Volunteer Abroad for Disaster Relief Projects
Nikki Martinez started volunteering as a young teenager in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Through her writing, trans-media storytelling and art, she has assisted numerous nonprofits over the last 20 years, including Conservation Through Public Health, Health Volunteers Overseas, Daughters of Charity, and the Red Cross.
How to Find Ways to Volunteer in Disaster Relief
When a calamity strikes, do you see yourself parachuting down from the sky to a camp of unfortunate people who have lost everything? Just like a superhero - supplies in one hand, selfie-stick in the other?
If so, disaster relief volunteering isn't for you.
Other types of volunteer trips may be a good opportunity to travel, see the sights, and live out the summer. But disaster relief is a whole separate category of humanitarian work.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the environment aesthetics change dramatically. You could walk right into a former tourist destination that now looks like a war zone, and may find yourself in a situation where the feeling is desolation, fear and anger.
Those who sign up for volunteering with disaster relief programs must have a clear idea of what they're getting into.
Before You Go:
Here are some helpful ways to prepare before going to assist at a disaster relief site:
Brush up on your knowledge of the country's culture and language.
Enroll in a first-aid course.
Learn all you can about humanitarian work, whether through academic training or workshops.
Update your passport and vaccinations.
Get travel and medical insurance.
Leave excess baggage and gadgets at home - this also includes attitudes, cultural hang-ups, and egos.
Prepare yourself. At the disaster site, you may hear heart-wrenching stories, or witness shocking, even traumatizing scenes. How well will you handle the stress? You won't know exactly how you'll react until you're actually there. But at least talk to and get counsel from people who have volunteered at disaster sites before.
How Can Volunteers With No Medical Experience Help During a Disaster Relief Operation?
"If you're new in the area, come ready to do anything," says Jo, a Canadian volunteer who spearheaded disaster relief projects during the Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines. "Don't assume that because you're from a more developed country that you know better than the locals. Add value through asking how you can help rather than trying to assign yourself a certain task."
Even if you're in high school or college, or otherwise have no disaster response training, there are many ways you can volunteer abroad. Let's take a look at a few of them:
1. Child Care Volunteering
Many relief operations have some kind of temporary camp for the youngest victims of disaster zones. Playing, engaging in simple activities, making art or reading stories can help children cope with immediate trauma. Love Volunteers is a great organization that connects volunteers with kids in need immediately following a disaster.
2. Help with Medical Care and Support Teams
There are many volunteer groups who organize overseas travelers to come and assist in relief programs. Volunteering Solutions even has intern abroad opportunities, which include international medical internships. Other charities like Frontier combine their community development with environmental conservation, so you may even be able to help wildlife who have been injured or displaced as a result of a natural disaster.
3. Construction Volunteer Programs
When thousands of people become displaced, there may be a need for volunteers to construct temporary shelters. If you have experience with any type of construction: landscaping, beautification or painting, sign up.
Global Vision International offers on-site and post-earthquake support to affected families. They have rebuilt learning centers, repaired temples and re-constructed community centers in Nepal and other countries. Projects Abroad also has overseas volunteer opportunities for construction trips in Ghana, Jamaica, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Fiji and Nepal. Volunteering Journeys is also looking for volunteers for construction as they work to rebuild schools and properties.
4. Help Prep and Serve Food
Have a knack for whipping up delicious meals with barely any ingredients? You could be an immense help in the temporary kitchens often set up during rescue and disaster missions. There will be food to cook, serve and hand out. Not just to the victims of a disaster, but for everyone else who is on standby for rescue operations and support. You can get in contact with A Broader View, whose social welfare programs include setting up soup kitchens in Peru.
5. Logistics and Communication
When people go missing in the event of a disaster, volunteers are often needed to identify individuals and reconnect people with their families. You can help with documenting information and vital statistics. If you are multi-lingual or speak the local language, offer to help as a translator.
More Tips for Traveling
Be Aware of the Importance of Self-care
This isn't about putting yourself first, but making sure you are physically fit to be in these situations. Don't push yourself to the point of burnout.
"Drink clean water, eat, sleep," suggests Gaby, who has spent four years volunteering in India. "It can feel overwhelming, but we're no good half dead."
Contribute to the Country's Recovery By Traveling There
Now that you are familiar with the country on a deep and personal level, make a point to visit again. You could embark on an English teaching trip with charities such as Love Volunteers. Or get in touch with Maximo Nivel - they offer TEFL certification courses which you can then use professionally when you teach English later on. This way, you do your part to contribute to the country's recovery and economic growth.
Travel That Truly Connects
Yes, volunteer abroad programs in disaster zones can be highly unpredictable, and even dangerous. But if it's right for you, it may just be one of the most worthwhile causes you ever volunteered for abroad.
When total strangers come together to help each other in desperate circumstances, miracles happen. The simplest acts of kindness become the very means and reasons for survival. And chances are, a trip like this will change your life.
Ready to Travel?
If you're up for the challenge, sign up for an account on Volunteer Forever today. We'll help equip you with the tools you need to discover, plan and fundraise for your next volunteer journey. For more ideas on the best volunteer abroad programs, read these articles next: