Issues >

Concrete issues

In the following texts and videos, you will see various situations that you can encounter as campleaders or project leaders. They are to provide you tips and guidance in case you’re wondering how to solve an issue that arose during your projects. The solutions proposed are based on many years of experience of experienced leaders and trainers, who are used of working with multicultural groups of participants. But always remember, that the context of your situation matters.

For some of the proposed solutions, you might also find handy to go through the main principles of non-violent communication and explanation to better understand variety of expectations from participants, campleaders and local partners.

Select one or several of the tags to watch and read about specific possible issues and how to deal with them.

Situation 1: A campleader is overwhelmed

What happened:
The participants want too much from the camp leader, they come to him with every detail or small question. He has a co-leader, but she is very inexperienced, so she is nervous about the whole situation and needs to help herself with tasks, he can't rely on her too much. In addition, one day the project partner also announces that they have decided to organise an informal event, which is not related to the project, but they want the campleader to get the participants to help with the set-up. The campleader is very overwhelmed and stressed all the time because he feels that everyone is relying on him for everything and it's getting to be too much.

Proposed solution:

  • Take a break: It is crucial to take a break from work and give yourself time to recharge. A short nap or an evening spent alone may help you to cope with a burnout or even avoid it at all.
  • Delegate Responsibilities: Consider delegating some of your responsibilities to other participants or co-leaders to ease your workload.
  • Rely on the participants: they can also be responsible for making decisions and performing small tasks on their own.
  • Distribute tasks in the beginning: this may help you to save energy and concentrate on the most important tasks.
  • Set your own boundaries from the beginning: do not take too much tasks and responsibilty on you. Remember: you are not a nanny or a mom for the volunteers!

Some more ideas for similar situations are in the video:

Tags: campleader, stress management, mental health

Situation 2: Your co-leader is not sharing responsibilities

What happened:
You and your co-leader are to prepare a workshop for local people. However, your co-leader is not contributing much to the planning process, leaving the majority of the work to you. Despite your expectations and encouragement for her to take action, she does not seem to be showing much interest in the workshop.

Proposed solutions:

  • Set Clear Expectations: Make sure that your co-leader understands her responsibilities and the expectations for her role.
  • Communicate directly and do not wait till the situation is heated up. The best solution is to talk to your co-leader privately and explain what the problem is.
  • Divide Responsibilities: Work together to divide the responsibilities in a way that is fair and balanced. Ensure that each person understands their specific duties and that they are accountable for completing them.
  • Share tasks based on one’s preferences: Discuss which type of tasks each of you prefer to do and distribute them according to your preferences.
  • If you cannot deal with the situation and your co-leader is reluctant to listen to you, just concentrate on your tasks. Remember: You do not have to be best friends with your co-leader! Focus on the project and not on building relationship with your co-leader.
  • Keep track of your achievements and present the result of your work to the co-leader so that he/she has a clear understanding of what have been done and what he/she is expected to do.
  • Seek help from the project partner if possible

Tags: campleader, communication, teamwork, responsibilities

Situation 3: One of the participants is excluded because of the language barrier

What happened:
During a workcamp in Spain, a participant who does not speak Spanish is being left out of group activities and discussions. Other participants seem to avoid speaking in English and instead switch to Spanish, making it difficult for the non-Spanish speaking participant to participate and engage with the group. This exclusion results in the participant feeling isolated and hinders their ability to fully participate in the workcamp.

Proposed solutions:

  • Encourage the group to speak English: Talk to the participants and explain that people who do not speak Spanish (in this case) will feel excluded from group life.
  • You can work with the expectations and fears in the beginning - not being able to understand or being excluded is usually among the fears. You can point out that there is this fear (usually by more than one person) and express that it is the responsibility of each participant to include everyone into the group.
  • Team-building exercises can help to break down barriers between group members and foster a sense of community. The strong expenses build the group. By creating an environment where people feel comfortable and connected, they may be more willing to communicate and speak English with each other.
  • You can use team building activities and games where spoken language is not needed, e.g. sports activities, silent games, games that focus on music etc.
  • At the beginning you can use the games with basics of English to make people feel more comfortable to speak.
  • Provide language support, such as a translator or a language tutor if it is possible.
  • Facilitate small group discussions where the non-Spanish speaking participant can be paired with Spanish-speaking participants. This would encourage the participants to speak English and communicate more.
  • For various tasks you can divide people into small groups - e. g. cooking, cleaning, work, shopping. They need to talk during that and also will get some common experiences.
  • You can use the “bora bora” rule: if someone says “bora bora” everyone has to switch (back) to English. Ground and explain this rule in the agreement on rules of the workcamp in the very beginning. You can also appoint specific people to be the ones who say “bora bora” if they see someone is speaking in a different language. It is good to select people for this who are more open and communicative and don’t mind being in the spotlight.
  • Organize games where people are supposed to talk in their mother tongue or teach the others some songs, sayings, greetings, etc.

Similar situation (couple/two people excluding themselves from the group) is discussed in this video:

Tags: language barrier, communication, exclusion

Situation 4: Participant cannot communicate in English

What happened:
One participant is being excluded from group activities due to a language barrier. This participant is unable to understand English and therefore cannot fully participate in discussions, games, or work instructions. This exclusion may make the participant feel isolated and may hinder their ability to fully engage with the group.

Proposed solutions:

  • Talk slowly and clearly: Explain the work and tasks to them individually, and make sure they understand what is expected of them.
  • Use translation apps: Consider using translation apps to facilitate communication. Translation apps are easy to use and can make communication more fun and interactive.
  • Plan team-building exercises that encourage interaction
  • Use visual aids and gestures to explain tasks and procedures. This can help them to better understand what is expected of them.
  • Respect personal preferences: Be aware that some people may prefer to observe rather than participate. Be respectful of personal preferences and avoid putting anyone under pressure to participate.

Tags: language barrier, communication, exclusion

Situation 5: Participants go partying at night and cannot work properly on the next day

What happened:
Some participants are behaving as though they are on vacation, going out to party every night and prioritizing leisure over work responsibilities. This behavior is having a negative impact on their participation in work activities. They are unable to wake up on time the next day and are missing out on work opportunities. This lack of commitment and responsibility may affect the productivity of the entire team, and can hinder the success of the workcamp.

Proposed solutions:

  • At the beginning of the workcamp, set clear expectations for participants about their work and the purpose of their stay.
  • Schedule work and free time
  • Explain the aim of the project and in particular the work they will be doing.
  • Emphasise that this is a team work and each participant's contribution is important to achieve the common goal. Explain the impact their behavior has on the work of the whole group.
  • Create engaging work activities so that participants are motivated to work and contribute.

Tags: work and leisure balance, expectations

Situation 6: Participants complain about the type, difficulty, or amount of work

What happened:
After several days of outdoor working the participants began to complain about the work because they did not expect this workload.

Proposed solutions:

  • Check the tools: some may not be sharp enough, or different tools may be needed for different jobs. Make sure you've got what you need to get the job done as smoothly as possible.
  • Offer breaks and ensure that participants have access to water and shade especially if the work is outside.
  • Clarify expectations: Before the work begins, clearly communicate the expected amount and type of work to the participants. This can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Rotate participants through different tasks. This can help prevent boredom and reduce physical strain from doing the same thing repeatedly. It also gives participants the opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience in different aspects of the project.

Tags: work and leisure balance, expectations

Situation 7: Project partner wants the group to do something different from what was originally agre

What happened:
Volunteers arrived at a work camp to plant vegetables in a community garden, but at the last minute the project manager changed the task to building a fence around the garden without informing the camp leader. The volunteers were disappointed by the change in plans and lost their motivation. A camp leader was faced with a difficult situation where the participants did not want to do a new type of work.

Proposed solutions:

  • Contact the project partner before the workcamp
  • Re-evaluate the goals and expectations of the volunteers and the project partner.
  • As a camp leader, respect the limits of yourself and your group. Maybe some tasks don't need to be completed during the camp.
  • As a camp leader, you can openly express your feelings and disappointments to the group.
  • Contact a workcamp organisation to mediate between the camp leader and the project partner.

Tags: expectations, communication, teamwork, conflict resolution

Situation 8: A participant does not eat at a workcamp

What happened:
After a few days, the camp leader noticed that one girl was not eating her meals with the others. The camp leader asked her what was wrong, but she said everything was fine. The next day the counsellor insisted on going to the doctor, where it was discovered that the girl had a stomach infection. Overall, the girl was shy and did not complain or express any concerns.

