Mistakes to Avoid when Training Volunteers

The folks at Volunteer Teacher Thailand offered up this great blog post about mistakes they’ve seen made when training volunteers. I think its a great list to start with, what would you add from your experience??

1. Fail to explain the problems volunteers are addressing within the specific cultural environment. It is vital to give volunteers – caring, intelligent people but probably lacking local knowledge – a clear understanding of the local culture and how they fit into it. They need to know the root causes of the problem, how it is being tackled, how they are helping and what difference they are making to the local people, animals or environment.

2. Fail to explain local cultural etiquette, acceptable ways to dress and the kind of behaviour that local people will find respectful and will, in turn, respect. This extends, importantly, into conveying that volunteers are serving the local people and need to adapt to the culture.

3. Fail to explain in detail what the volunteer work involves and how to do it. Getting the best from volunteers and leaving them satisfied with their experience is a skill that should include carefully and kindly making sure everyone knows: a) the work and how to do it; b) the structure of the work, when and where, and the time off; and c) the respect felt by the organisers for people giving their time, within or outside their professional skills, to improve the chances, say, of 500 poor children a week learning English.

4. Fail to balance work demands. Too little work for volunteers is as bad as too much; and the tasks need to take into account the volunteer’s ability and suitability to undertake them.

5. Fail to give constant onsite supervision, help and training. This needs to be done lightly, with tact and with the understanding that the volunteer is a person of value who just has not come across this kind of situation before. The worst mistake is to let anyone take this coordinating/training role who thinks it is a personal ego trip. Post-service help should include a certificate and an open invitation to ask for an employment reference.


This list of training mistakes was compiled by staff volunteers at Volunteer Teacher Thailand, which gives English lessons in schools and among adults in the tsunami-hit areas of southern Thailand. Further details on VTT’s website at www.volunteerteacherthailand.org


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