Building Bridges Statement

The Toolkit was designed to collect and share the know-how on voluntary projects involving people seeking or who have recently found refuge, as well as raising awareness on forced migration in general. The collection of guidelines, methods and case studies is non-exhaustive and should simply foster your own inspiration and support you in implementing projects on the topic. The creation of the Toolkit has been driven by the ever bigger need of the international SCI network to exchange best practices on projects in the field. It was coordinated by SCI Switzerland with the support of Útilapu Hungary. Its existence wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Mercator Foundation Switzerland and the active contribution of the Building Bridges working group and a number of SCI branches.


Here we explain some steps and tips for preparing volunteers for SCI workcamps with asylum seekers and refugees.

    1. Before you start

    Before you start preparing the volunteers and coordinators for your workcamp and activities, it is very important to take into consideration the evaluation and reports of previous projects.

    2. Camp coordinators

    You can find more useful general material about preparing camp coordinators in the SCI Members Area.

    The camp coordinator should attend a general camp coordination training, additionally it is important to prepare the coordinators specifically for working with this target group. Important topics in the preparation are intercultural communication, conflict transformation, global injustice, specifics of the target group (countries and conflicts of the origins of the refugees), knowledge about the asylum seeking procedure and specific group dynamics between target group and volunteers (defining boundaries, self-care).

    Involving the camp coordinator in organising the project is a great way of preparing the coordinator. Possible tasks might be:

    • Make coordinators visit the venue (reception center etc.) beforehand
    • Contact the staff of the venue and speak about the programme, plan the whole project together, discuss possible challenges (e.g. cultural misunderstandings), find out more about the type of venue (Is it a transit center, reception center or another type of venue?). If possible, find out about the group of refugees and migrants you will work with (What is their status? Where are they from?)
    • Check which other NGOs are working in the venue in order not to overlap with the program and to maybe foster some cooperation.
    • Prepare and organise a study part for the volunteers on the asylum process and other major topics related to refugees (e.g. invite an expert of the topic, if possible). Have a look at the methods and tools of the Toolkit to prepare your study part.
    • Prepare a schedule (e.g. in written posters in different languages like Arabic, Farsi, etc.) for the inhabitants of the center some time before the camp in order to make them aware of what is happening during the project, how they can participate and why you are doing this project (including info about your organisation).

    Best practice: In the transit centre workcamp in Lyss, Switzerland camp coordinators became part of a regular team meeting of the staff (social workers) in the reception center and felt included in the center’s team for the time of the project.

    3. Volunteers

    It is important that in the preparation process of volunteers you focus on their learning process as well. It should be two-sided: Make the volunteers reflect on what they can give and what they would like to learn. Include them as much as possible in the planning and organising process of the actual project and activities.

    4. Before the camp

    • Ask the volunteers to write a motivation letter in order to make them aware of their expectations already during the application process or even better organise short online interviews (e.g. Skype) Find out if the objectives and motivation of the volunteer match your project? Are there other criteria you want from volunteers (language skills, experience working with the target group etc.)?
    • Send a well elaborated Infosheet to the volunteers including specific information on the accommodation, the conditions of the camp, (e.g. special rules concerning clothing, behaviour, etc.)
    • Best practices:

      • Clarify the roles inside the team and divide the tasks and responsibilities among team members.
      • Make sure that the project team knows which decisions it can take on its own and which have to be consulted with the partner organisations, funders, etc.
      • Have a coordination team (in case of big groups), that is involved in the planning and in contact with all the parties.
      • Discuss the resources with the group (numbers, time, knowledge of volunteers).
      • Plan time for team building (games, activities etc.).
      • Enable reflection of respect, flow of the group and self-care.

    5. During the camp

    • Introducing house rules and specifics of the venue (cultural sensitivity). E.g. Is it possible to hang around after the program?
    • Preparation and orientation day on the topic on the first days of the camp: There are two different ways of studying the topic in the venue, which can easily be combined:
    1. Informative session, where ”experts” and staff share their knowledge
    2. Interactive discussion (using methods that foster a reflection process among the volunteers, e.g. on asylum, cultural differences).
    • Team building, make sure there is a positive energy within the group in order to enhance work together and increase creativity.
    •  Speak about time management: When do we work? When do we have free time? Where is the space where we can only be within our group? What are the boundaries of our group?

    For some workcamps it is necessary for volunteers to have a training in the workcamp venue, if volunteers are organising the activity themselves or if it is a bigger teaching process done by volunteers that didn’t have experience with this before. Two examples:

    • Theaterflucht (Switzerland): Inexperienced volunteers create a theatre project together with children and theatre experts. During this two-week project, in the first week, volunteers get an introduction into drama and theatre (including methods) by the experts, they visit a reception center and they get info about asylum process. In the second week, they implement what they have learned with a group of children.
    • Global Education school visit camp (Finland): Inexperienced volunteers go to schools to do global education workshops with students. In the one-week preparation the volunteers get orientated into the subject and they prepare the methodology that they will be using in the school visits. In the second week the volunteers go to the schools and implement the workshops that have been planned.

    When you’re designing a project, take care about these points:

    • Flexibility and sensibility of the topic and issues
    • Set up the right expectations of all stakeholders to meet reality
    • More preparation also for the volunteers participating in the workcamp. What do volunteers expect? Do their expectations meet the project’s objectives?
    •  Contribution of the volunteers like taking part in the planning of the program and decision-making.
    • Orientation and preparation day (at least) needed.


    You can share your experience, observations, tips and tricks, pictures etc. by uploading for instance a method or a case study to the Building Bridges Toolkit. As this Toolkit is a work in progress to which all involved parties are invited to contribute, we would also be very grateful for your support and contribution in order to inspire others to continue the work towards peace and intercultural understanding.