This page answers questions that are frequently asked by prospective volunteers.

What does a PBI team do?

When there is a conflict within a state or between communities or nations, certain actions are possible and appropriate for outsiders - others are not. A PBI team seeks to encourage, by means of an international, nonviolent, non partisan presence, a peaceful resolution of conflicts in the local area. To do this, PBI teams:

  • Offer support and protective accompaniment to human rights defenders, groups or individuals threatened with violence;
  • Develop a thorough analysis of the political situation by listening to the widest possible range of viewpoints and experiences while respecting needs for confidentiality;
  • Report to the outside world a non-partisan analysis of the situation as seen on the ground in the area;
  • Meet regularly with local and national civil and military authorities and embassies to raise concerns regarding human rights abuses as they affect the organisations we accompany.

PBI is not a development organisation. We believe that communities need space to carry out their own development in ways that create self reliance rather than dependency. We refer requests for development projects to other organisations set up for such work.

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What does PBI’s principle of non-partisanship mean?

Non-partisanship is a fundamental principle of PBI for both philosophical and practical reasons.

We believe it is inappropriate for us as outsiders to influence the decisions of the organisations we accompany. Our mandate is to provide the protection that will enable them to solve their problems nonviolently in their own way.

In order to analyse a conflict it is important to keep ourselves open to all parties. If we are perceived to be aligned with any one political faction orf ideology anour organisation who may need our services will be wary of making contact with us. A non-partisan stance adds to both our objectivity and accessibility.

Our non-partisanship gives us access to a broad spectrum of political support which strengthens our ability to provide protection and promote nonviolent means of resolving conflicts.

Non-partisanship gives some degree of standing with local authorities and the diplomatic community which in turn strengthens our political influence and therefore strengthens the protection we provide.

When PBI teams are working with those whose lives and work are threatened by violence, accepting and working within the discipline of being non partisanship can be politically and emotionally very difficult. In practical terms it means:

  • PBI does not provide funding for any of the organisations we accompany
  • PBI teams do not accept payment for services.
  • PBI volunteers do not give or solicit material aid for local organisations or individuals during their term of service or immediately afterwards when they are still likely to be viewed as members of PBI.
  • PBI volunteers do not participate in any way in the activities of local organisations during their term of service. Although we often provide human rights observation at event such as rallies and demonstrations we do not take part in them.

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What do we look for in volunteers?

The following qualities, experience and skills are examples of the criteria used for screening potential volunteers. Some are essential and others desirable - check with the project you are applying to for their list of criteria:

  • nonviolence - a clear understanding of and commitment to nonviolence. Experience of working with nonviolence in your own community is a prerequisite for applying nonviolence to other parts of the world.
  • foreign language skills - fluent Spanish is essential for working in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia. The Nepal Project functions internally in English. Volunteers need to be able to function in English for office work, meetings, and living with the team. All volunteers need to have some level of Nepali to function in the greater society. Prior to joining a team, volunteers attend a 2 month language homestay program, either in Nepal or Darejeeling, India. PBI subsidises a large portion of the program, with volunteers contributing 200 euros towards the overall cost.
  • discretion and diplomacy
  •  maturity – the recommended minimum age for volunteers is 25
  • resilience - the ability to work effectively under pressure and stress.
  • knowledge and understanding of the history, politics and culture of the country where you are working .
  • cross-cultural skills and sensitivity - the ability to work with people of different cultures, demonstrated through previous intercultural experience.
  • flexibility - the ability to change tactics, work and opinions.
  • experience of working in groups - familiarity with consensus decision-making and the ability to work easily and cooperatively as part of a team.
  • previous experience of work with NGOs in the fields of peace, human rights or social justice.
  • practical skills - computers, bookkeeping, writing, library skills, group skills, familiarity with rural communities, photography, cooking, musical abilities, and many others have been useful on PBI teams.

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How do I apply to become a volunteer?

Every volunteer undertakes a thorough training in order to be fully prepared for the challenging work of volunteering on a PBI project.

If you live in one of the following places please contact your country group:

Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA.

Many of these groups organise trainings that provide a general introduction to the principles on which PBI’s work is based and how these are put into practice in our field work. In addition, country groups support volunteers in the preparation period before joining a team and in the period of readjustment at the end of your field service.

If you live in a country where there is no country group please contact the office of the project you are interested in working with directly.