Proposed solutions:

  • Eating habits are culturally and personally diverse. Participants may not like the food provided or may eat at different times, e.g. during Ramadan. This can be a sensitive issue, so discuss this with the participant individually.
  • Keep an eye on the participant to see if it's a temporary thing, a personal preference, or more of a health issue.
  • Check in with all participants regularly and individually: Have one-to-one conversations with each participant to see how they're doing. This can help identify problems that may not be immediately apparent in a group setting.
  • Encourage open communication: It's important to create an environment where participants feel comfortable voicing concerns and asking for help.
  • Provide medical attention if needed: If a participant is not feeling well, it's important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Tags: health, introvert, exclusion, food

Situation 9: You and your co-camp leader have different working styles

What happened:
Two camp leaders have to organize an international evening for the group. However, they have different approaches to the tasks at hand. One leader is ambitious and creative, with many ideas for the event, while the other is more pragmatic and prefers to focus on basic activities. As a result, they struggle to collaborate and make decisions about what would be included in the evening's activities.

Proposed solutions:

  • Collaborate with the other camp leader to determine the optimal solution. Effective communication between the leaders is crucial, so ensure that your ideas and suggestions are communicated clearly and directly.
  • Take time to get to know each other and talk before the workcamp starts also in a non formal way (preparatory visit, preparatory meeting, call day before).
  • Discuss the working style of both of you in advance and based on that you can divide later the tasks and responsibilities. To understand each other more you can use for example these questions:
    ○ What are our motivations for workcamp?
    ○ What are we expecting from the workcamp?
    ○ How do we imagine the ideal campleader?
    ○ What are our personal needs during the workcamp?
    ○ How can we support each other when we have a bad day?
    ○ Am I more into planning or spontaneous solutions and how we can use it during the workcamp effectively?
    ○ When there is even a small problem do I tend to say it out loud or I tend to keep it and overcome it by myself?
    ○ Is there anything we are afraid of during the workcamp we should discuss in advance to agree how we will deal with that (e. g. food, alcohol, cleaning standards)?
  • Set the rules for communication and cooperation:
    ○ If someone from you says for example “Stop, can we discuss it?” - it is not offensive or something to take personally.
    ○ Set up some regular evaluation with the co-leader to discuss even the small things - it is easier to solve a lot of small things until they become one big problem.
  • Prioritize key activities and focus on those first. Consider alternative options and consult with both the other leader and participants.
  • Seek advice from participants and ask them what they would like to do during the event.
  • There are various working styles but none of these is right, better or wrong. You can cooperate successfully even if your working styles are different.
  • If you feel the difficulties between you two are starting to escalate, don’t be afraid to ask for support from an external mediator.

Tags: campleader, teamwork, responsibilities, communication, conflict resolution

Situation 10: Trouble maker

What happened:
One participant struggled to follow the rules and stay on task during the workcamp. She often went out for a smoke or a chat with her friends instead of working, causing delays and frustration for the other volunteers. In her free time, she wanted to be the centre of attention and made other participants feel uncomfortable.

Proposed solutions:

  • Talk to the participant privately and explain how her behaviour is affecting others in the group. Rather than pointing out her fault, try using a non-violent communication formula that states the feelings and the situation with a clear request for action, without judgement or blame. For example: "I feel frustrated when the schedule and rules are not followed. I would appreciate it if you could be more considerate of your group members and take on more tasks.”
  • Clearly communicate expectations: The participant may not be aware of what is expected of them. Make sure the rules and expectations are clearly communicated to them at the beginning of the camp
  • Seek help from her friends: If she has friends in the group, talk to them and explain that her behaviour has a negative impact on the group environment.
  • If there is a problem with people arriving late in the morning, here are a few things you can try: play music in the morning so they associate it with the start of the day, make sure they have coffee :) and don't wait too long for everyone to arrive. There is a set schedule that people are aware of, so the work shouldn't suffer from constant disregard for this time frame.

Tags: group dynamics, conflict resolution, communication

Situation 11: Organizing tasks among campleaders

What happened:

  • The campleader is struggling with their tasks. The process goes very slowly and they are getting upset because they are still not finished.
  • The campleader or participant is excited and brainstorms tons of ideas for an event you’re co-organizing. Many people should be coming and you’re nervous about how to make it all work.

Proposed solution:

  • Try to divide tasks based on your competences and preferences. Even complicated tasks are done quickly when the responsible person likes doing it or has some experience doing it.
  • Don't be afraid to ask others for help - divided between two people a task can be easier. It is not a failure if someone helps you.
  • If you have some worries, express them to others so they know what you are afraid of.
  • You can delegate and divide the tasks also among the participants. But don’t delegate tasks just because they are unpleasant and you don't want to do them.

