Interviewing immediate start volunteers continues to be a major activity this week. We are in the troubling position of having more camps wanting to work with us than we have volunteers. We are very grateful for the teachers who have got in touch with us offering support. But as the conditions can be quite challenging it is very important that we talk to each volunteer and ensure that they are well placed to be successful in the volunteering.
There is sometimes a considerable degree of physical hardship. Teaching can take place outside in bright sun or in cold weather. Even when it takes place inside, it may be under leaky canvas, under a ripped sun screen or in wooden huts. There isn’t always heating, air conditioning or even electricity available. When the conditions are challenging we try to get teachers out of the camps every couple of hours to warm up (or cool down) and to use hygienic facilities. It isn’t like teaching or working in any normal environment so volunteers definitely need to have a pioneering spirit.
We also need volunteers to have a positive mindset. We constantly encounter set backs as equipment is stolen and broken. If there are security issues teachers may not even be able to get into the camp on some days. Its really important that volunteers can be cheerful in the face of these set backs, otherwise negative comments from a volunteer can degrade the spirit of the whole teaching team.
Emotional resilience is another key quality which we look for. Volunteers will see the children they are working with disappear and they can hear harrowing tales of violence and intimidation. Of course they will sympathise and feel upset, but it is very important that they are able to manage their emotions in the work place. A volunteer teacher who is overcome with emotion is less likely to be an effective teacher. And whilst we can feel sad about what has happened in the past, the reason we are there is to create a more positive future for the children. If volunteers are overcome by emotion, then they are less able to build that better future and so they run the risk of letting the children down. Managing emotions in the work place is therefore a very important part of what we need volunteers to be able to do.
A third quality which is very important is intellectual flexibility and adaptability. The environment in the camps is constantly changing as incidents occur, as people come and go and as equipment appears and disappears. It is not impossible for a teacher to turn up one day to find that all their chairs have disappeared. Or they may turn up to a teaching tent to find that pegs or poles have gone missing during the night. These things happen. What we need is for volunteers to think creatively and thoughtfully about what we can do in order to keep teaching moving in these unexpected situations. When we are meeting volunteers for the first time, we sometimes ask them to meet us in refugee camps, or community centres. Some volunteers will use their initiative, do their research and make it without any further ado. Others will cross reference back to us, asking us for further information about busses, or trains or directions. Generally our most successful volunteers are the former showing initiative.
Ultimately we need a good degree of courage and self confidence in volunteers. We need volunteers who are willing to take risks carefully and to sometimes step outside of their comfort zones. For example, we work abroad where people drive on the right. Teachers who are comfortable driving in England are sometimes less comfortable with the idea of driving on the right. Our most effective volunteers are the people who rise to challenges like this and try, even if they are initially nervous about it.