All aid workers need to be attuned to working in another community and culture, whether we come with a passport or are national staff working in our home country. Social customs and forms of communication can vary within societies and across communities within the same country. Local staff and volunteers may be well acquainted with local cultures and traditions, but there can still be large sociocultural differences, such as those between urban and rural populations or between ethnic groups.
It is important to take time to get to know – before deployment – the communities where we will work. We must also be sensitive to their customs and cultures, which can vary greatly from our own. Respectful communication and active listening are vital to working together with partners, whether local or international, and with the societies we seek to support.
All emergencies are unique to the society in which they occur. Relationship skills and knowledge of local ways are essential to ensure that the emergency response is tailored to the affected community’s needs. As in all social life, being a guest – in this case, in another community – demands better behaviour than is required at home. Relief personnel must show good relationship skills in all areas of their work. This is true in partner relationships, in working with other members of their own team and in contacts with the affected population.