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close this bookPersonal Safety in Cross-Cultural Transition (Peace Corps)
close this folderUnit three: Volunteer workshop on handling difficult situations and peer counseling
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Part one

TRAINERS' NOTE: This may be done as an evening session prior to the full day conference, or as the first part of the morning activities. Either way it is to introduce the participants to the workshop, clarify expectations, and begin to release some of the emotions which may be associated with this workshop.

Welcome and Goals of Workshop

1a. Welcome participants and introduce the trainer(s) and guests. If you feel the group needs an icebreaker, choose one you are most comfortable leading.

1b. Ask participants to briefly explain what they expect from the workshop. List these on newsprint to compare them with the goals.

[10 min]

1c. Share with them the outline of the workshop and goals. Highlight which, if any, of their expectations will not be met.

Introduction to Session

2a. Set tone of workshop by stressing that safety is something that we have all thought about and handled in the U.S. A sample intro follows:

[5 min]

"Safety is something we read about, we learn things not to do and to do; and we internalize messages throughout our lives.

The way we deal with a situation (uncomfortable ones and risky ones) is culture-specific. For example, when someone solicits money in the States, you may respond by saying "I don't wish to contribute" or "I don't have any change.. In Mauritania you say a God will provide for you." Both ways clearly tell the person no. (Provide an example you are comfortable with.)

We learn how to handle situations from our parents, media, stories, and by trial and error. By the time we are adults we know pretty much how to deal with them.

Entering a new environment may temporarily throw us for a loop as some of our ways of dealing with situations may not work. For example, eye contact in a small town will not get the same results as in New York. We need to relearn some of the culturally appropriate ways for dealing with situations. a

2b. Conclude by acknowledging that the participants have begun to understand how to handle their personal safety in the host country. This workshop will allow them to examine what they have learned and increase their skills in handling situations which are difficult or threatening.

Participants' Experiences

[20 min]

3a. Ask participants to work in small groups (five to six people) to identify the situations which a) have made them feel most threatened during their service and b) have been most frustrating to them.

These situations should be put on newsprint and posted so others can review them.

TRAINERS' NOTE: This activity can generate emotional responses of anger, frustration, or both. The small group is an opportunity to discharge some of the emotional response and share similar situations. You do not want it to get out of hand, but allow enough time for some discussion and exchange to take place. The workshop will be covering strategies for dealing with the most threatening situations and the most frustrating situations. You will need to let the participants know you will be returning to these situations.

3b. After the groups post their lists, compare and discuss any similarities and differences. Explain that the workshop will be looking at precautions to take for the threatening situations, and strategies for handling the most frustrating situations. Bridge to the next activity.

[5 min]

Personal Safety Precautions

4a. Explain that there are obviously unpredictable or uncontrollable situations, but for the most part there are precautions we can take to reduce the risks from threatening situations.

4b. Ask participants to break into two groups and generate advice they would give to new Volunteers entering the host country. The advice should cover the following areas:

[30-40 min]

Sample Flipchart
- Traveling on public transport
- Looking for a living situation
- Meeting new people
- Shopping
- Walking in the cities and anything else that may have been mentioned as threatening

Their advice should be listed on newsprint so it can be compared.

Have host country representatives participate in the small groups, adding any culturally specific ways of handling these situations.

4c. Have participants post and compare their advice. Point out similarities and differences.

4d. Lead a discussion on the following questions.

- Now that you've been here and feel "at home" in (host country), how did it feel to be giving someone advice on how to be safe?

[10 min]

- How are new Volunteers more at risk than you are?

Give handout 1 as a summary of advice given to new Volunteers.

TRAINERS' NOTE: You are looking for a discussion on how to balance caution with an appreciation of the culture and experience. Volunteers do not want others to be paranoid, but they do want them to be cautious. It will take time, discussion, and observation to learn which situations to avoid and which ones are okay.

4e. Summarize this part by explaining that some concrete behaviors can reduce the risk of personal assault. However, there are some situations which are not as easily handled by putting a lock on a door or not walking down a street. These situations are more often interpersonal.

[5 min]

TRAINERS' NOTE: If this is an evening session you can break here and explain what will be covered during the next day's session. If you are doing this as part of the first day, this is a convenient place to break.

Social and Work Situations Which May Be Problematic

5a. Explain that the precautions discussed earlier are helpful for specific threatening situations. However, the more frustrating and awkward situations are not the ones handled by a lock or some other prevention. These are interpersonal situations which may involve work or social relationships. They are dealt with by presenting ourselves verbally and non-verbally.

[5 min]

5b. Distribute handouts 2 and 3. After participants read the critical incidents, ask the following:
- Were these situations similar to any they have faced?
- How would they/did they feel in these situations?
- What contributed to these situations?

[10-15 min]

TRAINERS' NOTE: The situations result from the Volunteers' inability to effectively set limits on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This involves being able to assert themselves. Elicit this information from trainees and use it to bridge to next step.

