What does it mean that Progressio has Catholic roots?
Progressio was founded by Catholics but it is not an official body of the Catholic Church. Our values are inspired by progressive Catholic thinking, which puts the interests of the poorest and most marginalised first, and is committed to social justice for all. We are therefore both independent of the institution of the Catholic Church, and inclusive in our approach. We work with people of all faiths and none, to support people of any or no faith to transform their lives. In keeping with this commitment, we work with ICS volunteers of any or no faith, and we work to ensure our teams are inclusive of everyone. We expect all our volunteers to be respectful of others’ religious beliefs.
What is the predominant faith in Progressio ICS countries?
In the Central American countries where we work, the predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, although other evangelical Christian denominations are growing in these countries. In Zimbabwe the vast majority of the population is Christian. In Malawi the majority of the population is Christian with Islam making up a sizeable minority of around 15-25%.
Do Progressio ICS volunteers work with faith-based partner organisations?
Progressio ICS volunteers work with a range of different partners, a few of whom are explicitly faith-based although the majority are secular; all are happy working with people of different faiths. It is however important to be aware that in a lot of areas where we work faith plays a much more important role in daily life than it does in the UK, and volunteers should be prepared to find that faith may play a role in the day to day activities they will be part of, for example partner organisations starting meetings with a prayer.
What will people’s attitudes be towards me if I am of a different faith or no faith?
If you are of a different faith to the ones commonly found in your placement country or if you have no faith then you should be prepared for people asking you questions about your beliefs in your country of placement. The vast majority of people will just be curious and want to know more about you, and as long as you are prepared to be polite and patient you are unlikely to experience any significant difficulties. Everyone involved with Progressio in-country is expected to be respectful of each individual’s beliefs, but we have had rare occasions in the past when volunteers have felt that members of the community have wanted to try and convert them to Christianity. Should this happen to you, your Group Leader and/or the in-country staff will be able to provide you with support.
Will there be opportunities to attend my place of worship whilst on placement?
It’s difficult to say for certain, but in a lot of cases the answer will be no unless you are a member of the main faith in the community where you are based. Many ICS placements take place in rural locations, so there are unlikely to be places of worship nearby for any but the most predominant local faiths. It is likely that volunteers who want to attend church will be able to, although they may not be able to find a church of the same denomination they attend in the UK and it is worth being aware that services won’t be in English.
If having a space for prayer is important to you, then please let us know this during your interview at the Selection Day, so we can make sure that we are able to offer you a placement somewhere it will be possible for you to have access to a prayer space.
Can I wear religious garments whilst on placement?
In most cases, there would be no reason why you couldn’t wear religious garments on placement. If you have any specific concerns about whether you would be able to wear specific garments in your placement, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
Will it be possible for me to eat food that is Halal / Kosher whilst on placement?
It is unlikely that you will find specifically Halal or Kosher food available where you are living. However, we do ensure that volunteers with any dietary requirements are able to be catered for wherever they are based as far as we reasonably can. Be prepared for the fact that this may mean you are only able to eat vegetarian food during your placement.
What if I am going away during Ramadan?
We have had Muslim volunteers who are keeping Ramadan go away on our programmes before without any problems. Whilst you will need to be prepared to explain to curious people why you aren’t eating or drinking during the day, our in-country staff and your group leader will be able to support you with being able to fast, and making sure you are able to participate in appropriate activities so that you stay healthy if you are not eating or drinking in the heat of the day.
What is the accommodation like? Will any of it be mixed sex?
The accommodation does vary from placement to placement – in some countries, you may be living in homestays with local families, whilst in others you will be staying in a house with the rest of your team of volunteers. In all cases you may be sharing a bedroom with other volunteers, however this will always be on a same-sex basis and we would not put male and female volunteers in the same room. This also applies at all training and orientation venues, whether in the UK or overseas.
Some ICS programmes focus on or include work on HIV/AIDS – what is Progressio’s stance on contraception?
Addressing HIV requires activity at a number of levels which includes care and support, information and awareness, openness and understanding. Tackling HIV requires a holistic approach – and this means recognising all the options available for changing behaviour and acting responsibly. Our work supports a variety of projects reflecting the wide-ranging way in which addressing HIV needs to be seen. It is vital that people have access to information that is correct and are therefore able to make their own decisions. Progressio believes that condoms are one important element in any strategy to prevent sexual transmission of HIV and encourages an informed debate about their use. You can see more about our stance on HIV here.
If you think that your personal beliefs will be in conflict with anything written above or contained in the full statement, then it is likely that a Progressio ICS placement that involves working on HIV/AIDS will not be appropriate for you.
Can I speak to a previous volunteer of the same faith as me?
If this is something you would like to do, please get in touch with us and we will see what we can do, but obviously we can’t make any promises as it would be at the discretion of the relevant volunteer(s).