What work do PBI field volunteers do?
PBI volunteers accompany at-risk activists, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a display of solidarity that deters violent attacks. The aim of each PBI team is to encourage, by means of an international, nonviolent, non-partisan presence, a peaceful resolution of conflicts and the strengthening of local civil society. To do this, PBI teams:
- Offer support and protective accompaniment to human rights defenders, groups or individuals threatened with violence;
- Develop a thorough analysis of the political situation by listening to the widest possible range of viewpoints and experiences;
- Report to the outside world a non-partisan analysis of the situation as seen on the ground;
- Encourage actions to reduce the level of violence;
- Meet regularly with local and national civil and military authorities and embassies to raise concerns regarding human rights abuses that affect the organisations we accompany.
PBI is not a development organisation. We believe that communities need space to carry out their own development in ways that create self reliance rather than dependency. We refer requests for development projects to other organisations set up for such work.
How does protective accompaniment work?
PBI offers provides “global accompaniment” to human rights defenders, which combines three mutually-reinforcing mechanisms:
- Physical accompaniment: PBI volunteers provide a visible international presence alongside threatened human rights defenders that deters violent attacks.
- Political accompaniment: PBI develops and maintains a support network made up of decision makers and influential individuals and groups, who are kept informed of our concerns, and who are prepared to act in case of a crisis to exert immediate international pressure to stop human rights violations. As part of this effort, PBI volunteers hold regular meetings with authorities from local to national level, keeping them informed about our activities and concerns.
- Informational accompaniment: PBI volunteers are involved in the production and distribution of regular publications and reports, bringing the voices and experiences of threatened human rights defenders to an international audience.
In these ways, global accompaniment raises the profile of accompanied organisations, raises awareness of human rights issues in the project countries, and demonstrates to potential attackers the concern and attention of the international community. This deters attacks, as human rights abusers are less likely to commit the abuse under the glare of an international spotlight.
More detailed information can be found in the section What is protective accompaniment?
Is it dangerous?
Given the nature of PBI's work there are clearly some personal risks involved in working on a PBI team. Team members frequently accompany people targeted with all kinds of physical harm. Before applying, each potential volunteer needs to consider whether for them it is worth taking these risks.
In 30 years of accompaniment, there have been two serious incidents both of which occurred more than 20 years ago. In August 1989, a hand grenade was thrown into the PBI house in Guatemala (nobody was hurt), and three months later, three volunteers were stabbed on their way home from the bus stop, though fortunately suffered no permanent harm. However, these kinds of incidents have been very rare.
Ensuring the safety of our own volunteers is essential to maximising the protection we can offer to the organisations and communities we accompany. When undertaking any accompaniment, particularly those that are potentially risky, PBI teams undertake a thorough analysis of the local political situation and inform the police, the local authorities and the army (where relevant) that PBI volunteers will be in the area. This high level of visibility signals to the authorities that they will be held accountable for anything that should happen to the volunteers or those they are accompanying. The embassies of the countries the volunteers come from are also informed as a preventive measure. Volunteers are provided with mobile phones (or satellite phones if they are travelling to remote areas) so they can communicate instantly with their teams and support offices. The teams in the field are backed up by an international support network which protects not only the organisations we accompany but also our own volunteers.
What does PBI's principle of non-partisanship mean?
Non-partisanship is a fundamental principle of PBI for both philosophical and practical reasons.
We believe it is inappropriate for us as outsiders to influence the decisions of the organisations we accompany. Our mandate is to provide the protection that will enable them to solve their problems nonviolently in their own way.
In order to analyse a conflict it is important to keep ourselves open to all parties. If we are perceived to be aligned with any one political faction or ideology, an organisation that may need our services might be wary of making contact with us. A non-partisan stance adds to both our objectivity and accessibility.
Our non-partisanship gives us access to a broad spectrum of political support which strengthens our ability to provide protection and promote nonviolent means of resolving conflicts.
Non-partisanship gives some degree of standing with local authorities and the diplomatic community which in turn strengthens our political influence and therefore strengthens the protection we provide.
When PBI teams are working with those whose lives and work are threatened by violence, accepting and working within the discipline of non-partisanship can be politically and emotionally very difficult. In practical terms it means:
- PBI does not provide funding for any of the organisations we accompany.
- PBI teams do not accept payment for services.
- PBI volunteers do not give or solicit material aid for local organisations or individuals during their term of service or immediately afterwards when they are still likely to be viewed as members of PBI.
- PBI volunteers do not participate in any way in the activities of local organisations during their term of service. Although we often provide human rights observation at events such as rallies and demonstrations we do not take part in them.
Who decides who we accompany?
In line with PBI's principle of non-partisanship, PBI projects only begin a new accompaniment after first receiving a request from the threatened individual or organisation. The decision to accept or not is made by the whole project, after a thorough evaluation of the situation.
What qualifications and experience does PBI look for in volunteers?