  • Focus on pragmatic solutions of things that HAVE TO be done. After that, give space to ideas that are NICE TO HAVE to have the work done. If the communication is too emotional, try to focus on the pragmatic things first and discuss the emotions later when people are calmer and ready to talk about it.

Tags: campleader, responsibilities, expectations

Situation 12: Having to do something with no planning or preparation

What happened:
Unexpected issue came up (a participant got lost) and one campleader is in panic. S/he doesn’t know what to do.

Proposed solutions:

  • Keep calm, breathe. Calm voice will help ease the emotions your co-campleader is in.
  • Improvise an agreeable pragmatic solution. Take over the coordination (based on your conditions).
  • Ask the participants or local partner for help.

Tags: campleader, responsibilities

Situation 13: Two participants excluding themselves from the group

What happened:
A couple or two friends tend to spend a lot of time together and don’t socialize with the group.

Proposed solution:

  • emphasize group guidelines and encourage teambuilding
  • talk with the two people in private (ideally each of them separately) to explain how their behavior influences the group

Tags: exclusion, expectations, communication, group dynamics

Situation 14: How to work with introvert participant in the group?

What happened:
One participant is sometimes excluding themselves from the group, not participating at a group exercise or division of tasks. Campleaders are not sure if the person is alright.

Proposed solutions:

  • Always check with the participant, if s/he’s fine. S/he might need to talk or support, but s/he might also need few moments on her/his own, which is also perfectly fine and understandable. It helps some people to take care of their own wellbeing during the project.
  • Agree with the group on common feedback tools that might help express if there are any problems, misunderstandings or conflicts. For example, having a feedback box where people can anonymously express their concerns might work well in case the person does not want to open the topic in the whole group.
  • Build trust among the group, emphasize getting to know activities so one’s preferences are known in the group. You can build “group guidelines” together and get back to it regularly to evaluate if they are working or something needs to be adjusted or added. Make sure the guidelines are understood and agreed on in the group.
  • You can build a “buddy” system, always two people who are supporting each other throughout the project. It’s a person they should rely on.
  • Make sure all of the participants know they can ask a campleader for support in case they don’t feel alright.

Tags: exclusion, communication, introvert

Situation 15: People have different food preferences on a workcamp

What happened:
The participants in a workcamp have various food preferences - some eat meat, some are vegetarian, some are vegan, some have religious food restrictions. People refuse to compromise while cooking and preparing meals: some people don’t want to cook (only) vegetarian/vegan meals and some people don’t want to buy meat at all for the whole duration of the camp.

Proposed solutions:

  • Check and ask for food preferences etc. before or at the start of the workcamp and communicate them with the group.
  • Ask participants to provide/bring recipes for their preferences and dietary needs.
  • Have a group discussion in the beginning about how everyone usually eats at home, what are their preferences, etc. - and avoid judgment from you as campladers! Also motivate the participants to have an open discussion without judging.
  • Don’t forget that food is one of the most important and basic needs of each person and therefore, it is necessary to fulfill it. It might take long discussion and maybe it will need some revision/evaluation after a few days but it is very important to find consensus in the group (it means noone is against the solution). Some practical tips for your workcamp:
    ○ If there are only some people who want to eat meat and dairy and if you choose vegetarian or vegan main meals; for the smaller meals (like breakfast) provide some ham, eggs, cheese, salami, etc.
    ○ If you would like your group to try vegan dishes, prepare recipes for vegan meals in advance and present them to participants as proposals for what to cook. Tip: you can even add nice pictures of the meals and/or video recipes from social media to motivate people for them.
    ○ To find a compromise, you can have for each cooked meal a meat option and a vegan/vegetarian option. But think about recipes where the meat is something extra to add so you don't need to cook several different dishes. It is important that the meal is a full meal even without meat.
    ○ For the first cooking team(s), select people who can cook well and have no problem preparing a vegetarian/vegan version. It will help you to show that vegetarian/vegan food can be very tasty.
    ○ Be playful and make mealtimes something special - nice settings, contests like in cooking reality shows, contests for who can make their traditional meal in a vegan version, have a nice dessert after every meal, etc…
  • Be open about the budget with participants: show them how much you have, how much you already spent and how much some food costs (meat can be very expensive in some countries, same for foreign fruits and other delicacies). Explain how much it would cost for the whole group to buy certain food items and what you can buy instead of that for the same amount.
  • Remind everybody to leave the food that is specific for people with different food preferences for them and not to eat it just because you can, e.g. if you said you can eat meat, don’t eat the vegan food meant for vegans.

