Can I just say that as someone who doesn’t get home from work till at least 9:15 PM, it’s excruciating to be at a conference across town at 8:00 AM.
Luckily, it was worth it. It wasn’t one of those overwhelming conferences with so many people that you don’t get a chance to meet anyone. I made some great connections with community partners and potential volunteers. I also enjoyed the concurrent sessions immensely.
The first session I attended was Preparing and Supporting Volunteers Who Work with Victims of Torture. The presenter, Jane, a volunteer with CVT, was fantastic. Key takeaway:
- it’s best for teachers and volunteers to not ask about it; students will talk about it when/if they want to.
- remember that Teacher is a powerful position – students may feel obligated to answer the Teacher even if it’s not something they want to talk about.
- if it comes up in class, it’s ok to say something like “I’m so sorry to hear that. It must have been very difficult,” pause, and then gently move the class back to topic.
- it can be powerful for the students just to have someone believe them when they say that terrible things that happened to them. They don’t necessarily need or want follow-up questions.
- need-to-know: if volunteers ask what happened to so-and-so, you can give them general, pertinent information focused on the student’s abilities without going into details. They don’t need to know what guerrilla army used what implements to beat the student for how long. They need to know that the student has an old head injury from the war that makes his hands shake, so he needs someone to write for him.
- volunteers can do great presentations for your organization
The second session was Cross-Cultural Training Activities for Volunteers. The presenter, Claudia, was knowledgable and funny. I didn’t get as much take-away from this session as I’d hoped. It was more of an overview than a bunch of concrete activities as I’d hoped, but it was still valuable.
- what kind of cultural awareness training do you provide your volunteers? Is nothing enough?
- the DIE model: basically description, then subjective inference, and then judgment. Especially when there’s conflict, anger, frustration, etc., try to take it back to the “description” stage of what actually happened. It helps diffuse and untangle.
The third session was Positioning Your Volunteer Program for Success. Heather is one of those extremely motivated, high-energy, “I can do anything and have probably done it already” people who also somehow manages to make it seem possible for you to do anything also. I highly recommend going to any presentation she gives. Ever. On anything.
- give presentations about your program’s stories to stakeholders in and out of the organization any time you can. Even just a 10-minute presentation can be really powerful.
- don’t forget about the board. Do they know you?
- give more information than was asked for, creatively. For example, she submitted pictures along with her end of year stats, and they loved it!
- she had fantastic, thorough presentation materials that will probably take me another hour or two to go through. They’re conversation starters, self-audits, top ten tips, further training resources, etc. She handed me the tools to make my program better over time. Fantastic.