Volunteer Code of Conduct – Do You Have One?

I recently came upon an organization out of Nepal called Social Treks that has a great volunteer code of conduct on their site, parts of it are pasted below. It raises a good question, do you have a a volunteer code of conduct and what are you including in that document?

From the Social Treks site:

We acknowledge that volunteers want to be responsible but are often not aware of the issues and appropriate codes of conduct. This document is not intended to be exhaustive but it does highlight a number of issues and provide guidelines, which will help you to:

•    Ensure your own personal safety  
•    Show respect to the local communities, customs and value systems

General Guidelines

•    At all times respect your coordinators and/or local hosts advice; they are experienced professionals and are there to ensure you enjoy your experience but not at the expense of others or the wildlife you have come to enjoy
•    If you are unsure or concerned about anything ask your coordinators and/or local hosts
•    Water is a valuable asset in the world. Use water sparingly and wisely.  Herewith are some tips to help you:
•    Never leave water taps running (even when brushing your teeth or washing your hands etc) and close them tightly when finished
•    Report dripping taps to hotel staff or home stay owner, as relevant
•    Do not request bath towels to be changed every day unless really necessary.
•    Shower rather than bathe and do not linger longer than necessary (where the choice is available)
•    When bathing use water sparingly
•    In village home stays, water will have be fetched by hand, in some cases a few kilometers away (not applicable in urban townships), you will normally be provided with a bucket of water for washing which is totally sufficient.
•    Never contaminate natural water sources with litter or chemicals such as soap and shampoo etc there are bio-products available on the market, which are suitable.

Cultural Awareness Guidelines

Remember at all times that in many instances the local culture may differ substantially from your personal views and value systems.  Yours are not necessarily right and theirs wrong just different, respect these differences and enjoy the unique opportunity to broaden your knowledge.

•    Do not go uninformed and unprepared into an interactive cultural experience.  Find out before hand how you should behave and to show appropriate respect. Here your coordinator or local host is available to you.
•    Make sure you are aware of relevant social issues, such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and water etc; pertaining to the area or culture you are visiting.  This will enable you to gain a better perspective.
•    Remember culture is dynamic and not all cultural activities are based on the contemporary way of life but may also be based on a traditional way of life of a bygone era.  Accept these for what they are by acknowledging the difference and value in celebrating past and present cultural differences.
•    Your coordinator and/or local hosts will brief you on the cultural sensitivities specific to the area you are visiting and how you can minimise potential negative impacts of your behaviour on the local community (e.g. most appropriate dress code when in local villages, when attending traditional ceremonies etc.)
•    Take special consideration of and respect for gender issues to which you may have a different viewpoint.  Without a full understanding of the culture, which you cannot hope to acquire on a short visit, you cannot afford to challenge these.  Ask questions in an attempt to get clarity but it is not for you to pass judgment.
•    It is important to note cultural perspectives surrounding nudity.  These differ from area to area in Nepal and between ethnic groups.
•    Take up opportunities to exchange culture with the local community in authentic settings and with willing participants.  There are many cultural tourist traps, which are out of context and for economic exploitation.
•    Always be polite and respectful to local people and show respect by asking before taking pictures. socialtours strongly discourages payment be made for the privilege. When photographing children ask for their parents’ consent first.
•    Begging is a major problem in many areas.  It is a sensitive issue and touches on the huge divide that exists between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  One thing that we should all agree on is it is a distasteful practice not specifically for the visitor but also for the communities it affects.
•    If you are able, make a personal contribution to a local community development project in the area you have visited (e.g. local school, clinic, farming project, etc.). Channel this through the coordinator and it will go to the right hands and follow the right process. Do not get excited about how cheap development may look like in this part of the world. Every action has long lasting ramifications, hence due care has to be given to channel funds appropriately.
•    Although children may ask you for money or sweets, and it may make you feel good to give, please refrain.  The giving of cash or sweets does not help in the long term – it only perpetuates an underlying problem.  
•    Remember at all times that most children have parents, and as the family providers, any giving should come from the parents.
•    Remember at all times that in any cultural exchange / interaction the desired outcome is for you to depart in the knowledge that you have done your best to leave positive impressions with you hosts.  Be tourism ambassadors!

Responsible Travel Guidelines

As a traveler, you have a role to play in Responsible Tourism. We can provide a framework to achieve our goals but as a traveler your actions whilst on holiday and your choice of tour operator have considerable part to play. We always provide guidelines in our pre-departure information for the places that we visit and you are welcome to talk to our leaders about any specific queries you may have.

The following advice we hope covers some of the more important issues to be aware of during your travels.

Environmental issues

1. Never buy products that exploit wildlife or aid the destruction of species or habitats. Do not buy souvenirs made from endangered species, like ivory; doing so will only encourage the trade.
2. Consider what you really need to take with you. Waste disposal systems in many countries are ill equipped to deal with the increased pressures that tourism brings, and a few simple measures can make an enormous difference to the effect you have on your destination. Where possible remove the wrapping of packaged goods before you leave: unwrap soaps and take bottles out of boxes.
3. Pick up your litter as you would at home: bottles, cans, plastic, cigarette butts, apart from being unsightly, can be deadly to wild animals.
4. Take environmentally friendly detergents and shampoos for hand and hair washing, and use as little as possible. This will help to keep valuable fresh water supplies, rivers, streams and the sea free from pollution. Always take a bucket or similar and wash well away from the water source to prevent the ingredients of soap polluting someone else’s drinking water.
5. Remember that in many places fresh water is a very precious commodity and should not be wasted, so use a minimum for showering and washing.
6. Where any toilet facilities exist, however unsavoury, they should be used. Where they do not, always bury your waste and make sure it is never near, (at least 30m) from a water source.
7. Although we insist that our guides maintain suitable distances from wildlife, allowing the animal a suitable escape distance, there is always a temptation to get closer. For this reason we recommend that you don’t encourage your guide or driver to get closer to the animals than is acceptable and to take the most powerful lens for your camera you can get. Never feed animals and never attempt to touch them.

Social issues

We hope that those who choose to travel with socialtours.com do so with a genuine desire to enhance their holiday by learning more about the people of the host community.

1. It’s quite easy in a small, simple community to appear to be an arrogant rich foreigner, so be aware of the feelings of other people, and try to avoid giving offence. Learning even a little of the local language can help reduce these barriers. Take note of dress codes and appropriate photography. Your PMT can advise you.
2. Always ask permission before taking pictures of people, ritual events or special places like shrines. If people seem reluctant or look away then don’t take a picture. Be careful not to cause offence through thoughtlessness.
3. Ask your guide for advice on how to respond to begging and about appropriate gifts. It is usually better, for example, to give school materials or local food treats as a group, through the leader, to the school head or village head; just handing out sweets encourages children to be a nuisance by begging, and may well ruin their teeth in a place where there is no dental service.
4. Extravagant displays of wealth such as ostentatious jewelry and technological gadgetry can be an incitement to robbery, as well as accentuating the gap between rich and poor.

Economic issues

1. Try to buy locally made crafts and support local skills and do not simply buy on price but on value to you: bargaining for a lower price for both souvenirs and services is often the accepted and expected custom, but don’t drive a hard bargain just for the sake of it.
2. Try the local food and specialties. Many rural areas around the world are under threat from a reduction in their agricultural base and by eating locally produced goods you will help the local farmers as well as the local economy.

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