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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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RATIONALE: Volunteers face many situations that are often difficult to handle. They may want to learn more effective ways of dealing with these situations as well as validating some of their current methods.

As a result of some of their experiences, Volunteers may feel stress, frustration, and a need for emotional release and support. This support can be provided by staff, although it is more likely that they will seek it from other Volunteers. Providing Volunteers with increased skills in peer counseling will enhance their ability to provide such support.

This workshop is a one-day, intense introduction to safety precautions, assertiveness training, and peer counseling. In order to successfully conduct this workshop the trainers will need to be familiar with the materials, skilled in peer counseling and familiar with the host country.

TOTAL TIME: 1 1/2 days

GOALS: Part One -

To increase participants' awareness of personal safety in the U.S. and in the host country.

To examine personal safety strategies looking at cultural similarities and differences.

To develop more culturally effective ways to handle situations which are typically difficult for Volunteers.

Part Two -

To better understand some of the needs and reactions of people who have been victimized.

To develop or enhance current skills in peer counseling.

Part Three -

To develop materials/guidelines for information which should be made available to trainees during training.


1. Familiarize yourself with the materials to ensure easy discussion of topics.

2. Arrange any logistical situations to allow for a large room, chairs, flipcharts, refreshments, and lunch.

3. Brief country staff and other trainers on their roles and responsibilities during this workshop. They will need to provide country-specific information and interpret some non-verbal behaviors. Be sure you have host country representatives participating.

4. Prepare newsprint.


1. Handouts 1 through 9

2. Markers and Newsprint


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.

Part two


1a. Introduce this part by mentioning that all of us may experience some type of victimization. Some of us may already have experienced it. Our reactions will depend on our personal styles of dealing with problems. However, there is some research that shows common reactions to victimization.

[10 min]

1b. Divide participants into two groups and give each group a different case study. Handouts 5 and 6.

1c. Have the groups read the case and list their reactions to the situations. How would they feel if they were Jack or Amy?

1d. Compare the similarities and differences, recognizing the similarities even though the situations are different.

[10 min]

Stress that it is important to recognize that someone's reaction to a situation of verbal assault may be similar to someone's reaction to a rape. When providing support it is important not to negate a reaction by saying, "Well, that isn't so serious, it could have been worse".

1e. Distribute Handout 7, "Common Reactions to Assault.. Point out the similarities.

[10 min]

1f. Explain that regardless of the problem, people need to talk to someone who can understand and help them sort out feelings, problems, and options.

Discuss the idea that just because someone wants to be of help doesn't mean they are helpful -- it takes more than just talking.

Peer Counseling

2a. Ask what comes to mind when you mention peer counseling. Take some responses make sure that participants understand the difference between peer counseling and therapy. They will not be doing therapy; they are equals and helpers but not trained therapists.

[5 min]

2b. Explain that peer counseling is a way of helping a friend, by using specific skills and techniques. It is not a mutual gripe session and it is not a time to tell your story.

2c. Peer counseling operates from the premise that the person seeking help has answers to their own problem, they just need to talk to someone who can help them discover those answers.

[10 min]

It uses techniques which help the person state the problem; clarify their feelings; identify what they think about the problem; look at their options; decide on some plan of action.

Components of a Helping Relationship

TRAINERS' NOTE: If you are not experienced with this material, enlist the assistance of someone who is. There are suggested articles to read as background materials; use them to draw out the following discussion points.

3a. Ask the group to explain the characteristics of a helping relationship.

[5 min]

- positive regard
- respect
- trust
- warmth and caring (not "taking care of")
- absence of judgement

3b. There is more to a helping relationship than just these components. There is a process which makes it easier for the one being helped to solve his/her problem.

The Awareness Wheel

4a. Use the awareness wheel (handout 8) as a process for structuring and helping the helpee. (Put information on flipchart and use in discussing the awareness wheel. )

TRAINERS' NOTE: The awareness wheel is a communication tool which shows complete communication; it is useful in demonstrating a problem-solving process. If you are not familiar with this tool or for other reasons wish to, you can use another problem-solving tool with which you are familiar. The purpose is to help someone through the complete cycle, looking at what the situation is (SENSING), what they think about the situation (THINKING), what they feel about it (FEELINGS), their intentions for the situation or what they would ideally want (WANTINGS), and finally what they plan to do (DOINGS).

4b. Stress that although they are helping someone through this process they are:

[5 min]

- not to lead them to a predecided conclusion - a person must reach his/her own conclusions.
- not to rush someone through the cycle each person should progress at his/her own pace. Some people have the tendency to jump to a plan of action without going through the other steps. They should be encouraged to complete all the steps

4c. Distribute handout 8. Ask for any questions.

Skills for Helping

5a. Explain that there are skills both verbal and non-verbal which one uses to help another person.

5b. Conduct a brief demonstration of one helping relationship in which the helper is anything but helpful. You (the trainer) should play the helper.

