Building Bridges Toolkit

The Toolkit was designed to collect and share the know-how on voluntary projects involving people seeking or who have recently found refuge, as well as raising awareness on forced migration in general. The collection of guidelines, methods and case studies is non-exhaustive and should simply foster your own inspiration and support you in implementing projects on the topic. The creation of the Toolkit has been driven by the ever bigger need of the international SCI network to exchange best practices on projects in the field. It was coordinated by SCI Switzerland with the support of Útilapu Hungary. Its existence wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Mercator Foundation Switzerland and the active contribution of the Building Bridges working group and a number of SCI branches.


Since 2010 KVT Finland has been inviting refugees and asylum seekers to join SCI’s voluntary workcamps. In every international voluntary workcamp in Finland 1-3 places are reserved for asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants that live in Finland and are in a vulnerable position. The participants are mainly coming from different reception centres all over the country.

KVT started this work through a global education initiative supported by the Foreign Ministry’s development co-operation fund. Including asylum seekers and refugees to the projects was also the core part of this initiative between the years 2010-2014. The main goal was to bring global education to the small localities in Finland through non-formal education and volunteering. The asylum seekers and refugees were given a possibility to join the global education work. The initiative ended in 2015, but KVT still continued to do these placements with less focus on global education, and more emphasis placed on supporting the integration of asylum seekers and refugees into the Finnish society. This work is still continuing and we would wish to share this practice with you.


    Promoting intercultural encounters, global learning and mutual understanding

    Grassroot encounters and working together towards a common goal are important principles that KVT and SCI use in order to increase global knowledge and understanding that also affects prejudices and attitudes. This is also the idea of a voluntary workcamp. Most of the volunteers joining the workcamps arrive from European and Asian countries and in order to make these encounters and mutual understanding develop on a deeper level, it is a great opportunity to have volunteers joining from for example African and Middle-Eastern countries.

    The aim of inviting asylum seekers and refugees to voluntary workcamps is to promote intercultural encounters and experiences among people of different ages and different backgrounds. By inviting refugees and asylum seekers as equal partners to the projects and camps, interculturality and the realities of the Global South or the Middle East are brought close to local people of the camp sites in their own familiar environment.

    Offering refugees and asylum seekers possibilities to become active citizens and supporting their integration into society

    Joining an international voluntary workcamp is a possibility to get away from the reception centre and the waiting process. Asylum seekers can contribute to a non-profit project and be invited to do something meaningful. The camp gives the asylum seekers a possibility to meet both local and international people, learn from society, learn and contribute to a project of their interest and get involved in an international network. They also get a certificate about the work that they have done on the camp, and a possible reference that can be mentioned when looking for work.

    If you place asylum seekers/refugees in workcamps (as outgoing volunteers), make sure you support them in the whole process, because there might be misunderstandings about what an SCI workcamp is and what volunteering is in general.

    On KVTs website you can read some ideas and feedback from asylum seekers that have participated in their projects: Meetings in our multicultural motherland.

      1. Before starting

      Costs: The biggest question for many of us is always what does it cost to make it happen and how to cover the costs. KVT didn’t ask for any camp fee from the asylum seekers and covered all the travel costs to the campsite. The only thing that the participants pay themselves is a 10 € membership fee. This is quite important, since not many people living in reception centres could join the projects if they had to pay a camp fee or their travel costs. The biggest costs are the transport expenses for the participants to join the camps. If you are just starting the project, it would be great if you could also visit the centres, so you need some funds for this too.

      KVT had the funding to cover these costs for 5 years, but in 2015 they made it happen without any fund by organising a fundraising dinner where funds were raised for including asylum seekers in our projects.

      You can also think about applying for a small fund or a bigger one where you add the placements as a part of the activities. If you think that the costs are not very high, you can do some fundraising event in order to collect some funds. Remember that you have to cover the SCI VEF cost also for the asylum seeker participants, so that they have insurance etc. in the camp!

