Good pre-trip planning sets the short-term missions short-term missions (STM) trip up for success.
Solid on-field strategies allow the team to navigate the unexpected and keep the trip on an ethical course.
STM missions trips will never be entirely predictable. There are usually a few surprises, unexpected reactions and challenges that the best planning efforts couldn't foresee. Simple measures outworked during the course of the trip can support the team to stay on track and aligned with your STM program's goals and ethical framework.
Organise for the receiving organisation or team leader (where they have sufficient experience) to host an on-field orientation session at the start of the trip.
This is an opportunity to:
- introduce the team to the organisation, staff and programs;
- discuss logistical considerations for the trip;
- revisit child safeguarding and social media guidelines;
- discuss cultural do's and don'ts; and
- give teams an opportunity to ask questions, air concerns and express any fears they have.
Proactively manage the common stumbling blocks
There are a few common things that typically require reinforcement throughout the trip. They include:
PHOTO TAKING AND THE APPROPRIATE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
STM often exposes team members to things they've never seen, witnessed or envisaged before. It's entirely understandable why their first reaction is to reach for their smartphone or camera.
As a team leader, be proactive in managing this. When you brief the team each day at breakfast, or in the vehicle on the way to a community or project, remind them of what they can and can't take photos of and share on social media with respect to that day's activities.
Designate a team photographer and remind team members of the importance of being fully present with communities, not half-hidden behind their phones. Additionally,
- inform team members when it's inappropriate to take photos;
- limit the amount of people taking photos at once (e,g, designate a team photographer);
- address the consequences of non-compliance to an organisation's communication guidelines; and
- help team members question their motivations for taking and posting photos online.
INTERACTING WITH CHILDREN
Children can often evoke a strong response and when a child is in need, it can be hard for teams not to want to respond or intervene in the situation. This may lead to a team behaving inappropriately or wanting to intervene in a child protection or welfare issue.
Therefore it's also important that members of the receiving organisation and the team leader:
- provide clear guidance of appropriate behaviours and boundaries when going into situation where teams will be engaging or working directly with children;
- address the consequences of non-compliance to an organisation's child protection policies; and
- guide team members to report child protection concerns through the right channels.
MAKING CHANGES TO THE ORIGINAL ITINERARY
Slight adjustments to the itinerary happen on every trip and it's important that teams and individuals are flexible and accommodating to the receiving organisation and communities' needs.
It's also common that once on the field, teams or individuals are offered additional experiences and asked to become involved other activities. However, it's important that when changes are made, we still use an ethical framework and make sure it doesn't compromise our ethical standards.
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 guide your discussions or to direct team members to read.
Importance of supervision
During the trip, it's important that the receiving organisation makes sure there is always a staff member or representative with the team when they are working in, or interacting with, the community, or at project sites,
If the team will have direct contact with children, it's important to ensure you have sufficient staff to uphold the two adult rule at all times and that team members are not left unsupervised with children.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The receiving organisation staff member/representative:
- can answer any of the team’s questions regarding what is appropriate behaviour;
- is another person to help keep everyone accountable, which limits the risk of a child protection incident occurring; and
- can prevent the team from doing something that is ill-advised, inappropriate or for which they are inadequately prepared or skilled.
End Of the trip
A field debrief at the end of the trip, facilitated by members of the receiving organisation, is an important step for teams to:
- reflect on the trip experiences and lessons learnt;
- discuss how the team can stay connected to and up-to-date with the organisation post departure; and
- provide opportunity for thank yous and farewells.