The applicant officially becomes a Notre Dame International Volunteer (NDIV) with the signing of the Service Commitment form. This is an agreement between the volunteer, the NDIV director, and the on-site director. This description details the understanding and commitments of all the signing parties. The NDIV director, in communication with the on-site director, may terminate the agreement at any time should she conclude that it is prudent to do so. Ordinarily the term of the agreement extends to one year from the date of signing.
The NDIV director oversees the Notre Dame International Volunteer Program. The NDIV director is the primary contact regarding volunteers with the provincial governments of the Sisters of Notre Dame (SND) of Covington and of California, who jointly sponsor the Uganda mission. She arranges pre-service orientation of the volunteers to cross-cultural living and to particular aspects of the SND mission in Uganda. The director communicates with the respective mission offices regarding volunteer matters. She maintains regular email or written contact with both the on-site director and the individual volunteers. Ordinarily the director will visit the volunteers at the mission site once during their year of service.
The on-site director oversees the orientation of the volunteers once they arrive at the mission site. She supports the volunteers, assists with practical matters, facilitates relations with the SND communities in Uganda, and coordinates faith-building and faith-sharing experiences. The volunteers are encouraged to communicate with her regarding any matters related to their volunteer experience. The on-site director will report at least quarterly to the NDIV director on how the volunteer program is progressing.
During her time of service abroad, the volunteer will receive material support from the Sisters of Notre Dame in the form of housing, stipend for food and incidental expenses, and health insurance if needed. As in many other international volunteer programs headed by U.S. organizations, volunteers are expected to fundraise among friends, family, and faith communities as part of their commitment and contribution to the year of service. This support is one of the ways in which others can participate in the volunteer’s service. Selection to the program will not be dependent on the amount of funds raised.
The Sisters of Notre Dame through the respective mission offices will provide transportation to Uganda and at the completion of the year of service, usually by the most economical route possible. If a volunteer terminates the service within the first six months, she will be expected to reimburse the Sisters of Notre Dame for the return fare home. If the NDIV director terminates the service agreement, the Sisters of Notre Dame will fund the return trip. In the case of serious illness of the volunteer or serious illness or death of an immediate family member (parent or sibling), the volunteer will make appropriate travel arrangements upon communicating with the NDIV director. If the volunteer chooses to make an extended trip before returning home, she negotiates with the NDIV director regarding transportation arrangements.
Although volunteers will not have the use of a car during their stay at the mission, the on-site director will try to assist them in making any internal travel arrangements. It may also be possible to hire a car and driver for excursions during the term of service. There is an extended holidays for the schools from early December until early February when it may be possible to arrange travel to other parts of Uganda or East Africa.
Living in a community provides unique opportunities to learn, to develop relationships, and to grow as a person. There are many blessings, and the challenges themselves may prove blessings. The Sisters of Notre Dame encourage the potential volunteer to reflect on her expectations and her limitations as she decides whether she is a good candidate for mission life. Upon arriving, the on-site director will assist in laying the groundwork for the volunteer community to decide how it will function. The sisters at the mission may prove a valuable resource on living in a community of women, and also can be looked to for support.
Adaptation is always required to those with whom we live and work, those we serve and those who serve us. This is especially true in a community that is international and will at minimum include persons from the United States, from Uganda and from Europe. The volunteer experience will provide a unique opportunity to understand other cultures and learn to withhold judgment and negotiate with persons whose life experiences may be very different from one’s own.
The volunteer is presumed to be a mature adult who is a representative of the Christian community and of the Notre Dame International Volunteer Program. It is important to reflect in advance on what it means to be in a situation where one’s behavior reflects not only on herself but also on her country, her church and the NDIV Program.
During the preparation period, it is well to orient oneself to enter the culture primarily as a guest and a learner. The open and direct style of communication that is characteristic of many North Americans is not a universal standard, and this will often be noted in one’s experience as a volunteer. It is helpful to enter the culture with a stance of observing everything and reserving judgment and criticism.
In the Ugandan culture, the volunteer may find herself in a situation where her U.S. and Christian values are different from those in place in the volunteer setting. This may well be true in the standards of morality (especially sexual practice) and relationships of men with women and adults with children. Reserve in intervening along with discussion with those who know the culture is recommended. Often cultural practices convey something more than is immediately perceived by a non-indigenous observer of practice. Again, it is important that we enter another culture first and foremost as guests and learners.
Any egregious act or series of acts that would bring harm or is contrary to the ideals and mission on NDIV is grounds for termination of the volunteer experience. These would include repeated unwillingness to be of service when called upon, acts of verbal or physical violence, insubordination, serious misconduct of a sexual or other nature, and public intoxication.
Notre Dame International Volunteers are encouraged to develop relationships with the people of Uganda and with the sisters and other volunteers who serve in the mission. It is through such relationships that we come to a deep appreciation of other cultures and peoples. The volunteer will discover that Uganda, as the United States, actually has many cultures and great individual diversity.
Pursuing romantic relationships during the term of service is discouraged in that the experiences of homesickness and loneliness that are inevitable in the course of an extended stay in another culture complicate the understanding and development of such relationships. Cross-cultural adaptation, hardships, and isolation play out differently and to different degrees for different individuals. Reflecting on these experiences is an important part of the time as a volunteer, and talking with an objective and experienced person on site (such as the onsite director, an SND, or other mentor) may be helpful.