      2. Reaching asylum seekers and refugees

      Most of the participants joining the camps are asylum seekers living in reception centres and for this reason co-operation with reception centres is essential. You can also advertise the project for different immigrant organisations and NGO’s that work in the field. Before doing any recruitment work, it is important to have a discussion with the staff of the centres and NGO’s and explain what you would like to do, what  the projects are and what is needed from the reception centres. In Finland the recruitment goes often through the social workers, so that if someone from the centre wants to join, they discuss it first with their social worker.

      • Note that reception centres and the whole asylum system are different in each country, and so the centres might also have different kind of possibilities to work with these kinds of projects. These instructions are made based on the Finnish system and reception centres.

      3. How to advertise

      • You can organise a session in the centre, where everyone who is interested can join, listen and ask questions. It is often important to see and meet the people who are organizing these activities and participants are more confident to join the project.
      • Together with this kind of a session you can organise small activities in the centre, so the asylum seekers can start to understand what kind of organisation is in front of them and what they do in practice, e.g. cleaning up the yard, arranging activities for the kids, playing sports with the participants. It is important not to underestimate the importance of non-verbal communication and language barriers, when working with asylum seekers.
      • You can also organise a session just for the social workers, so they can keep telling new arrivals about the project.
      •  You can make flyers/posters in different languages explaining, what a voluntary workcamp is and how you can join. Take the flyers to the reception centres and ask the staff to put them on the walls.
      • Contact NGO’s and networks that work with asylum seekers and refugees and ask to promote the project in their channels.
      • Ask your volunteers to share this information in their channels and if they meet people who would be interested in joining.
      • See KVT’s flyers that were taken to the reception centres in the «Downloadable files» section at the bottom of this page.

      See KVT’s website information: For asylum seekers and refugees, What are workcamps and why participate

      4. Approaching centres

      1. Send emails to reception centres explaining the project and ask to set up a meeting. In the email remember to explain:
      • What project and when?
      • Who can join? 
      • Why do you want to place asylum seekers to workcamps (explain the objectives and activities).
      • What is needed from the behalf of the centre?
      • Does it cost something?
      • Who can they contact for more information?
      1. You can also go and visit the centre, leave some flyers and ask who you could contact directly.
        Best practice:  
        Arrange a meeting with refugees and asylum seekers in the centre to explain the project personally and to introduce the different workcamps where they can apply. Explain how to join the camp on spot.
      2. Give possible past examples of successful activities. If you are just starting, you can even explain that this has been done in other countries with good results.
      3. Explain the profile of the asylum seeker and what is needed from him/her in order to join a camp.
      4.  Explain how the recruitment process and the practicalities work (For example how are the participants selected, when will they know about it, who buys tickets….). However keep it simple and short, the staff is usually very busy!
      • Close cooperation with social workers and reception centres is very important!
      • You  can also start a cooperation with only one reception centre, so you can get experience and then approach other centres
      • At least in Finland the centres are very busy during summer time, and since people are having their holidays there are a lot of substitutes. Contact them long enough before the camp season starts to talk about the program and do all possible arrangements before the busy season.
      • You can see KVT’s info about the application process that was sent in the reception centres in the «Downloadable files» section at the bottom of this page.

      Agreement with reception centers:  Make an oral or better a written agreement with the centre about the project.

      5. Recruitment

      Prepare a specific application form and distribute it in reception centers. Make sure you find out about specific challenges (health problems, diets, etc.). Let the interested volunteers fill it out together with their social workers. It is important that the social workers are included in this process and that they know about the project, so they can support the volunteers.

      In KVT the application process goes like this:

      1.  After having advertised and contacted the centres and NGO’s you get inquiries from social workers, asylum seekers and refugees themselves, and staff of different NGO’s.
      2.  You make sure that they understand what a workcamp and volunteering in general is and you explain how the recruitment process goes.
      3.  Ask them to fill out an application form (See KVT’s form below) and send it to your organisation
      4.  Make sure that the profile of the applicant fits into the profile of the camp.
      5.  If you feel that you need more information about the applicant, you can organise a meeting or do a small interview on the phone.
      6.  If you decide to select the applicant to the camp, meet up or discuss in phone with both him/her and the social workers about the preparation and next steps.

