Training is an increasingly important aspect of attracting, supporting, retaining and rewarding volunteers. Volunteering with children can have a negative effect if done without the right training. Right to Smile takes a very important approach to protect the children we work for and we believe training of volunteers is important for both the protection of children & the outcome of the volunteer program.
In December 2016, Right 2 Smile embarked on a Training Needs Assessment. We recognised that we needed guidance on how to improve our training and preparation programme for volunteers before they go on their experience abroad. What better guidance is there then from past volunteers themselves who went on the projects and could express the gaps they felt?
A new role in the organization was identified. Gillian Balani was appointed as Volunteer Development Manager. The aim was to upgrade the volunteer program.
We conducted the training needs assessment via three methods: interviews, questionnaires and brainstorming sessions.
For interviews, we chose volunteers who had been on more than one project, showed extensive interest in Right 2 Smile or had mixed feelings about the experience. We invited them to one-to-one interviews were we asked a series of questions. We also interviewed staff/volunteer staff.
For the questionnaire, we emailed all our past volunteers asking them to give us feedback.
For the brainstormin sessions, we handpicked a mixed group of volunteers (who visited different projects) and volunteer staff to give their input, although not all were able to make it.
We focused on these aspects:
- The current recruitement and preparation process (frequency, length of time, topics and general preparedness)
- How prepared volunteers felt for the host culture, working with the children, lifestyle and living conditions
- How informed they felt about Right 2 Smile’s role and how funds are utilised
- What training topics they can identify (helping skills, teaching skills, community development, intercultural communication, cultural norms, children’s rights and development etc) and any other suggestions
- Frustrations, gaps and challenges
Results showed that some volunteers struggled to understand their role, and that of Right 2 Smile on the project.
“A lot of emphasis was put on the importance of explaining the role of the volunteer within the organisation, as well as their role while on the project. There must be an understanding that the volunteers input towards the organisation will have an output towards the project, taking on a more global view rather then focusing on the individual level of output – the view of the volunteer role as fuel to keep the fire going and growing. Without volunteers, the work is not possible.”
Some commented about how they felt their skills and time could have been utilised better. Volunteers who spent time in classrooms such as on the Cambodia project identified teacher training skills as an asset. Most of the frustrations mentioned were related to cultural differences. This is expected and can be address in cultural training. The volunteers mentioned wishing to get to know the group better before the experience together and that Right 2 Smile could facilitate more team-building type meetings.
Overall, when asked if they felt prepared, 76.5% replied yes. The strongest training needs them emerged were teaching skills, cultural norms and children’s rights, needs and development. Majority (79.2%) welcomed on-site workshops during their experience abroad too.
A challenge was identified in recruitement – should we host interviews and choose the groups or should we keep them generic, mixed, as they are now? Currently, Right 2 Smile does not choose the group participants, the first ten applicants are given a place, as long as they can commit. The idea behind this is that we believe everyone has something to offer and why should we deny the opportunity to someone based on a ten minute interview? How can we choose?
New training programme
Following this, we intensified our volunteer screening process, asking for police conducts and giving child protection training to safeguard the children we work with. This is the basic and most needed screening we currently do. We have also improved our online application form so as to identify better a person’s skills and strengths and understand how they can contribute to the project better prior to arrival.
Through the training needs assessment, we identified a structure for preparation meetings and workshops which should give volunteers all the necessary information they need, the mental and emotional preparation both individually and as a group and beyond that, give food for thought about development work.
The meetings are as follows:
- Welcomg meeting
- How Right 2 Smile works (information about accounts and funding system)
- Project and Fundraising meeting (project is explained as well as information on how to fundraise ethically)
- Workshop 1 – Intrapersonal and Interpersonal skills
- Workshop 2- Culture
- Workshop 3 – Children and community development (and teaching skills)
Workshops enable us to be more efficient – all groups can meet, with a trained facilitator and hold a session as an individual group while joining with the larger group for information-giving. This system aided team-building immensely and already we are seeing more united groups.
All Right 2 Smile’s policies are given and explained to the volunteers and they sign their agreement to abide by them.
- Volunteer Policy
- Ethical fundraising Policy
- Photography and Social Media Policy
- Child Protection Policy
We also hold a social night, for volunteers to meet in a relaxed environment prior to the first group taking off.
On-site workshops were also introduced while the volunteers are abroad, to add to the educational and reflective element of the 3 week programmes. These include workshops on voluntourism, poverty and media, fair trade and ethical consumerism as well as cultural movies and open discussions.
For long-term volunteers, more in-depth training was identified including leadership training, self-care, understanding the NGO you represent, cultural preparation and job training for their role.