Advanced Volunteering
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Lesson 2: What can I do in a difficult situation?

Lesson 2 Chapter 1

Personal Traffic light

During voluntary work it is likely that you get into situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Therefore, it is important that you are open and honest. You might for example see poverty for the first time in your life. This could have a negative impact on you. The following method may prove to be vital whenever a situation arises which makes you uncomfortable: the traffic light.


The traffic light represents your state of mind before, during, and after a situation. It is important to know how you would possibly react when a situation arises that is uncomfortable. Consider the following;

Red represents a state of mind on a bad day. What this looks like could be different for everyone. Perhaps you feel really angry, or stressed or nervous, depending on the situation you are in. 

Orange represents a state of mind in which you feel there is a need to act. You do not feel entirely comfortable with a situation. A failure to act may result in a mood change towards the red light.

Green represents a state of mind on a good day. You feel happy with the situation you are in. You are positive, so there is no need to adjust your feelings. 

The traffic light is different for everyone and it also depends on what situation you are in. Think of some ways in which you can help adjust your feelings on a bad day.  Most importantly, keep in mind that when you are volunteering abroad the environment may be different from the environment back at home. There are chances that the way in which you react to a situation can differ in another country. To give an example of this:

Maybe it’s the first time you experience poverty. Of course you knew in advance that you were going to a poor country. However, the situation strikes you more than you expected. You experience culture shock, you feel down and are not comfortable with the situation. Perhaps, this is a sign for you that you are in the Orange phase. 

In your home country you are used to go for a run when you feel down to free your mind. On your volunteer placement this may not be possible, for example if you cannot go out when it is dark. What will you do in this case to free your mind and get back into Green? Perhaps you call a family member to help you feel better. Does the time difference allow you to call, or does it mean you would have to wake someone up?

It is important to think about this.

Using the traffic light approach can help you to recognize and reflect on your feelings about a situation. If you know the signs of how your traffic light changes and you know how to act upon it, it will get easier for you to handle a situation. 


The following is a list of activities which may prove to be effective for you when you want to bring your traffic light back from red or orange into green;

  • Listening music 
  • Write a travel diary
  • Read a book
  • Look at photo's of family or friends
  • Call a friend / acquaintance / family member (note that if you have called them at a time you are not feeling quite well, you should also let them know when you feel ok again. Else they might be worried)
  • Talk to other volunteers
  • Do sports (you might have to figure out where you can exercise)

As a volunteer, just keep an eye on your traffic light every day and take action on time. The faster you can put yourself back on "green", the greater your impact and the better your own experience.

Next lesson: Test your knowledge


Pen