Mahmoud – Animateur de chantier
Tips to be an international workcamp leader
Being a leader of any international workcamp is very fun and not easy at the same time but everyone can do it if he wants to do it. If you are going to be a leader for the first time, it can be challenging, so if you like challenges, be ready for this amazing journey.
In this article, I will share with you some tips from my own experience in leading a lot of workcamps and youth exchanges. I hope it will be useful.
As a leader, at the beginning of your workcamp, you need to set some rules in order to ensure commitment from your group. So here are some ideas from my experience:
- BoraBora: which means everyone should speak English. It is not a secret that you will see a different level of English, some people will feel uncomfortable if they are in a group of people and someone was speaking in a language they can’t understand, so it is important to keep reminding your volunteers to keep talking English all the time.
- Respect each other: It is very very important for everyone to respect everyone, if not, be ready for big problems, so you have to keep eyes on this and keep tracking it.
- Having fun: Doing a workcamp without fun is a failure. They have to work for sure but also the fun part is very important.
- Respect the schedule: They came to do something important so it is also important to respect that and be responsible for the job they came for.
- Teamwork: We should be a team, if there is no team, there is no good atmosphere and this will lead to a boring life in the workcamp and problems.
- Personal space: Everyone needs his personal space, so it is important we respect that. Sometimes volunteers want to spend some time by themselves so you should give them that.
- General rules: Like what time to close the light or where to stay if you don’t want to sleep …. It depends on the workcamp itself.
You may have more or fewer rules, it really depends on your workcamp. It is also a good idea to explain the rules by doing activities so it will be more fun like that. Don’t forget to ask your volunteers what rules they want to set so they feel they are involved more.
Remember, these rules are from my experience and it is not necessary you take the same ones, you can always create your own rules.
Also, I would like to share some notes with you to be fully prepared to lead your first international workcamp and do it like a pro:
- In your welcome message or email (before they arrive) try to explain to them what they need to prepare for the workcamp like comfortable shoes or dancing clothes (if you are doing a festival) and if they are using special medicine to bring it with them.
- Always create a WhatsApp group to communicate with your group before they arrive and during their stay, it is easier than email and more usable especially with youth.
- Plan B and Plan C, you never know what could happen during workcamp, for example, if you are planning an outdoor activity and there is rain, then your original plan is over. So you should always be prepared with lots of activity to share it with your group so they won’t feel bored.
- Ask their opinion, let them be part of the lead as well, ask them what they think about something and how they prefer to do staff and what tasks they like to do, let them propose activities if they want.
- You should be the person where the volunteers feel very comfortable to share everything with you.
- Try to avoid sharing your personal opinion and stay on the safe side especially if you are talking about a sensitive subject like the refugee crisis.
- No preferences, be careful to prefer one volunteer over another, they will feel it immediately.
- If someone wants to share something personal with you, listen to them. This means they need to speak and they trust you enough to share it with you. If they keep it inside, it may cause a problem later.
- Communication: you have to talk and talk always, this is the most important rule for you as a leader. Communication can be a great tool to avoid and solve problems.
- Evaluation, it is very important to do it in the middle and end of the workcamp, if necessary, do it every day.
- Learn how to say NO. As a leader, your responsibility is to make sure that the work you have been asked to do is done and your volunteers are having fun. You have to balance between these 2 things and once a while you will have to say no to keep the work going.
- Keep all important numbers with you in case of an emergency.
- Read their application and motivation letter they wrote when they applied to the workcamp. It will help you to understand your volunteers and how to deal with them.
- Always have tools to help you to translate, you may need to use them in case of emergencies like google translate.
- Always mix the volunteers especially in the first week, which means try to change the working group always so the volunteers have the chance to talk to each other more.
- Don’t judge. It is normal that some volunteers do staff you don’t understand, it is a different culture and even if you don’t understand it, it still exists and you can’t ignore it.
- Some volunteers may ask you if they can pray or fast. Help them to do that if they need to, find them the best solution that makes them feel comfortable and do what they believe in.
- Don’t be surprised if a relationship started between 2 volunteers or if they sleep together. That’s a normal thing to happen so be cool about it and be happy for them.
- You are not their babysitter, which means you don’t have to be worried all the time about them and keep asking them if they are ok or not. They are adults and they can manage their lives.
- Don’t be a manager, be a leader, when you have to do a task with your volunteers, be the first one to do it and motivate them especially if they are shy.
- Some volunteers may get drunk, what can you do? First don’t panic, then the only thing you can do is take him/her to his/her bed and let him/her lie down on their left-hand or right-hand. Then make sure their mouth is free in case if they throw up (they will throw up for sure) so, in this case, they will not choke. The next day they will be fine, don’t worry.
- If possible, prepare some medicine like paracetamol or any painkiller. You may need them.
I hope these notes help you to be prepared for your first international workcamp.
Wish you all the best and keep safe.