Just Visiting. Preparation

Preparing to maximise potential

The international non-government sector has over time, deeply impacted public understandings of aid and development and how we can and should respond to it. Many methods, initiatives and opportunities have been created to engage the public in the fight against global poverty. Like every other sector, international aid and development agencies have had their share of highs and lows.

There is growing recognition within the non-government sector, as well as mainstream discourse that the traditional ways of thinking about ‘those in need' as passive recipients of aid from foreign and powerful givers is no longer effective or appropriate. That is, if our aim is to indeed end poverty, uphold dignity and promote justice. 

Many initiatives and methods have been rethought, modified and improved. There has been extensive commentary on the impact of short term solutions that do not address root causes of poverty or recognise or uphold the Catholic Social Teaching principles of Participation- that every person has the agency, right and responsibility to create and drive their own change. Or Subsidiarity- that people have a right to participate in the decision making that affects them.

It is important to consider how global school partnerships or immersion experiences prepare students to process and respond to complex situations of poverty, as people of faith.  

Over simplifying the causes of and solutions to poverty does little to uphold the dignity or promote justice of our brothers and sisters experiencing it.  Developing robust understanding and critical thinking capacity to grapple with the underlying causes of poverty enables people of all ages to stand up and to respond more effectively.

Robust global justice education, adequately prepared teachers and facilitators and strong partnerships with aid and development agencies  that align with your faith and principles can be a valuable foundation on which to foster justice minded students.

Film clip - Preparing for a student immersion

Watch the following clip and discuss:

Kath mentions the "adult immersion course that have 30 hours face to face".

Caritas Australia runs 30 hour courses that includes coursework about about social justice, poverty, aid and development, Catholic Social teaching, Charity and Justice and other topics as a pre-requisite to any visit to a community. The visit does not involve any service activity.


"Preparation is needed"

  • How much time and resources are you willing and able to invest in the preparation of teachers and students to learn about poverty aid and development?

"It is a thin line between poverty tourism, voluntourism and real immersion, real learning"

  • How is the student immersion you are conducting ensuring it is not exploitative or encouraging a simple observation or 'tour' of poverty?

It is a "mutual learning and a reaching out"

  • How are you preparing your teachers and students to know that the immersion is a mutual learning experience, a reaching out to each other, not an "out reach to a poor community"?
  • How are you preparing students to uphold the dignity of others? 
  • How is the the mutual learning prioritised over the doing and activities?
  • How is the learning emphasised and the visit made a secondary priority? 

Pre-trip preparation program


It is important to situate the global immersion experience within a broader education program that critically considers the context and purpose of the visit. An understanding of the importance of an integrated approach to community development is useful to frame what students and teachers might see, learn or experience during a student immersion.

In addition, it is necessary to consider the historical context of the community you will visit. Understanding more about the history of the country, their relationships with foreign powers or the role of the church and missions in that area are not only valuable learning for students but help them develop critical thinking skills and contextualize the immediate poverty or situations that they will witness. 

This understanding can be developed through detailed and focused preparation. Many schools who have over many years developed their immersion program have found that thorough learning through a pre-immersion program has made a significant difference to the learning outcomes for students.

Here are some ideas for preparation courses:

  • Begin a routine of prayer through community gatherings and celebrations for the host region or country and for those attending.

  • Orient participants to life in the region or country and to relevant human development issues of the host community. If a long-term relationship is to be established, explore opportunities and resources for joint orientation.

  • Orient participants to the local culture, including art and music, of the host community. In particular, highlight sensitivity needed for significant cultural factors. Remind participants of particular skills that focus on listening, open dialogue, openness to learn, graciousness, flexibility and gratitude.

  • Invite people who have attended previous work camp or immersion experiences to give presentations or witness talks.

  • Invite returned visitors serving in the location of your work camp or immersion experience to give presentations or witness talks.

  • Plan a youth retreat about global solidarity or hunger and poverty, supplementing it with information about issues impacting the host community 

Adapted from Catholic Relief Services (Caritas USA)

The aims for our immersion have developed and been clarified over time. At the end of our immersion program which includes a 10 week preparation course and a post immersion reflection program, I feel confident that our students know that the aim of it was not to "help the poor" but to "listen and learn, develop a greater commitment to reconciliation and friendship with the community. The comprehensive pre and post immersion learning program has had a significant impact on this outcome.
Darcie, Immersion Coordinator at Avila College

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