene in the situation. We may want to show a child extra amounts of love and care or jump straight into finding ways to fill the immediate needs we see. The desire to help is positive but during the trip we need to be very careful how we act in response to children.

For example:
Our desire to show extra love and care to a child may lead us to show physical affection which may be culturally inappropriate, lead to unhealthy attachments which will be broken at the end of the trip, or result in false accusations being made.

Our desire to intervene in response to a perceived child protection or welfare issue may lead to misdiagnosis and harm due to our lack of local knowledge, cultural understanding and language skills.

Therefore it's vital that you continue to refer back to the information you received during your pre-trip child protection training and the guidelines included in the organisation's child protection policy. If you're unsure of how to respond or behave, it's important that you ask questions, get advice from your host organisation or refer the matter to registered child protection agencies for further investigation and consideration. 

Do's and Don'ts during a short-term missions (STM) Trip


Continually ask these questions of yourself:
-"Would it be acceptable and permissible for me to do this within my own country?"
- "Would I be happy if someone else did the same to me or my family?"

Constantly be mindful and put your own desires and expectations aside and prioritise the best interest of the community.

Prioritise relationships over tasks. Take the time to stop and listen to the stories and experiences of the community and your host organisation.

Always seek to highlight and strengthen the community’s capacities, assets and skills.

If in doubt,err on the side of caution.


Spend time alone with children. Always have another adult present if your trip involves working with children.

Intervene and try to fix the issues yourself when faced with concerns regarding a child’s welfare. Instead, report the incident to the local child protection agency or authorities. Consult your host organisation if unsure.

Visit an orphanage even if offered to you by a well-meaning staff or community member.

Replace children’s long-term caregivers or take over the role of their duty bearers for the duration of the trip.

Develop new programs or interventions. Instead, support existing programs or community projects.

Make promises to community members or children even if at the time you plan to keep them.

Remember: Remain mindful of your actions throughout the whole STM trip and stick to your pre-determined ethical standards. This will maximise your impact, enhance your trip satisfaction and give you confidence and peace of mind knowing you did everything you could to contribute towards real and lasting change for overseas ministries and communities.