Disaster Volunteers: 9 Crucial Items You Need to Bring With You

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Keen to become an international disaster relief volunteer?

Natural disasters bring about numerous challenges, and disaster volunteers entering the affected area must be prepared to overcome those challenges — alongside, and for the benefit of, the locals. However, disaster volunteers also have the valuable opportunity to prepare before they arrive, unlike victims unwillingly exposed to the initial trauma. 

People seeking disaster relief volunteer opportunities are essential and have the ability to make an incredible difference in the wake of a calamity, but the first step to volunteering in disaster relief is packing appropriately.

Handing out Relief Packages after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Handing out Relief Packages after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Photo by Ardie Lopez

I have actually experienced the benefits of natural disaster volunteer organizations firsthand — in fact, I was volunteering in Tacloban, the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan, AKA Super Typhoon Yolanda, struck in November of 2013. Seeing aid and disaster volunteers pour in was a humbling, yet chaotic experience. With my new insight, I aim to help future disaster volunteers maximize their effectiveness and ability to make a difference. That's why you need to bookmark this packing list before you volunteer for disaster relief.

Without further ado, make sure you bring the following nine items before heading abroad to do volunteer relief work.

1. Solar Powered Lantern with Charging Capabilities

A multifaceted, multi-use device that is invaluable, despite being slightly costly. In times of limited electricity, this gadget will no doubt come in handy night or day.

2. Durable Shoes

There will always be plenty of physical obstacles along any journey to provide relief. Protect your feet and you'll be able to endure many hours of meaningful work without your feet distracting you.

3. Power Bars, Granola Bars, Protein Bars

Eating is essential when you are working under the elements every day, with hardly a luxury in sight. But eating is also most difficult in a disaster zone, so packing meal alternatives will keep you going through the toughest work and fill in the gaps between sometimes unpredictable meal times.

fire in yosemite
Disaster relief volunteers can be helpful in times of wildfires, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, and more.

4. Lightweight Clothes

There are most likely no laundry shops or washing machines up and running after a disaster, so washing your clothes will have to be done by hand. Heavy clothes, means longer drying times. Bring lightweight clothes that can be washed easily and dried quickly.

5. Satellite Phone

Cell service is not a priority when people have lost their homes and hundreds are in need of food and water. Don't get caught without communication, try your best to ignore the price tag and bring along a satellite phone. It will be incredibly useful and you definitely won't regret the purchase when you are in desperate need of help from those outside the affected area.

6. Mosquito Net

Volunteering in any tropical country typically requires one, but during a disaster mosquitoes can become an extreme nuisance when there are multiple environmental conditions supporting their reproduction.

little girl hugging volunteer
Disaster volunteers will likely have to support with emotional aid, too.

7. Refillable Water Bottle & Filter

You'll need something conveniently sized for travel from site to site. In a disaster zone you'll never know when a water refill station may pop up but you'll also never know when they won't. It must hold a sufficient volume of water to last you a good portion of the day, but also not big enough to weigh you down when trekking across a city or town for who knows how long.

8. Basic Medications

Cough and cold, fever reducer, digestive, antibiotic, and pain medications packed in your suitcase will prevent you from wasting time feeling under the weather as a disaster relief volunteer abroad.

Last but not least…

9. A Flexible, Open-Minded Attitude

By far the most essential thing to bring with you when doing relief volunteering, as almost any task comes with a few bumps in the road or setbacks. Volunteers must be prepared to go with the flow!

When a natural disaster hits, we can be sad, we can be in awe, but few of us can be morally mad at a hurricane. So in the absence of anger or revenge or blame, we resort to that in us which is perhaps most primal, most fundamental: compassion, love, service. — Omid Safi

Disaster relief volunteers are crucial to a successful response

exploding volcano
When volcanoes destroy everything you know, you're going to want disaster volunteers on your side.

When natural disasters strike, most individuals are caught completely off guard. Once the adrenaline wears off and reality starts to set in, the clean up process can be incredibly overwhelming. Lives will have been lost, bodies continually found, animals wandering in places they shouldn't, infrastructure completely destroyed. It can be a nightmare — physically, emotionally, and mentally. That's why disaster volunteers are crucial to a successful response, as your kindness and outsider-status allows you to more wholly focus on the task at hand rather than the heartbreak.

Read even more tips on disaster relief volunteer work: