19 May, 2014

Volunteer Culture Clash

We've been the recipients of many "please volunteer" emails for parents in recent weeks, and repeat ones, saying "We've not got enough volunteers." It's been mentally difficult to deal with because I want to be involved and I want to help, that's the sort of personality I have, but I've had to limit my involvement in order to do my other jobs.

Thrift Shop is another place that has struggled with volunteers
in recent years. It relies on hundreds of volunteer hours to
get the job done.
I had a conversation with a couple of CAJ staff after church yesterday. It was interesting to get a staff-member's perspective on this, particularly those who've been around a lot longer than I. The percentage of missionary families at the school has decreased over the years and that is where they get most of their volunteers from. The other families are largely Japanese or Korean and have a different culture when it comes to volunteering at your child's school.

My limited experience of Japanese kindergarten and school volunteering showed me that it is more like a compulsory volunteering that happens at the beginning of the school year. At kindergarten we'd have a parents-of-students meeting and they'd lay out all the volunteer needs for the school year. Everyone was expected to volunteer for at least one duty. I can't remember ever being asked to volunteer for something else. Maybe I was?

CAJ is an American-style international school. They ask for volunteers in the Western way: throughout the year, when an event is coming up and needs volunteers. Apparently, when Asian mums who don't know the system volunteer, they often group to one side and chat. They don't take initiative or take on the responsibility of supervising the students. Which, you can imagine, causes lots of difficulties when the teachers are relying on parent volunteers on an excursion.

An interesting aside in this is that Western parents seem happy to direct children who aren't their own, but this doesn't seem to happen with Japanese parents, in a group they stick to looking after their own kids, and perhaps the children of a close friend. Another cultural difference? I wonder how many times I've stepped on another mum's toes by telling their kids what to do?

The added difficulty at CAJ is that parents are asked to volunteer for events that many Asian parents have no experience of themselves, like running a party with games or, I presume, an overnight camp situation like I was in last week.

The elementary classes at CAJ have a high percentage of Asian kids, higher than the older grades. Ironically these are the years that they ask the most often for parent volunteers! So, the burden can fall quite heavily on those, like me, who have a flexible schedule and live quite close.

All that being said, I need to get back to the work I neglected while volunteering out in the wilds last week.

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