Reasons Why We Don't Assert Ourselves

6a. Explain that had Joe and Julie been able to say no without feeling guilty, or been able to explain what was important for them, the situation may not have grown to be so awkward.

6b. Share with participants some of the reasons why Joe, Julie, and all of us may have difficulty asserting ourselves.

[5 min]

- not wanting to hurt someone's feelings
- wanting to fit in/be accepted
- different expectations
- feeling inferior
- mixed messages being given
- self-doubts
- not knowing how to
- not wanting to appear rude/angry

TRAINERS' NOTE: If you are not familiar with this material, read some of the background articles so that you will be able to explain this to participants.

Assertion vs Aggression

7a. Explain that there are three ways of handling situations: non-assertively, assertively, and aggressively. Each one may be appropriate in certain situations. However, the Volunteer needs to know which one is most appropriate for different situations, and how to act in these different ways.

7b. Explain that there is a difference between asserting oneself and acting aggressively. Many people think that if they are assertive they will be perceived as aggressive. Briefly explain the differences:

[10-15 min]

ASSERTIVE: Describes occasions in which individuals stand up for themselves in ways that do not violate others' rights. It means respecting oneself; valuing oneself and treating oneself with as much intelligence, consideration, and good will as any human being deserves.

NON-ASSERTIVE: Means giving up one's rights in deference to others.

AGGRESSIVE: Describes occasions in which people stand up for their rights in ways that violate others' rights. Usually results in a put-down of others.

7c. Have participants provide examples of each type of behavior to ensure they recognize the difference.

TRAINERS' NOTE: Participants may feel that aggressive behavior is appropriate in some situations. This is true. However, they should be made aware of the consequences of aggressive behavior as well as non-assertive behavior. Demonstrate that if they wish to maintain, or if they must maintain, a relationship with a person, assertive behaviors may be more appropriate. Aggressive behaviors tend to terminate or detract from establishing a mutually respectful ongoing relationship.

6d. Share handout 4, "Assertive Rights", and ask for any reactions.

6e. Explain that these concepts are universal people can be assertive, nonassertive, or aggressive in any culture. The components of being assertive may change from culture to culture.

[5 min]

6f. Ask participants to review Joe and Julie's situations and discuss how they might handle the situations assertively.

[5 min]

Role Playing Assertive Behavior

7a. Have participants list our situations in which they would like to be more assertive or take situations they listed as being frustrating and use them for the role plays.

[30 min]

7b. Have participants work in small groups and role play the situations identified in 7a. Encourage them to role play and solicit assistance from others in the groups and especially from host country representatives.

TRAINER'S NOTE: Be supportive to the volunteers who role play and be willing to show how the situations could be handled assertively.

Non-Verbal Behaviors - Their Impact on Our Assertiveness

8a. Stress the need for non-verbal messages which are consistent with the assertive verbal messages. If a Volunteer is telling someone that he or she does not want to sleep with them, and yet his/her body language or social behavior is incongruent with this message, then the self-assertion is less effective.

[3 min]

8b. Acknowledge that participants have a good understanding of some behaviors which could be sending off mixed messages to community members. While in their small groups, have them list out advice they would offer new volunteers regarding these behaviors. Have host country representatives comment on the behaviors identified and add any that are not mentioned.

[20-30 min]

TRAINERS' NOTE: See the sample of these behaviors, Attachment A. If participants are unclear as to what behaviors you are referring, provide them with a few examples.

9c. After they have completed listing their advice have them post the lists. Review them and ask the following:

[5 min]

- Are there any major disagreements?
- How did they learn about these behaviors and what might they mean in host country?

9d. Have participants reflect on whether they have found themselves demonstrating any of these behaviors and ask themselves if this could be contributing to any frustrations and/or problems they may be experiencing in their communities.

9e. Stress that everyone may at some time demonstrate some of these behaviors and that it does not ruin their work as a Volunteer. They do, however, need to be aware of the reactions to these behaviors and decide which ones, if any, they want to change.

[5 min]

Changes they do make are made consciously and for a purpose. They are not irreversible and permanent.

They have an equal right not to assert themselves or to act aggressively if they feel the need. Again, these behaviors cost the Volunteer something people will come to mistrust them, avoid their company, etc., if they use these behaviors consistently.


10a. Summarize what they have discussed to this point:

[5 min]

- Safety is a universal concern
- Precautions and ways of dealing with safety are culturally specific.
- Social and work situations may be difficult or uncomfortable because Volunteers are not asserting themselves, and/or are sending out mixed messages which complicate the situations.
- Volunteers have the right and power to change whatever behaviors they so choose to change. If they do not choose to change, they need to be aware of the possible consequences of those behaviors.

10b. Bridge to the next part by explaining that sometimes, even when we take precautions and try to handle ourselves in culturally appropriate manners, we may still find ourselves victims of an assault or involved in personally stressful situations. At times like these it is important to have someone to talk with, someone who understands what we are going through and who knows how to help.

The next part of the workshop will look at common reactions of victims and peer counseling, or how we can be effective support systems for each other.