PBI volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds. The following qualities, experience and skills are examples of the criteria used for screening potential volunteers. Some are essential and others desirable - check with the project you are applying to for their list of criteria:
- Nonviolence - a clear understanding of and commitment to nonviolence. Experience of working with nonviolence in your own community is a prerequisite for applying nonviolence to other parts of the world
- Language skills - fluent Spanish is essential for working in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia. The Kenya project uses English.
- Discretion and diplomacy
- Maturity – the recommended minimum age for volunteers is 25
- Resilience - the ability to work effectively under pressure and stress
- Knowledge and understanding of the history, politics and culture of the country where you are working
- Cultural sensitivity - the ability to work with people of different cultures
- Flexibility - the ability to change tactics, work and opinions
- Experience of working in groups - familiarity with consensus decision-making and teamwork
- Experience of work within human rights, social justice or peace organisations
- Practical skills - IT, bookkeeping, writing, library skills, photography, cooking, and many others have been useful on PBI teams
What are the language requirements?
For the Latin American projects you must be fluent in Spanish before applying to the projects. For Kenya, you must be fluent in English.
Is there a minimum or maximum age for volunteers?
The recommended minimum age for field volunteers is 25. There is no age limit. Volunteers do need to be in good physical condition to be able to cope with a demanding schedule, long hours and regular travel.
What does PBI offer volunteers?
- A profound experience of working with an international peace and human rights organisation committed to transforming ideals into practical action
- Specialist training based on 35 years' experience working in the field
- The experience of living and working in a close-knit team of volunteers
- A unique first-hand insight into the intense pressures faced by human rights defenders, and their resilience and courage
What costs are covered?
All projects cover the following costs: travel to country of work, accommodation, food, internal travel, insurance, repatriation and a stipend to cover additional costs. See project pages for specific information on the costs each of them covers.
What level of responsibility do volunteers have?
PBI field volunteers work to a professional standard, including representing PBI at meetings and forums and contributing to the day-to-day management of the project. PBI works according to a horizontal organisational model, and major decisions are made by consensus. Within the team, each volunteer's level of responsibility increases over the course of their placement, as they become more experienced and begin to take part in the supervision and training of volunteers arriving after them.
How long does the volunteer placement last?
Volunteers are required to commit for a minimum of 12 months.
Can I do a short-term placement?
No, short-terms placements are not possible with PBI.
How do I apply?
If you live in the UK, you should first attend an orientation weekend. Click here to find out more about PBI UK's orientation weekends.
If you live in one of the following countries you should contact the national country group: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, USA. Many of the country groups also run orientation sessions.
If there is no country group in the country where you live, you should directly contact the project that you would like to join.
Where will the project training take place?
Project trainings are held several times a year in Europe, North America and the Asia–Pacific region. The Colombia, Guatemala,Honduras and Mexico Project trainings use Spanish and the Nepal and Kenya Project trainings use English. Please regularly check the project websites for up to date information about coming trainings.
What does the training process consist of?
After sending the application form and supplying references to the office of the project you wish to join you will then do a pre-screening interview (usually by phone).
The next stage in the process is to attend a 7-10 day project training. These trainings are held several times a year in Europe, North America and the Asia–Pacific region. Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico Project trainings use Spanish and Kenya Project trainings use English.
These trainings cover the following topics within the context of the project countries: PBI’s principles, mandate, structure and decision making processes, nonviolence and non partisanship, political analysis, cultural sensitivity, group process and dealing with fear, stress and emergency situations.
The training will help you and the project decide if you are adequately prepared for the experience. Each applicant will have an interview with members of the training team to discuss questions or concerns. Some projects will let you know their recommendation on the last day of the training and others communicate this to you at a later date.
In addition to this residential training, you will also be expected to undertake a period of distance learning to prepare yourself to join a team.
Your preparation will continue with an in-country orientation when you first join a team.
How soon can I join a project?
Project offices are responsible for scheduling when volunteers join their teams. They will try to make sure that you join at a time that is convenient for you, but they also need to take into account the needs of the team. This includes maintaining a balance of nationality, gender, age and skills. Because of this it can take anywhere between one month and one year between completing your training and joining the team.
Can I choose which project/team I am sent to?
You will submit your application to the specific project you wish to join. Once selected, you may be able to indicate which regional sub-team (where relevant) you would prefer to join, but please be aware that it is not always possible for volunteers to join their first choice of sub-team.
Where do PBI volunteers come from?
In recent years, volunteers have come from the following 25 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA.
Can I work with a PBI team in my own country?
No. For reasons of non-partisanship and security volunteers cannot join PBI teams in their own countries. However, if you come from one of our project countries, we strongly encourage you to apply to volunteer with one of the other PBI projects.
The first reason for this ‘own country rule’ is that PBI teams need to maintain a distance from the organisations they accompany so that local pressures don’t influence their work. The second reason is security. In order to provide effective protection for the organisations we work with we need to maximise the security of our own volunteers.
Where can I get more information?
You can find more details about the specific policies and requirements of the individual projects, as well as their contact details, on their webpages:
Find out about PBI UK's orientation weekends here