      KVT  has an application form especially made for the refugees and asylum seekers, so the social worker can fill it out together with the applicant and send it to back. These application forms are then put into the placement system. You can see KVT’s application form in the «Downloadable files» section at the bottom of this page.

      To lower the risk of cancellation due to different reasons, start the recruitment as late as possible, however, make sure to reserve places in OPS beforehand.

      6. Volunteer profile

      It is important to make an application process also in order to make sure that the participants are motivated to join and that they have what it takes to live in the campsite for the camp period and that they understand what the camp is. In your country you can decide what is required and expected from the refugees and asylum seekers who apply for the projects, but here are some tips from our behalf.

      1.  Ability to communicate in English (no need for a perfect level, but at least some basics in order to communicate with the camp community).
      2.  Ability to stay in the campsite for the whole period of the camp.
      3.  Understands what a voluntary workcamp is and commits to its rules (of course these will have to be gone through together first).
      4.  Motivation to join and work in the camp.

      7. Volunteer info

      We ask some things from the applicants in the application letter in order to know the basic needs, abilities and strengths of the volunteer. This also makes it easier for the camp coordinators to organise the camp. The information is shared only with the office and the camp coordinators, this is very important!

      1. Basic information:  Name, Sex, Date of birth, Nationality, mother tongue, other spoken languages, Address, Phone number, email address and emergency contact.
      2. Experience: occupation/studies/work experience, possible voluntary/community work experience, how can you contribute to the camp, how long have you been in the country?
      3. Motivation: Why do you want to join a camp, expectations towards the camp,
      4. Additional information needed: diet, allergies, illnesses/medication/disabilities, are you coming alone or with a child
      5. Work camps chosen in order of preference. (we give them a list of camps and their brief description)
      • Some information such as “how long have you been in the country” are not relevant in the selection process, but more in the placement and organizing the travels. It is sometimes good to know if the person has just arrived or has been in the country already for a while. If someone has just arrived, it might be a good idea to invite two people from the same centre so that they can travel together  (It is also less work if you always place 2 participants from the same centre to the same camp).
      • For languages it might help to place for example two Dari speaking people into a same camp, if one of them has a poorer level of English.
      • When it comes to experience, it is good to know if the applicant has some special knowledge or abilities that fit a certain camp, to give him/her a possibility to use them.
      • Sometimes applicants don’t realise that you can’t come with a child to every camp, this is why it is important to ask this and see if there are any camps where it would be possible to join with a child.
      • It is important for the camp hosts and coordinator to know if the participants have any special diet such as halal, Muslim, Hindu or if they are for example fasting for Ramadan during the camp period.

      8. Involving asylum seekers

      The placement of the asylum seekers shouldn’t be done too early because they are in the process of seeking asylum and their situation can change very quickly.  In the case of refugees it is different, since they already have the status.

      When you upload a camp in the OPS and you mark the number of volunteers, reserve the amount of places that you want to save for the asylum seekers/refugees from the “free male and female places”. This way you have the total amount of participants in the OPS, and volunteers can apply for the free places and you can select the asylum seeker participants closer to the camp period. The refugees and asylum seekers in the case of KVT do not apply through OPS, but with a separate form that they send to the office.  There are several reasons for this, such as need to have separate questions and negotiate the applicants with the reception centre.  So keep in mind that this causes an additional step for the office, since they need to fill their information to the OPS database based on the application form.

      Remember that you are in charge of organizing the travel to the camp site and buying the travel tickets to the participant.  You should agree beforehand to whom in the reception centre the tickets are sent and how much beforehand. Always in case the participant lives in a reception centre, send the tickets to your contact social worker from the centre. It is important that in the centre they know when someone is leaving and coming back and there is often a person who is in charge of organizing this. In Finland the tickets need to be delivered at least a week beforehand. Sometimes they might even have to apply for a period out of the centre and justify where they are.

