If you do consider to join a volunteer program involving children make sure to read these tips first. Ella gives writes about do’s and don’ts while volunteering with children.
Lots of volunteer programs involve at least some work with children. For many of them, it is their main focus – this is certainly true of us at Volunteers Peru (we work with young girls at the Casa Hogar Torre Fuerte and students at the Colegio Honofre Benavides School). For this reason, it is important to think about how children will react to volunteers, and what we can do to make sure that their time together is a positive experience on both sides. We have to bear in mind that if we are working with children through an NGO or volunteer program, it is more than likely that that child is currently in a vulnerable or difficult situation, or else has been at some time in the past.
Treat Children With Respect
The first thing to think about when working with children is that they need to be treated with respect. This may seem fairly obvious, but it’s amazing how quickly this can go out of the window: it is all too easy to see a cute little face, go a little gooey, take a picture, and then move on to the next child.
It’s also very important to remember that children, like all people have thoughts, opinions and concerns.
If a child that you are volunteering with asks a question about something, it’s so important to give a clear and honest response. While it can feel easier to sugar coat, or to tell the child what we think that they want to hear, this is rarely the best solution in the long run. In time, the reality of the situation will present itself and the child will be disappointed or upset. This can be damaging both on an individual level, and to the long-term sustainability of a volunteer program.
Be Friendly, But You Don’t Have To Be Their Best Friend
The reason that volunteers work with children is to support them within the remit of the program they are a part of, be that supporting their education or training, their personal and emotional development, or anything else. If a volunteer develops a close personal connection with a particular child or children, then this can contribute to a great experience on both sides (although we must always be careful not to show favoritism).
However, while volunteers should obviously be friendly and open with children, they are not necessarily there to be their best friend – children need and appreciate structure and direction, and this can mean saying no sometimes, or asking them to wait for five minutes while you finish what you’re doing until you give them that next piggy back!
The Myth Of The Resilient Child
The final thing that we must bear in mind when volunteering with children is that they are sensitive to events around them. There is a common school of thought that children are highly resilient and can overcome all kinds of trauma quickly and easily. However, I would argue that while children find coping mechanisms and ways to deal with whatever they have been through (as we all do) they will still be profoundly affected by these experiences.
Volunteers must be sensitive to this and careful not to exacerbate any troubles that the children may have, or have had.
It never ceases to amaze me how people give their time, their money and their efforts to volunteer with children to help them and to make them feel valued and special. In order to achieve this, respect, sensitivity and honesty are absolutely vital.
What do you think about these tips? Are they helpful? Have you had a similar experience when volunteering abroad? Please share it with us. We are looking forward to your feedback!
You are interested and you want to apply for an Volunteers Peru Volunteer program? Click here for a teaching placement. Or click here to support the staff in a girls home. Apply now. Volunteers Peru is waiting for your application!