What do PBI teams do?
When there is a conflict in a country, between communities or nations, certain actions carried out by people from other countries are both possible and appropriate, while others are not. PBI teams work to support the peaceful resolution of local conflicts, by establishing a non-violent and non-partisan international presence.
To achieve this, PBI teams
- Offer support and accompaniment, as a protection mechanism for human rights defenders who are under threat or at risk of experiencing violence.
- Develop a solid analysis of the political situation, taking into account the greatest possible variety of viewpoints and experiences, while at the same time respecting any needs to maintain confidentiality.
- Inform the outside world about the situation they observe in the field, using non-partisan analysis.
- Hold regular meetings with civil and military authorities at the local and national level, and with the diplomatic corps, to share concerns about human rights abuses affecting accompanied organisations.
PBI is not a development organisation. We believe that communities need space for their own development, so that they can build self-sufficiency rather than dependency. PBI forwards requests for development projects to other organisations established for this objective.
What does PBI’s principle of non-partisanship mean?
Non-partisanship is one of PBI’s fundamental principles, for both practical and philosophical reasons.
We believe that it is inappropriate for PBI, as a foreign organisation, to have any influence whatsoever on our accompanied organisations. According to our mandate, we provide protection that enables these organisations to resolve their problems using non-violent means and according to their own principles.
To analyse a conflict, it is important to maintain an open mind towards all the parties involved. If people think we are aligned with a particular political faction or ideology, organisations that we could help may feel unable to contact us. A position of non-partisanship enables us to be more objective and accessible.
Non-partisanship also gives us access to a wider spectrum of political support, which strengthens our capacity to protect and promote non-violent conflict resolution.
Non-partisanship gives us a certain standing with local authorities and the diplomatic corps, which in turn adds to our political influence, thereby strengthening the protection we provide.
When PBI teams accompany people whose life and work are threatened by violence, accepting and working with the discipline of non-partisanship can be really difficult in both political and emotional terms. In practical terms, it means that:
- PBI does not provide funding to any of the organisations we accompany.
- The PBI teams do not accept payment for our services.
- PBI volunteers do not provide or request material aid for local organisations or individuals during their time as volunteers or immediately afterwards, when they could still be viewed as members of PBI.
- The PBI volunteers do not participate under any circumstances in the activities of local organisations during their time as volunteers. Despite the fact that we often act as human rights observers, we never participate directly in local demonstrations or protests.
What kind of volunteers are we looking for?
The following list of aptitudes, experience and skills offers an example of the criteria used to evaluate potential volunteers. Some of the requirements are essential and some are desirable (please check the list of criteria for the project in which you would like to take part):
- Non-violence: a clear understanding and commitment towards non-violence. The use of non-violence in your own community is an indispensable prerequisite for applying non-violence in other parts of the world.
- Knowledge of foreign languages. To work in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, fluent Spanish is necessary.
- Discretion and diplomacy.
- A minimum age of 25 years is recommended for volunteering.
- Ability to work effectively while under pressure.
- Knowledge and understanding of the history, politics and culture of the project country.
- Empathy and multicultural sensitivity. Ability to work with people from different cultures, demonstrated through previous intercultural experiences.
- Ability to change tactics, working methodologies and opinions.
- Familiarity with consensus-based decision-making and ability to work in a team in a cooperative and flexible manner.
- Previous experience working with NGOs in the fields of peace, human rights or social justice.
- Practical knowledge of computers, accounting, writing, librarianship, group relations, rural communities, photography, cooking, music and much more can be useful in the PBI teams.
What do I need to do to become a volunteer?
Each volunteer undertakes a rigorous training programme, so that they are completely prepared to take on the challenge of working in a PBI project.
For the Colombia project there is not a permanently-open application process. You need to check our web site and social media, where we publish all relevant information. We usually open an application process for at least 2-3 months each year.
If you live in one of the following countries, please contact your local PBI country group:
Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK or USA.
Many of these country groups offer training courses which give a general introduction to the principles on which PBI bases its work and to the practical work in the field. In addition, the country groups support volunteers during their preparation before joining a team and for a period of time during their return to their country after their work in the field is finished.
If you live in a place where there is no country group, please directly contact the office of the project where you would like to work.
After completing an application form and sending it along with your references to the project office, you take part in an interview (usually by telephone). The next stage of the process consists of attending a training course which lasts between 7 and 10 days. These courses take place several times a year in Europe, North America, and in the Asia-Pacific zone. Training for the Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico projects is in Spanish, and in English for the Indonesia, Kenya and Nepal projects.
The courses cover the following areas: PBI principles, our mandate, structure and decision-making processes, non-violence and non-partisanship, political analysis, cultural sensitivity, group processes and how to act in emergency situations and when experiencing fear and stress.
This training helps you to decide if you really want to be a volunteer in a PBI team and is useful for you and the members of your project to decide if you are adequately prepared for the experience. Each applicant will also attend an interview with members of the training team, where they can discuss any questions or concerns that arise. Some projects give their recommendation on the last day of the training period, others do so later.
In addition to this residential training, volunteers are expected to follow a distance training course to prepare them for joining a team.
The preparation continues with orientation sessions in the destination country once volunteers join a team.
Living and working conditions for volunteers in the field teams
PBI volunteers share a house which is used as both accommodation and as an office.
Usually the houses are diverse and international in nature, and all the individuals have made a commitment to live there for 18 months, which is the minimum volunteering period in PBI Colombia.
What measures does PBI take to minimise risks for volunteers?
Given the nature of PBI’s work, there are a number of clearly-defined personal risks. The team members frequently accompany people who are under threat of suffering all kinds of physical injury. Before applying, all prospective volunteers should consider whether they are prepared to run these risks.
In PBI’s work over more than 25 years there have been two serious incidents, both of which took place 18 years ago. In August 1989, a hand grenade was thrown at the PBI house in Guatemala (no-one was injured), and three months afterwards, three volunteers were stabbed on their way home as they waited at a bus stop, but fortunately, none was seriously harmed. This kind of incident is very rare.
The security of our volunteers is essential in order to maximise the protection we offer to the organisations and communities we accompany. During accompaniment missions, particularly those which potentially carry risks, PBI teams carry out a comprehensive analysis of the political situation and inform the police and local authorities that PBI volunteers are going to be in the area. These high levels of visibility indicate to the authorities that they will be seen as responsible if anything happens to the volunteers or those they accompany. As a preventive measure, the embassies from the volunteers’ home countries are also informed. As an additional measure, volunteers always carry mobile phones (or satellite phones if they travel to remote areas) so that they can immediately communicate with their team and its support offices. The field teams are backed up by an international support network, which not only protects the organisations we accompany but also our volunteers.
Can I work in a PBI team in my own country?
No. To maintain security and non-partisanship, volunteers cannot join a PBI project in their own country. Nevertheless, we fully recommend taking part in projects in other countries. For example, there are volunteers from other Latin American countries who work in the Colombia Project.
The first reason for this “own country rule” is due to the fact that PBI teams must maintain a distance from the organisations they accompany, so that local pressures do not influence their work. The second reason is for security. In order to provide effective accompaniment we must ensure the maximum security for our volunteers.
In all projects PBI covers the following costs: return ticket to the project where the volunteer will work, maintenance, accommodation, food, local travel, medical insurance and an amount of money to cover repatriation at the end of their time as a volunteer.
Volunteers are also given a small amount of money which covers additional costs. In the case of the Colombia project, this monthly economic support (stipend) is paid in Colombian pesos and is equivalent to around 230 Euros. PBI also provides support for internal trips, for mental health breaks, and an economic contribution to support one flight to the volunteer’s place of origin during their time with the project (this cost is not always fully covered).
What does PBI offer volunteers?
- A great experience working in an international organisation for peace and human rights, committed to the transformation of ideals into practical actions.
- Specialist training based on more than 25 years’ experience working in the field.
- The experience of living and working in a close-knit and diverse team of volunteers from different countries and cultures.
- The unique opportunity of observing, first hand, the intense pressures faced by human rights defenders as well as their resistance and courage.
PBI is committed to supporting our volunteers before, during and after their work with the organisation in the field. We have developed minimum standards to offer emotional support for our teams during their preparation process, their work in the field, and their return home. Our alliance with the European Association of Gestalt Therapy (EAGT) enables the PBI teams to receive professional emotional support if they need it. They can also receive individual support from EAGT mental health professionals, during and after their volunteering with PBI. EAGT also offers other services to PBI without cost, including training for mentors and training for field teams.
Can I join a team immediately after training?
The project offices are responsible for organising the deployment of volunteers into their teams. As far as possible, the offices take into account what is convenient for the volunteers, but they also need to combine this with the needs of each team. This includes maintaining a balance in terms of nationality, sex, age and experience. For this reason, it could take between a month and a year from the end of the training to the moment you join a team.