SLV.Global Safety First
SLV.Global puts safety as our highest priority. We would like to make you aware of the risks that concern foreigners working and travelling around Asia, with specific information regarding Sri Lanka, India and Bali, as well as giving advice on how to deal with these risks. The SLV.Global team have collated information from a variety of sources including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, travel safety websites and also from our nearly seven years of experience, sending over 1300 volunteers to Sri Lanka, Bali and India.
In Asia, most societal constructs are patriarchal with Sri Lanka, Bali and India no exceptions. What this means is that more traditionally a woman’s role is focused within the home environment. Relationships between men and women, even within a marriage, are conducted differently from those in a Western culture and physical affection towards the opposite sex is often unseen. For instance, it would be very rare to see a man and a woman holding hands or hugging, even if they are wed.
Traditionally in Sri Lanka, India and occasionally in Bali, marriages will be arranged and sex before marriage is not accepted. In the cultural confines of our placements women are expected to dress more conservatively, and traditional dress in all of the cultures where we work shows minimal flesh. We expect volunteers, whether they are male or female, to abide by the cultural norms of the country and have their upper arms covered and wear long trousers (or skirts for female volunteers) while working on projects or when in the homestay community.
We think it’s important to mention that the majority of men are very respectful towards women and do not condone touching a female whether she be a friend, colleague or a stranger. However, sexual harassment does occur and we want you to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible before you depart for your placement.
Sexual Harassment: Many women experience unwanted attention and sexual harassment from men when they are tourists or working in foreign countries. However, harassment from men is more prominent in countries where there is often inequality between the sexes, such as parts of Asia and Africa, including Sri Lanka, India and Bali.
Personal information: When volunteering, travelling to and from projects or when at away at weekends do not give anyone personal information about yourself, including your mobile number, where you are staying, where you work or any travel plans that you may have. The people in the communities where we work are notoriously friendly and the majority of the time people are just interested and will understand if you do not wish to disclose this information.
Public Transport: The SLV.Global team travel to projects using the public bus system. These buses are often overcrowded and volunteers are required to travel in groups and to stand or sit with each other. At weekends volunteers are responsible for their own travel arrangements however SLV.Global strongly discourage volunteers from getting the government buses for long distance journeys and we recommend you opt for the private companies where everyone is given a seat.
Harassing Questions: Westerners in Sri Lanka naturally attract attention and tourists will be asked many questions whilst out and about. If men ask you about your personal life e.g. ‘are you married?’ SLV.Global recommend that you show that you disapprove of this question or say that you are married. Many travel websites including the Lonely Planet suggest wearing wedding ring (2014) to help avoid the question.
Watch for Miscommunication: Seemingly harmless gestures such as putting an arm around someone of the opposite sex can be interpreted differently across cultural divides. In many countries some men will assume that being friendly is flirting. Friends in Sri Lanka do not hug or kiss each other as greetings. Therefore, to not create any misunderstanding with local men, it is wise to limit innocent tactile gestures.
Avoid drinking and smoking in public: We ask our volunteers not to drink at all during the week or to buy alcohol from shops in their local area. In the cultures of the countries where we are working drinking alcohol has different implications than in the West and it’s not accepted for women to drink. You will not see your homestay family indulging in alcohol and we ask you do not store any at your homestay or in your village.
There have been reports of tourists in the beach bars having their drinks spiked (FCO. 2016) it is recommended not to accept alcoholic drinks from locals. As well, smoking has very different cultural implications. It’s illegal to smoke in public, and again, female smokers are rarely seen and smoking on the street or in public may send a different message than it would at home.
We want everyone to be as prepared as possible for their placement, so please take the time to do your own research. If you are at all concerned and would like to speak to a member of the SLV.Global team before you depart please do not hesitate to call or get in touch via email. Every member of the UK team has volunteered with SLV.Global and will be able to discuss their experiences with you personally. Please contact us in SLV.Global London Head Office: on +442070961718 or from the USA and Canada 1-800-532-4168 or email email@example.com.