After completing an application form and supplying references to the project office, you will first do a pre-screening interview (usually by phone). The next stage in the process is to attend a 7- 10 day project training. These trainings are held several times a year in Europe, North America and the Asia–Pacific region. Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico Project trainings use Spanish and Indonesia and Nepal Project trainings English.

These trainings cover the following topics: PBI’s principles, mandate, structure and decision making processes, nonviolence and non partisanship, political analysis, cultural sensitivity, group process and dealing with fear, stress and emergency situations.

The training will help you to decide if volunteering for a PBI team is what you want to do, and will also help you and the project decide if you are adequately prepared for the experience. Each applicant will have an interview with members of the training team to discuss questions or concerns. Some projects will let you know their recommendation on the last day of the training and others communicate this to you at a later date.

In addition to this residential training, you will also be expected to undertake a period of distance learning to prepare yourself to join a team.

Your preparation will continue with an in-country orientation when you first join a team.

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How long do volunteers serve on teams?

Normally volunteers spend a minimum of one year in the field. Additional time may be needed for language training.

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What steps does PBI take to minimise the risks that field volunteers face?

Given the nature of PBI's work there are clearly some personal risks involved in working on a PBI team. Team members frequently accompany people targeted with all kinds of physical harm. Before applying, each potential volunteer needs to consider whether for them, it is worth taking these risks.

In more than 30 years of accompaniment, there have been two serious incidents both of which occurred 18 years ago. In August of 1989, a hand grenade was thrown into the PBI house in Guatemala (nobody was hurt), and three months later, three volunteers were stabbed on their way home from the bus stop, though fortunately suffered no permanent harm. However, these kinds of incidents have been very rare.

Ensuring the safety of our own volunteers is essential to maximising the protection we can offer to the organisations and communities we accompany. When undertaking any accompaniment particularly those that are potentially risky, PBI teams undertake a thorough analysis of the local political situation and inform the army, police, and local authorities that PBI volunteers will be in the area. This high level of visibility signals to the authorities that they will be held accountable for anything that should happen to the volunteers or those they are accompanying. The embassies of the countries the volunteers come from are also informed as a preventive measure. When the volunteers are undertaking the accompaniment they are provided with mobile phones (or satellite phones if they are travelling to remote areas) so they can communicate instantly with the teams and support offices. The teams in the field are backed up by an international support network which protects not only the organisations we accompany but also our own volunteers.

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What countries do volunteers come from?

In 2015, volunteers came from the following 17 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgiu, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Irland, Italia, Mexico and the Netherlands

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Can I work with a PBI team in my own country?

No. For reasons of non-partisanship and security volunteers cannot join PBI teams in their own countries. However, we strongly encourage their participation se people to participate in other PBI projects. For example there are citizens of other Latin America countries working with the Colombia Project and citizens of Asian countries volunteering on the Indonesia Project.

The first reason for this ‘own country rule’ is that PBI teams need to maintain a distance from the organisations they accompany so that local pressures don’t influence their work. The second reason is security. In order to provide effective protection for the organisations we work with we need to maximise the security of our own volunteers.

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What costs are covered?

All projects cover the following costs: travel to country of work, accommodation, food, internal travel, insurance, repatriation and a stipend to cover additional costs. See project pages for specific information on the costs each of them covers.

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What does PBI offer volunteers?

PBI volunteers gain:

  • A profound experience of working with an international peace and human rights organisation committed to transforming ideals into practical action
  • Specialist training based on over 35 years experience working in the field
  • The experience of living and working in a close-knit team of volunteers from many different countries and backgrounds
  • A unique first-hand insight into the intense pressures faced by human rights defenders and their resilience and courage

All projects cover the costs of: travel to country of work, accommodation, food, internal travel, insurance, repatriation and also offer a stipend to cover additional costs.

PBI is committed to ensuring that volunteers are supported before, during and after their time in the field. We have developed minimum standards for providing emotional support for volunteers throughout their time with PBI - during preparation, field work and reintegration. Our partnership with the European Association of Gestalt Therapy (EAGT) enables PBI volunteers to get professional support if they need it. Volunteers can get individual support from mental health professional from EAGT during and after their engagment with PBI. EACG also offers other pro-bono services to PBI such as the mentor training and the possibility of coaching teams in the field.

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Can I join a team immediately after the training?

Project offices are responsible for scheduling volunteers to join teams. They will try to make sure that you join a team when it is convenient for you, but they also need to take into account the needs of the team. This includes maintaining a balance of nationality, gender, age, and skills. Because of this it may take anywhere between one month and one year between the time when you complete your training and the time that you join the team.

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