Archive Monthly Archives: August 2020

Volunteer-beneficiary: a complex and specific relationship.

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we learnt and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers four lessons we learnt those past four years.

A journey is a story of landscapes, noises and flavours, bodies and faces, discoveries and encounters. This becomes even truer when travelling to volunteer – being part of a team, working alongside people from all walks and sizes to accompany, support and empower migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker people.

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 3/4

Volunteer-beneficiary: a complex and specific relationship.

Welcoming them all, meeting new faces every day, recognizing some as time goes on, one may find themselves share common tastes or thoughts, privileged moments or conversations and create a beautiful bond with one or a few beneficiaries. From human to human, suddenly connecting, beyond prejudice and borders.

However, one should not forget the specific framework and complexity of the volunteer-beneficiary relationship. Any interaction between a volunteer, working for an NGO whose mission is to accompany and support a specific group of vulnerable people, and one of its beneficiaries, implies an undeniable power dynamic. The former indeed finds themselves in a position of material, legal and existential stability and comfort while the latter surely lives in precarious conditions preventing them to navigate the environment as easily and freely, and therefore requiring some help or assistance. Keeping this in mind, working with a will to empower is a way to challenge this hierarchical relationship and give the beneficiaries the access, knowledge and means to achieve their own autonomy so that they, one day, do not need those services anymore.

In such conditions, deepened ties with one beneficiary may inevitably lead to some kind of favouritism in a framework where neutrality and equal treatment for all is required, to the detriment – and perhaps incomprehension of all the others. Beneficiaries may as well believe that, by tying strong links with volunteers, they could have an easier access to goods or services – housing or money, to the risk of establishing a situation of dependency.

Therefore, while approaching beneficiaries with benevolence, warmth and kindness is important and precious, being aware of the conditions, limits and asymmetry of the relationship one, as a volunteer in their work space, can build with vulnerable people they are in charge of accompanying and supporting on their way towards self-reliance and autonomy, is essential. 

And this, to achieve one’s mission as a volunteer to its best – that is, to empower all.

Getting ready.

Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we learnt and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers four lessons we learnt those past four years.

Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 2/4

Getting ready.

Now that you have reflected on your will to help and take action by volunteering, time has come to get ready for the adventure.

As you will have understood it by now, volunteering is not a common experience. Flying abroad to work for an NGO is not like taking a vacation – and it can actually be better! That is why, as any work and any adventure, volunteering requires preparation and planning, curiosity and learning.

Buy a guide, surf the Internet, and ask questions! Get to know the culture of the country and area you are travelling to, memorize a few words of the local language, list the places to visit and sites to discover in order to immerse yourself in this unknown culture.

But do not stop there!

Volunteering with refugee, asylum seeker and migrant people in Greece or Athens does not only mean getting familiar with Greeks’ culture and habits, best dishes and music. Meeting people from all walks and sizes, arriving in Europe from Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or the Middle-East, implies to be informed on all of this too – their origins, cultures and paths, while always remembering every individual has their own story. Educating yourself on what it means to be a migrant, an asylum seeker or a refugee – in general and, more precisely, the Greek situation ; the countries those people mostly come from and the common motives for their migration, as well as the challenges and hardships they may have been through, is very important before starting to volunteer.

Indeed, ignoring those preparatory steps may lead to some misunderstanding or negative reaction from people whose interaction codes, beliefs and values are different. If discomfort is important and mistakes necessary, learning about people’s backgrounds and making an effort to think differently, look at the world from another perspective, is both a form of respect and an enriching and humbling human experience.

Which is the whole point of the journey, right? 

August Volunteers

Our registry of volunteers for the month of August 2020.