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 volunteer work.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the environment aesthetics change dramatically – especially for countries with minimal disaster preparedness. 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. Just how countries should have disaster preparedness plans, you should think about what you might encounter at the relief site. At the disaster site, you may hear heart-wrenching stories, or witness shocking, even traumatizing scenes. How well will you handle the stress as a disaster-relief volunteer? 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 by 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 ways to volunteer, and relief organizations that can help:
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, including international medical internships with limited health resources. Organizations 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 as disaster response. If you have experience with any type of construction: landscaping, beautification or painting, sign up for crisis relief overseas.
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 offers volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to build in Ghana, Tanzania, Nepal, the Philippines, and Jamaica. You’ll help build important infrastructure like homes, playgrounds, and toilets. The work you do will help improve quality of life for those living in challenging conditions.
Agape Volunteers stepped in to help the people of Kenya when the 2007-08 presidential election erupted into violence, and targeted ethnic violence resulted in casualties of more than 1,300 people, and the displacement of half a million more. This organization supports refugees at an Internally Displaced Persons camps, and disaster volunteers who select to work in Kenya spend at least one day at the IDP, providing weekly food deliveries, helping to construct freshwater supplies, and constructing numerous buildings, including houses and schools.
GoEco, a top-rated volunteer abroad organization, is also involved in disaster relief efforts. They have a great construction and rebuilding initiative in Nepal (from $930 for two weeks). Enhance your craftsmanship skills as you rebuild properties and buildings for communities that were affected by the 2015 earthquake. Tasks include mixing cement, painting, building walls, and removing broken structures. You can truly see your impact right away.
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.
If you want to help give food to the hungry, you can volunteer through GoEco as well. For the Food Baskets for Families project in Israel (from $720 for one week), GoEco assigns you to work with a group that distributes more than 3,000 food baskets to those in need each week. How inspiring is that?
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.
If you’re looking to search for additional reputable disaster relief programs, Volunteer Forever’s new booking platform Abroadly is the place to go. Simply enter your preferences and budget, and results for impactful volunteer programs will quickly appear.
All international disaster relief projects on Abroadly have been inspected for ethical commitment, safety, and overall effectiveness. When you find a project that you want to join, go ahead and apply. The application fee is 100% refundable if you don’t get accepted.
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: