Help Restore Dignity – All people deserve dignity. Many of the people you will encounter will have been through serious trauma, which is the norm. Given the need to retain dignity, do not allow yourself to only offer pity. Pity will not help them – it will break you down, make you unable to lend effective assistance, and in many ways, single the recipients out in an environment flooded with equally devastating stories. Pity steals from them, a precious and needed commodity – dignity.
Avoid Hero Syndrome – Keep in mind you’re not the hero The only people who fit the definition are those already in the camp. They have spent upwards of two months, traveling by foot, undergoing all manners of indignation along the way, and still remain optimistic, helpful, and incredibly concerned for the wellbeing and success of the volunteers. Always understand that they’ve demonstrated heroic attributes and that you’re simply there to help. You’re “Alfred.”
Acknowledge Leadership – If you’re the “Alfred”, then they’re the Batman’s and Batgirl’s, making them the leaders. You will encounter those in the camp who are natural born leaders. These are well respected people that can be instrumental in the successful implementation of camp protocols, medical assistance, translation, food and clothing distribution, and keeping the peace. Leverage their natural leadership and cultural understanding to make your volunteer efforts relevant and helpful.For example, we began a distribution center, but it would have failed without the input from several refugees who stepped forward to address cultural sensitivities, and nuances. Ask any refugee, “how would you do it?” and the answer will most likely solve your problem.
Keep Your Sense of Humor – If the answers they provide throughout your active engagement with them answer your questions, then the other answers will usually be a joke of some kind. Going back to No. 1, dignity is important, as is hope. A smile or a joke go a long way. Have you ever noticed smiles are usually returned? They’re somewhat contagious, so don’t forget yours when you get there.
Be Honest (even if honesty stings) – Your word is your bond. They will ask serious questions, and they deserve a serious answer. If you don’t know, then say so, and if you offer to find out, then find out. They’ve been cheated, abused, lied to, and while they may not speak the language perfectly, they will be able to smell your BS a mile away. Never lie to them, and always be honest with them.