Volunteers are expected to communicate via email with the NDIV director at least every other month to inform her of their service activity and overall wellbeing. The NDIV director wishes to be a support to the volunteer in every aspect of the extended experience. In addition, the NDIV director expects to grow in her role and in her understanding of the culture through her interaction with the volunteer.
Open communication on a regular basis with the on-site director and/or other mentor is highly recommended. The on-site director will arrange some more formal reflections or interactions. At least quarterly, the on-site director will communicate with the NDIV director regarding the volunteers and their experience.
In the event of any emergency or serious matter, the volunteer is to immediately contact the on-site director. The volunteer and the on-site director are also to make direct contact with the NDIV director as soon as possible. The NDIV director will promptly contact the respective provincials of the SND provinces involved to discuss recommendations as to how to proceed.
The volunteer should be aware that she will be working primarily in a Ugandan boarding school community where children are present 24/7 during school terms. Personnel need to cover supervision of students around the clock, and the volunteer will need to be adaptable and willing to fill in where needed. At the same time, she should expect to have reasonable amounts of time free from assigned duties. In general, vacation time is available during the three holiday periods between school terms. The longest break is from December to early February. That is a good time to plan on visiting other areas. Particular situations and cases of illness should be taken up with the on-site director.
Part of the volunteer experience is being immersed in another culture and to that extent being removed from one’s own. It necessitates missing family events and holidays. Limited internet and mobile phone connections will be possible. Family members and/or friends may be inclined to visit the mission. In general, it is good to limit these visits because of responsibilities in the mission. But it is also good to have one visit by someone from the home country with whom you will have contact on your return. Re-entry into one’s home culture is eased if there is someone with whom one can communicate who has had a more direct experience of the mission at which you have volunteered.
In the case of death or grave illness of a parent, sibling, or child, NDIV will provide round trip transportation. Other than such conditions, volunteers are asked not to visit home in the course of their year-long service commitment. In exceptional cases, the on-site coordinator should be consulted before travel arrangements are made. If it is agreed upon, the volunteer is responsible for any expenses including health costs during the home visit.
Protecting her health is the responsibility of each volunteer. There will be exposure to sanitary conditions and illnesses that are basically unknown in the United States or Europe. The volunteer needs to contact a medical care provider well in advance of her term of service. It is well to contact a provider who is well versed in international health issues. Any needed immunizations and medications should be arranged for while in the United States.
Exercise, rest and nutrition are always important health considerations. Volunteers should inform themselves in advance of the various diseases to which they could be exposed and how to take necessary precautions. Volunteers should familiarize themselves with the local diet and plan to supplement it as needed. In particular, the protein component of the local Ugandan diet is very different than the typical diet in the United States. In some persons this can lead to significant muscle loss unless the protein is supplemented and coupled with exercise.
The NDIV provides medical insurance if needed. If a volunteer is injured or develops an illness for which she cannot receive adequate treatment, she will be brought back to the United States for medical care. In such cases or in cases of any seriously traumatic event, NDIV personnel will make contact with the adult designated by the volunteer before her departure.
Termination of the service agreement occurs when the volunteer leaves the service site abroad. Normally this will happen upon the completion of the service term agreed upon. The formal association ends when the NDIV director confirms the completion of the term, but it is hoped that informal association and interest will continue.
Early termination could occur either voluntarily (e.g, because of illness, a situation that could not be amicably resolved, or a personal decision on the part of the volunteer) or involuntarily. The volunteer is strongly encouraged to explore any issues surrounding voluntary termination with the on-site director and/or another mentor before making a final decision. If the decision to voluntarily terminate is made, it is to be confirmed in writing in a signed letter directed to the NDIV director that will be transmitted by the on-site director. The reasons for terminating the service agreement should be clearly stated.
The NDIV director in consultation with the provincials of the Covington and California provinces would make any final decision regarding involuntary termination. This would happen only after extensive input from the on-site director and/or other personnel at the mission site. This could be initiated because of behavior of the volunteer that is contrary to the ideals of the mission volunteer program or because the NDIV director thinks the termination is important for the wellbeing of the volunteer even though she may not be in agreement.
A person who would be terminated will be provided with transportation home as soon as it can be arranged. If the termination occurs before six months of the service commitment is fulfilled, she will be expected to reimburse NDIV for the cost of the return airfare. If the volunteer refuses to return home, she will be responsible for her own transportation at the time she chooses to return. Insurance benefits provided by NDIV will cease when the NDIV director terminates the service agreement.
The volunteer re-entering the home culture is encouraged to maintain contact with NDIV as she is inclined. It is recommended that she participate in a formal re-entry program, as well as contact persons who have made similar service commitments abroad to learn from their re-entry experiences. It is important to know that relationships will have changed in her absence, and that she will return a changed person with possibly different perspectives. Those who have not had the experience may not be attuned to this. For many volunteers, it is helpful to process the experience on their return. The volunteer herself can be a valuable resource for others exploring the possibility of a similar volunteer experience.