The role of Country Groups
Finding and preparing field volunteers
A major part of country group work is finding and training potential volunteers for their own work and for PBI's field projects.
Volunteers are attracted to PBI through word of mouth, articles in the press, or hearing an inspiring presentation by a human rights defender that PBI accompanies or a returned volunteer. Most country groups organise introductory trainings to provide potential volunteers with some initial orientation to PBI's work before they go on to project-specific training.
PBI Canada has organised a practical nonviolence orientation weekend.
PBI-UK organises three orientation weekends each year to provide a general introduction to PBI's principles and mandate and our work in the field.
Building and activating international Support Networks
A key role of country groups is developing and activating support networks that provide a vital lifeline if the human rights defenders PBI accompanies are threatened.
One network consists of high-level contacts such as diplomats, members of government, and officials, and well-known personalities.
Some country groups also have an Emergency Response Network (ERN) which is open to anyone.
When a human rights defender or a community that PBI accompanies receives is intimidated or threatened, PBI country groups complement the public relations work of the team by alerting their support networks. They then apply pressure on the alleged perpetrators of violations or the local authorities in order to prevent further abuse.
Country groups fundraise for the International Secretariat, projects and their own infrastructure and activities.
Funds come from a variety of sources including local and national governments, the European Union, other NGOs, church organisations, individual donors and fundraising events.
One innovative initiative was a pilgrimage of 750km undertaken by former Colombia Project volunteer and musician David Troup. For the three month period he did talks and media interviews on PBI in towns and villages along the route.
PBI Germany and the German Civilian Peace Forum organised a sponsored run for peace involving 1,700 schoolchildren. The run was combined with talks and an exhibition on PBI's work.
Raising the profile of human rights defenders and PBI
Organising public events and speaker tours of human rights defenders and returned volunteers are essential to strengthen the protection we provide.
PBI Country Groups organise speaker tours by human rights defenders that PBI accompanies, such as a recent tour of the UK and Spain by Tita Radilla Martinez, Vice-President of the Association of Relatives of the Detained, Disappeared (AFADEM). Her powerful testimony in meetings with government officials and parliamentarians and public events resulted in stronger support networks, more contact with other NGOs, and a higher profile for PBI and AFADEM.
Other speaker tours feature returned volunteers, such as Jamie Wick in the USA who spoke to over 600 people in ten cities. This achieved greater visibility for PBI among the general public and US institutions and organizations resulting in a substantial increase in financial and political support.
Participation in wider forums
PBI country groups and projects work together to play an active role in advocacy and co-ordination groups as another way of using our experience to influence policies relating to human rights protection in the countries where we work.
Country groups in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, UK, Netherlands, Catalunya and Belgium participate in advocacy and coordination groups relating to Colombia, the Brussels-based International Office on Human Rights Action Colombia (OIDHACO), the European lobbying group Copenhagen Initiative for Central America (CIFCA) and the UK information-sharing group, Indonesia Forum to discuss how mutual support can benefit PBI's work.
PBI Switzerland takes part in a lobbying network asking the Swiss parliament to adopt International Labour Organisation convention 169 on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
PBI volunteers have to navigate a stressful experience away from their usual sources of support. Then they return to their home countries, challenged and changed and have to put their lives back together. PBI works to provide help such as mentoring, advice, and counselling if needed at all stages of their volunteer service.
Country groups are always looking for better ways to support their volunteers. PBI-Germany has established a comprehensive volunteer support programme which included a manual and funding for a staff member responsible for volunteer support.
PBI/USA set up a volunteer support network where new volunteers are matched with former field volunteers who serve as listeners and mentors when challenges arise. A 3-day training workshop prepared mentors for their role.