Relief 101: What You Need to Know to Help Earthquake Survivors

by Megan Lee

As footage of devastation, stories of lost lives, and images of destroyed cultural landmarks poured across social media outlets these past few days due to earthquakes rattling Ecuador, Japan, Vanuatu, Myanmar, and multiple other countries, the natural question many people are left with is: “What can I do to help?”

Rescue and relief efforts will continue in the coming days, weeks, and months, and there are impactful ways you can help in the aftermath.

Police officers check a collapsed house after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, Southern Japan.

Checking the damage done of the earthquake in Japan.

Photo credit to Kyodo April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kyodo thru The Himalayan Times


The earthquake that struck Vanuatu early Friday morning marked the fourth large temblor to rock the Pacific region in the last few days alone. In addition to the large foreshock in Vanuatu, a 6.2-magnitude quake struck Southern Japan on Kyushu Island, killing nine and injuring dozens, and a 6.9-magnitude quake struck Myanmar last Wednesday night. 

To make things worse, Japan was struck yet again with a magnitude-7.0 earthquake a few days later, and Ecuador awoke to a 7.8-magnitude earthquake over the weekend. The rise of death tolls is thankfully subsiding, and emergency aid and relief efforts are well underway in each of the affected areas.


Now more than ever, the international community needs to come together to help take care of each other. Here are the most practical and productive ways to get involved:


After disasters, generally the best way to help is by donating money to effective organizations that have an established presence on the ground. Massive financial support is going to be needed if Japan or the impoverished nations of Vanuatu, Ecuador, and Myanmar are to rebuild quickly after these devastatingly destructive earthquakes.


Unfortunately, some crafty (in the bad way) individuals will pounce on the opportunity to scam well-intentioned foreigners who are actively looking to donate to relief efforts. Dozens of campaign websites will sprout up online, allowing fundraisers to easily solicit funds, but it’s like the Wild West – there are no rules, and some people will take advantage of your kind donation. They’ll divert your money from getting into the hands of aid workers or locals desperate for funds. While most are legitimate, be sure to:

Firemen work after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016.

Rescuers searching for bodies & survivors  after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast April 17, 2016.

Photo credit to Guillermo Granja / REUTERS thru Times LIVE

Investigate before you donate. Learn as much as possible about the charity, including a deep dive into their websites and mentions of their names in online forums or reviews. If someone in the past had a poor experience with this organization, pledge to dive even deeper to get to the bottom of it. Don’t be fooled by a nice looking website – they’re a dime a dozen these days. Do due diligence!

Double check “sound alike” names. You’re familiar with “World Wildlife Fund” (WWF), but don’t be tricked into thinking it’s the same as the WWF - World Wildlife Foundation. Be leery of small plays-on-words or name changes that will con you into trusting a brand that actually doesn’t exist.

Beware of pressure. If you feel pressured to donate large sums of money NOW, it’s probably illegitimate. Don’t allow them to play on your emotions to convince you to donate more money. This tactic is a hallmark of scam charities and should be an instant red flag.

In short, connect with organizations that are happy to answer your questions, provide direct links and information about their accreditations or foundations, and are transparent with the way funds are used or spent (Hint Hint! Check out GoAbroad’s charitable foundation to make a donation for earthquake relief).


Experts typically recommend giving funds to groups working on the ground and advise against traveling there to help; however, for those skilled individuals who have the time to offer working hands, their contributions to relief efforts are warmly welcomed.


Now is not the time to take your dream trip to the Galapagos Islands and sacrifice a day of your itinerary to work in disaster relief. Serious volunteers, ones who are ready to work and have been trained in emergency response, are welcome to generously supply their time. Here is some advice before you book that plane ticket:

Decide if your help is really needed. While we love where your heart’s at, you need to do some soul-searching to determine if your help will truly benefit the people in these disaster zones at this time. Immediate relief work is in full swing, and individuals trained in disaster response or medicine would be incredibly helpful. However, if your skills set doesn’t fall in either of those buckets, you might actually get in the way while trying to help rather than actually providing help. While this won’t remain true forever, when immediate crisis intervention is no longer a driving factor, international (and local) volunteers will be needed for long-term recovery efforts and rebuilding instead.

Debris on the streets after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, in Manta April 17, 2016.

Debris on the streets after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, in Manta April 17, 2016.

Photo credit to REUTERS thru Times LIVE

Plan for future volunteerships. Start searching now for legitimate organizations to volunteer abroad in Japan, Ecuador, Myanmar, or Vanuatu. In light of the above, in a few months time, more working hands and helpful hearts WILL be needed on the ground. Begin researching organizations and programs that will connect you with meaningful work in these countries. Read reviews, contact several programs, and talk with past participants to know the quality of their experiences abroad.

Read about other volunteers’ work in disaster relief. Before you jump into a diaster volunteer program, make sure you know what you are signing up for. Being surrounded by destruction can be emotionally and physically draining, especially for those volunteers who have never traveled in developing countries before. While you’re privileged to have the choice to leave, make sure you have the insights of past volunteers (for instance, from Nepal or Haiti) to know tips to be as effective and useful as possible with your volunteership.

In the meantime, help those in your immediate communities. If you know Japanese, Ecuadorian, Ni-Vanuatu, or Myanmese, offer them help in your own country. People are going through a lot. If you have friends or coworkers from these countries or even surrounding areas, go out of your way to provide support. Give emotional support or help them with their laundry, cooking meals, whatever they need.


Commit to learning more about the realities facing these communities as they step anew amidst the rubble. When you see new opportunities to get involved, seize them. Educate others. Send extra funds. Host a refugee. 

When we all take care of each other, the world will not only become a little brighter, but it will feel a little smaller and lighter, too. Do something today.

Find out how GoAbroad is helping earthquake survivors 
through our nonprofit, the GoAbroad Foundation: