De-colonize Volunteering

If you are thinking of volunteering in Africa, Asia or Latin America to “help poor people”, sit back and read on. If you want to volunteer in Switzerland or any other western country, stay here and read on too. It’s worth it.

“There is no more colonialism”

Mmm… Wait! Colonial legacies continue to perpetuate power inequities from local to global scales. This tends to determine whose voices are heard in which spaces, including when it comes to shaping volunteering agendas. In effect, the language used to conceptualize volunteering remains dominated by experiences from/within the so-called Global North (the countries considered as developed). And European volunteers often -consciously or subconsciously- have colonial mindsets.

Many Europeans have good intentions when wanting to participate in volunteering projects in the so-called Global South (the countries considered as developing and/or least developed countries). They are eager to “help” where they can, they want to get to know “ other” cultures and live a different kind of life than the one they are used to. Europeans usually don’t know that these motivations are rooted in centuries of colonial exploitation and oppression of societies and cultures outside of Europe.

Volunteering initiatives, if not approached with sensitivity and awareness, can inadvertently perpetuate neocolonial attitudes and reinforce existing power structures. It is essential for Europeans in volunteering projects to adopt a critical perspective and question the dynamics of their interactions with local communities. This also means acknowledging the historical injustices that have shaped the present and understanding the potential pitfalls of unintentionally perpetuating a narrative of superiority. 

If you would like to gain more knowledge and develop critical thinking before volunteering, we suggest you read The Power Behind Good Intentions (SCI Austria, 2021).

What we want

We want volunteers to reflect on colonial power structures behind their ideas of “development” and “help”, and to question their unconscious imperialist and white supremacist approaches. We want the countries of the so-called Global North to stop seeing themselves as superior to those of the so-called Global South. We want you to ask yourself why in some parts of the world “help” is needed and how that is connected to your own life.

To truly contribute positively, volunteers must prioritize partnership and collaboration over a one-sided approach. This means actively listening to the needs and aspirations of the communities they aim to support and working together to implement sustainable and locally-driven solutions. Building genuine relationships based on mutual respect fosters a more equitable exchange of knowledge and skills.

Additionally, volunteers should strive to educate themselves about the complex historical and social contexts of the regions they are working in. This knowledge can help them navigate cultural differences more effectively and avoid inadvertently perpetuating harmful stereotypes. By approaching volunteering with humility, openness, and a willingness to learn, volunteers from the so-called Global North can play a role in dismantling the lingering effects of colonialism and fostering a more inclusive and respectful global community.

What we do

We work to transform white supremacy into solidarity for global justice and antiracism through volunteerism. Or at least we are trying to (;

We believe that it is very important to reflect  before, during, and after participating in a volunteering project. This is why, in addition to organizing volunteer projects, we also offer:

  • Pre-departure Trainings: A space to listen, learn and discuss decolonisation, power and privilege, neo-colonialism, intersectionality, global justice, diversity and culture, cultural appropriation/cultural humility…
  • Resources that will help you to understand the world about global inequalities and discrimination, but also to deepen your knowledge on topics such as climate justice, and global justice and to understand civil society responses from a non-violent perspective.
  • A space for local activism and advocacy. If you are interested in activism, at SCI we have different working groups working for peace, gender, asylum seeker persons’ rights, and climate justice.

Ready to join the peace movement?