[5 min]

TRAINERS' NOTE: Things to do in this demonstration are: show body language which communicates disinterest, distracting mannerisms, tone of voice which is impatient, inattentive eye contact. Show verbal behavior which interrupts the helpee, negates the helpee's feelings and situation, gives quick advice, adds your own irrelevant story.

5b. Ask the participants to identify what you did verbally and non-verbally to detract from the helping relationship.

[5 min]

5c. Conduct another demonstration, but this time demonstrate all of the correct behaviors.

[5 min]

Sample Behaviors
Affirmative head nod
Facial expressions of interest/concern
Spontaneous eye contact
Physical contact
Leaning toward someone
I see, tell me more"
"I'd like to hear about it.
What do you think?.
Have you thought about.... "
How are you feeling about it now?.

5d. Summarize by mentioning things to avoid:

[5 min]






Topping their story



Practice in Peer Counseling

[30-40 min]

6a. Explain that these skills are developed; they don't come over night. Ask participants to divide into groups of three a helper, a helpee, and an observer.

6b. Distribute handout 9, "Helping Skills, and explain that each person will be playing all three positions during this practice time. When they are helping they should try to remember the behaviors discussed. When they are observing they should note what behaviors are displayed and provide suggestions and criticism of their helping behaviors.

Stress that when they are playing the helpee, they should pick problems that are real. That way they will have more information upon which to draw during the role play.

Allow 10 minutes for each person to role play and receive feedback.

6c. After they have completed this activity ask them what was most difficult for them in each role, and what was easy in each role.

[10 min]

6d. Summarize by reminding participants that these skills require practice. Encourage them to read more in this area and to talk about it when they get together.

6e. Bridge to Part Three of the workshop by mentioning that they have reviewed a lot during this workshop. Combine this with their vast experience and they have much to offer new Volunteers. Part Three will give them an opportunity to channel some of this experience into useful information for incoming Volunteers.



1a. Explain that many Volunteers want an opportunity to pass on their knowledge to incoming Volunteers. The next hour will help them do just that. It will be a time to learnt how they can pass information on to new Volunteers.

[5 min]

1b. Mention that there are many possibilities. Some countries develop handbooks on safety advice, cultural training sessions involving Volunteers, slide shows on Volunteer lifestyles in the country, etc.

Volunteer Activities

2a. Ask them to list areas in which they would like to develop more information for new Volunteers, e.g., safety information for new Volunteers.

[5 min]

2b. After they have listed the areas of interest, ask them to divide into groups according to their personal interests.

In these groups they will be discussing:
- the type of information, activity or skill they want to pass on;
- how they want to develop this material; and
- individual responsibilities for following through on the tasks.

[45 min]

2c. When they have completed the group work, have each group give a brief summary of what they will be doing and how.


[5 min]

1a. Recap the day, briefly mentioning the topics and activities.

Post again the goals and check with participants to make sure they were met. If they were not, ask why. Ask how they could follow up.

1b. Distribute evaluation forms and ask participants to provide suggestions for future such workshops.

Attachment A: Sample situations for step 9.b


The following are sample situations that in some countries would be inappropriate and would inadvertently send undesired messages to HCNs. When developing situation for your country, be sure to 1) keep them short (one or two sentences) and 2) keep them descriptive. They are not rules, but examples of behaviors that Volunteers need to look at and possibly avoid. The trainees should be able to examine the situation for possible non-verbal messages that are being communicated.


1. A female PCV hitchhiking gets into the back of a truck filled with men.

2. A male and female PCV are holding hands while walking downtown.

3. A female PCV lives in a village where a lot of PCVs transfer on their way into the capital. Since this often involves staying overnight, she opens her house to them. As a result she has numerous male Volunteers spending the night at her house.

4. Two female PCVs go to the local bar for a quick drink after work.

5. Several PCVs are dancing and having a good time at the local bar. Some of the women enjoy dancing and have spent the evening dancing and drinking with a couple of the local men.

6. A male PCV goes into the local bar to talk with some friends, and finds he spends the whole evening drinking and joking about women and sex.

7. A female PCV is used to jogging/walking in the early evening hours, so at sunset she takes long walks along the village road.

Attachment B: Workshop evaluation form

This session had been part of an agency pilot of training materials on Personal Safety. Please take a few minutes to complete the following questions. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

Thank you

1. How appropriate did you finds this session?

1 - Not at all appropriate
2 - Not very appropriate
3 - Average
4 - Appropriate
5 - Very appropriate

2. Did you find the materials to be interesting?

3. What would have made it more interesting? or more appropriate?

4. What was helpful to you?

5. Would you recommend that others participate in the same session?

Who would you recommend attend?

6. What would you change if you were able to change the session and offer it to another group?

7. What, if anything, did the trainer do that... enhanced the session detracted from the session _____________________________________ detracted from the session ___________________

8. Please add any comments regarding the material, the design, or the trainer.

Please use the back for additional room.