Working with Short-term Outreach Teams (2)
I’m still trying to determine what causes one short-term outreach team to “work” while another team seems to “fail”. Since the 10th of May, I’ve been hosting a short-term outreach team from the Palm Beach Atlantic University, Florida (USA). This has possibly been one of the best groups I’ve ever had in Swaziland. However, if anyone should ask me why this team worked so well, I would not be able to give an exact answer. The team consisted of nine students, all female. This may have played some role in the group dynamics, as they slept in an old farmhouse on their own and had ample time to bond (and I think women may bond slightly easier than men.)
It also became clear to me that the students joining this outreach are carefully chosen. Which criteria are used, I don’t know, but it wasn’t merely a case that anyone wanting to join would be allowed. Although one should be careful not to restrict a mission outreach to an exclusive group of people, as if those people are on a higher spiritual level than others, having people in a group like this with too many unresolved personal issues, becomes a great burden to the rest of the team and inevitably hinders the work.
I spent a few hours with the group last night, doing some informal (or less formal) debriefing. What I heard was that great effort is made by their missions trip coordinator to prepare these groups for their cross-cultural encounters. Although I always spend time with a group upon their arrival to brief them about Swazi culture, to enlighten them about the reality of HIV and AIDS and to prepare them for what they can expect, I believe that the fact that they had already been properly prepared for something new before they came, played an extremely important role in the success of the group. And what definitely helped was that they were apparently told, over and over again, that the local people know better than they what needs to be done and therefore they have to submit themselves to the local authority (which they did!)
Instead of communicating with me directly, this group used Operation Mobilisation (OM) as go-between, them working with the office in the USA which communicated with the office in South Africa (with whom I already have a good personal relationship) and them communicating with me. It may sound as if this would make communication more difficult, but in effect it helped as OM has a lot of experience in handling international groups. Furthermore, being a parent myself, I can assume that for parents whose children want to go on a short-term outreach, it would be comforting to know that a large international organisation is also involved to ensure that their children will be safe.
But I think, if I have to say what caused this group to function so well, it would probably be because they were willing to learn from us. Previous groups very often came with the question: What can we do for you? Obviously, this is an important question to ask. This group came with the question: How can you use us? I believe there is an important difference between these two questions (or at least in the attitude behind the questions), but that would be the topic of a next post.
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