      Note: It is important to give the participants a certificate where you mention for example acquired skills, how the person works in a group etc., so the participant can use this for his/her work search.

      9. Preparing asylum seekers and refugee volunteers

      It would be ideal to meet the asylum seeker participants before sending them to a camp but sometimes if the reception centres are very far it might be hard to organise this. In this case you should at least arrange an extensive talk with the volunteer on the phone and go through some important things and advise the social worker to go through the infosheet together with the volunteer as well.

      1.  Contact the volunteer and the reception centre to tell that he/she has been approved to join a camp. Tell which camp and when it will be.
      2.  If you have all the relevant information and infosheet of the camp, send them to both the volunteer and the social worker.  If they are not ready yet, promise to send them as soon as possible.
      3.  Make sure that the volunteer goes through the infosheet together with somebody from your organisation or the social worker. Make sure that he/she understands the following things:
      • What is a voluntary workcamp and what does your organisation do? It is also important to emphasize that the work is volunteering and it is not paid.
      • When and where is the camp and how will the volunteer get to the venue?
      • What kind of work will be done?
      • What are the conditions of the camp site? How the accommodation is organised and what does the volunteer need to bring? If possible it might be useful to collect extra sleeping bags and rubber boots from your organisation as asylum seekers do not have funds to purchase these and sometimes the reception centres cannot provide these either.
      • How will the volunteer group look like? (where do the other volunteers come from, which cultural backgrounds do they have?
      • Who can be contacted if he/she has questions about the camp?
      • Explain the basic rules such as: volunteers stay at the campsite for the whole duration of the camp, the group works together, the times of departure and arrivals back to the centre must be respected etc…
      1.   Remember to ask if the volunteer has any questions or wishes concerning the camp.

       If possible, you can also get them in contact with volunteers from the same cultural background or other volunteers with asylum-seeking background who have participated in a workcamp in former years and ask them to support the new volunteers.

      10. Preparing the others

      Discuss the project with the camphosts and provide them with some information about placing asylum seekers in the camp. There is not much that changes with the preparations, but you should discuss possible special diets or accommodation arrangements.

      IMPORTANT: Often camp hosts and coordinators are not sure, how they should regard asylum seeker participants. It is important to emphasize that they are volunteers like all the rest of the camps’ participants and them being asylum seekers or refugees shouldn’t be underlined or questioned unless they personally want to bring this up. This should be discussed in the camp coordinator training!

      11. Training camp coordinators

      It is important to include information about this project in the training of camp coordinators, so that they understand why and how you are doing these placements and what support is required from them. In KVT they try to invite participants from previous camps to tell about their experiences and give tips to the new coordinators. It is also useful to have the person who is or has been working with this project presenting good and bad experiences and advice.

      Since the camp coordinators are the link between the camp host, volunteers and asylum seekers, it is important to encourage them to discuss and ask about any problems or misunderstandings happening in the camp. It is also important that the camp coordinators try to make everyone feel equal and comfortable. Here are some tips about this project that you should remind the camp coordinators of:

      • Make sure that either office/camp coordinators contact the host in advance for any special arrangements concerning food and accommodation.
      • If there is no meeting point in the beginning and each volunteer has to reach the camp site on their own, ask the coordinators to contact the asylum seekers and make sure they can find their way to the venue.
      • Ask the asylum seekers how they feel about photographing and their pictures being published on the internet, and if there is a wish not to do this, tell this to the rest of the group. Of course this should be asked from the whole group, but with asylum seekers it might in some cases be even dangerous to publish their name and picture in the internet. If there are any journalists coming to visit the camp, make sure that this is respected by them as well.
      • Make sure that coordinators have all the relevant information about any medical conditions or illnesses. Many asylum seekers who have escaped from traumatic surroundings might for example be under strong sleeping medications.
      • When planning an activity for the free days, remember that the asylum seekers might not have any pocket money to do something expensive. Make sure that nobody is left out.
      • In any difficult case, such as asylum seeker not wanting to go back to the centre, ask the coordinator to contact the office or the person who is in charge of the project.
      • Questions of cultural sensitivity: this is important with an international group in general, and as it was mentioned earlier it is important that asylum seeker participants are considered as any other volunteer in the camp. However, the bigger the cultural differences between the societies and customs are, the more cultural sensitivity, understanding and compromises you might need.  A lot of refugees come from Middle Eastern and African countries, which differ a lot from the realities of European and Asian participants. You might want to consider for example differences in the way of communication, relations between men and women, use of alcohol, traditions, religion etc.

