Miscommunication and unintentional mistakes are bound to happen between international volunteers and local communities. Getting adjusted to a new culture, people, and environment can be overwhelming for even the most rational person, and that’s why it’s super important to volunteer with an “on the ground” organization that can help international volunteers to get acclimated to their new surroundings. Having a support system to tell you the do’s and don’ts, and help you to avoid common pitfalls, is necessary for volunteers to successfully make a positive impact in the community. However, volunteering with an indigenous community might be all the more complicated–even for the more modern population in the country!
That’s why working with an indigenous community will require even more care and sensitivity than any other volunteer program. It is essential to be open, compassionate, understanding, and to respect the rights of the indigenous populations. Here’s a guide to help you prepare for volunteering with an indigenous community.
Develop Significant Relationships
Relationships are a fundamental value of indigenous cultures around the world, especially relationships often overlooked by modern society including those with the environment, the spiritual world, and our ancestors.
For volunteers, this means developing relationships with the people in the communities and the land that provides the food and foundation on which the community depends. Treading lightly, working with, and never against, the community, and accepting your position in their circle, while being open to learning and working various roles, is essential to gaining trust and acceptance.
In addition, remaining positive and open to truly learning about the indigenous way of life will be an integral part of your own personal development.
Conduct Thorough Research
Research is super important in understanding the issues the community faces, and to what extent and capacity your assistance would be most beneficial.
Take time to learn about the history and culture, and the political and social influence of the community you’re working with. Without conducting the research needed to make a true connection, you risk the chance of remaining blind to the colonial implications inflicted upon the community, and not fully understanding the issues they face.
Understand Your Role
The Indigenous Community Volunteer Program with Maximo Nivel in no way forces projects upon the people. Instead, the indigenous communities themselves are forward about the kind of help they want and need, and the project managers then communicate that need to the volunteers interested in getting involved.
Because of the traditional values many of the indigenous communities still hold, you might find yourself assisting with “gender-based” responsibilities. Again, sensitivity and understanding are necessary. Understand that your role is based on what they feel best suits your abilities, and traditionally, men fare better with more laborious roles, while the women tend to be responsible for the domestic chores. Regardless, everyone’s positions are respected, and it is understood that one cannot function without the other.
Assess Your Success
Typically, your relationships with various members of the group, and especially your host family, will be a good determiner for how impactful your assistance was. In addition, you will want to consider your own personal development and transformation, the education and knowledge you gained about the community and their cultural values, how your relations with the community members evolved, and to what extent you received the acceptance and respect of the group.
Working alongside an indigenous group takes commitment and an open heart. It’s about honing your compassion and dedication to the uplifting of a community with traumatic and oppressive histories, and being patient in learning, growing, and fostering positive relationships with one another, and the planet.
If you’re ready to truly immerse yourself in an experience unlike any other and begin to bridge the gap between modern and traditional values, volunteering with an indigenous community might be the perfect opportunity for you!