Tags: communication, food

Situation 16: People have food allergies and dietary restrictions on a workcamp

What happened:
The participants in a workcamp have various dietary and/or health restrictions: some have gluten or lactose intolerance, diabetes, nut allergy or other food allergies.

Proposed solutions:

  • Ask participants about their allergies at the beginning of the workcamp even if they didn't fill out anything in their application form.
  • Ask the people (privately) what happens if they accidentally eat the food they are allergic to and what you are supposed to do in that case (medication, epipen, etc.). If the complication can be serious, motivate them to share with other participants so everyone is aware.
  • Ask people with allergies for recipes they are used to cook and eat.
  • Label all food items clearly, indicating any allergens or dietary restrictions, to avoid confusion and to make it easier for participants to identify what they can and cannot eat. Have also understandable labels for meals while serving.
  • Remind everybody to leave the food specific for people with allergies (e.g. gluten free bread, vegan dessert) for them and not to eat it.
  • Don’t forget to consider the allergies also for snacks and small rewards (e.g. chocolate, ice cream…).

Tags: communication, food

Situation 17: A participant wants to leave

What happened:
One participant is unsatisfied with the workcamp, they are not willing to stay there anymore and want to leave. You already talked to the person, discussed what the problem is and pointed out possible solutions but the person still wants to leave.

Proposed solutions:

  • Call the coordinating organization, they need to know about the situation and they can calm you down and support you. They will tell you if there are some steps you need to take before someone is leaving earlier than planned.
  • The fact that someone leaves the workcamp doesn’t mean you failed as a campleader - it just happens sometimes - and sometimes it is just the best option for you, the person and other participants.
  • Inform the local partner - they need to know as well if someone leaves the camp earlier.
  • Support the person with the decision and with the process (e. g. searching for travel connections, tickets, etc.) - it might also be a very stressful situation for them.
  • Discuss with the person how to tell it to the rest of the group and try to motivate them to explain it to the others by themselves if you think it helps you. Remember the reasons for leaving the workcamp might be various and sometimes it can even be hard for the person to express the real reason (e. g. homesick).
  • After the person leaves, try to have a “new” start: team building activities, games, etc.

Tags: conflict resolution, exclusion, responsibilities

Situation 18: People don’t pay attention during the group activities (talking, phones)

What happened:
During the group activities (e. g. workshops, discussions, instructions), some participants are not paying attention, they are talking to each other or are on their phones.

Proposed solutions:

  • Set the group rules in the beginning and address this also with the expectations and fears. Point out that having a nice group time is the responsibility of each of them.
  • Ask people about talking or being on the phone and find out the reason why they are doing it:
    ○ If they don’t understand and use their phone for translation, ask them to openly ask for support in translating from you or other participants.
    ○ If they are not willing to participate in an activity for any reason (e.g. tiredness, feeling bored, not being in a good mood) it might be better if they just let you know and leave the activity.
  • You can open the topic during regular evaluation: explain how the lack of attention feels to you, what effect it has on you. Be careful to communicate using non-violent communication.
  • Give the participants the opportunity to experience leading some group activities themselves (it can be an energiser, a game, a small workshop…) Afterwards, reflect on the experience for them together.
  • You can adapt the place - e.g. don’t give the key to the wifi to the group in the beginning, go out of wifi-zone (outdoors, attic area or similar) for an activity, etc.
  • Sometimes you can be more strict with the rules and their following regarding phones. Ask people to please put their phone away if you notice it disturbs you and/or the group dynamic.
  • Make media use a topic: You can organize small activities or workshops on media literacy, social media and their impact.
  • Don’t forget to be a positive example - if you are doing something you can’t expect participants will not do it. So be aware if maybe you are also on your phone a lot or talking when others are facilitating.

Tags: communication, exclusion, media in use

This part of the website was prepared in the project Peacebuilding through Workcamps, that is realised in 2022 - 2023 by INEX - Sdružení dobrovolných aktivit and IBG. The content was prepared by experienced trainers, project and workcamp leaders and coordinations from NGOs all over the Europe.
Thank you Ajka, Aleks, Anna, Christina, Csenge, Flemming, Isabel, Jana, Janina, Katerina, Lea, Lenka, Mario, Nina, Puji, Rob, Timur, and Zuzana for your contributions!


E: vzdelavani
T: +420 222 362 713


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