      12. Evaluation

      In the case of KVT the asylum seekers fill out the same evaluation forms as all the other volunteers of the camp. The camp coordinators are also asked for feedback about their experience.  KVT has an evaluation event every year after the camp season. If there is funding, all the asylum seeker participants (as well as camp hosts, social workers and camp coordinators) are asked to join this meeting, where they evaluate their projects based on the experiences and ideas of the volunteers. If there is no such meeting, it would be important to discuss both with the participant and the social worker their experience and possible suggestions for improvement.

      • When you have done these placements for a year and you have asylum seekers that have already been on a camp, you can ask them to act as support people for new volunteers. Especially if they speak the same language or live in the same part of the country. You can also then include them in the preparation of the new volunteers.
      • If you organise a camp in a reception centre, ask well beforehand what they think about having other asylum seekers in that camp. At least in Finland the centres prefer not to have “clients” from other centres joining a camp in a reception centre.
      • KVT has added a section in the infosheets of all camps explaining shortly the project and that there will be asylum seekers and refugees placed on the camps. The rest of the explanation is done by the camp coordinators, so it is very important to prepare them well.

      Challenges you may face:

      • Permissions to go out of reception centers
      • Risk of cancellation due to different reasons (mainly negative decision on the asylum claim, or they found a job)

       Even if the participation to a camp is agreed on earlier, it might be a good idea to buy the travel tickets etc. just before the camp.

      Not fully understanding the concept of volunteering (sometimes the concept of volunteering can be quite new/strange and even though participants say they understand, there might be some misunderstandings about the concept of volunteering and a voluntary camp).

      However, most participants are aware of helping others in their own communities or through their religion, so concepts of reciprocity and altruism are familiar to them, but in a different setting.

      • A participant does not speak English well enough to communicate with the rest of the group and feels outside of the group. 

      Remember to emphasize this to the social workers and the reception centre. If they write the application together it might be hard for you to estimate the actual level of English.

      • A participant is fasting for Ramadan and does not inform you about this beforehand. In some cases it is problematic, since the work is done in the daytime, and the participant does not have energy to contribute.

      Find out when Ramadan is each year (each year it starts around 10 days earlier) and check with the Muslim participants joining camps at this period if they are fasting. If yes, discuss what it means to work and organise meals during Ramadan in the camp site.

      • Participants often have such a great time in the camp that they don’t want to return to the centre anymore. This might be psychologically a hard situation for the camp coordinators, since they can’t do anything about it or offer many other projects.

      For this see preparation of the camp coordinators.

      • Sometimes participants take for granted that there is for example alāl food available.  This situation, however, can be very new for the host providing the food.

      Make sure to ask both the participant and the centre for any special diet.  A good practical tip is to reserve them vegetarian diet, if unsure about their diet, in order to avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings about diets.

      • Insecurity: People might not know enough about the country to travel by themselves, they might feel insecure about participating.

      Possible solution: Accepting two asylum seekers/refugees together from the same center for a camp, so they can travel together etc.; Asylum seekers could also travel together with camp coordinators to the camp.

      • Cultural sensitivity and differences. See as well preparing camp coordinators and preparing volunteers!


      You can download KVTs application form here and adapt it for your own use


      You can share your experience, observations, tips and tricks, pictures etc. by uploading for instance a method or a case study to the Building Bridges Toolkit. As this Toolkit is a work in progress to which all involved parties are invited to contribute, we would also be very grateful for your support and contribution in order to inspire others to continue the work towards peace and intercultural understanding.