When tragedy strikes and the news becomes smothered with disastrous images, many people wonder, “how can I help?”, and becoming a volunteer relief worker abroad is the answer. If you decide to volunteer abroad in disaster relief you will likely work long hours in less than perfect conditions, and by the end of the day you may find yourself reevaluating what it means to be exhausted. However, when you close your eyes at night, you’ll see the faces of all the people you helped andl know that you have literally made a difference in the world. Though relief work may be difficult and challenging to say the least, it may just be the most rewarding way to volunteer abroad
Why Volunteer Abroad
It’s hard to miss news reports about countries around the world being torn apart by disasters and the subsequent stories of survivors in need of relief and support. Disasters unfortunately hold a constant presence in news broadcasts, online newsfeeds, and newspapers. In some cases it is better to stay at home and make a financial contribution to disaster relief organizations, in an effort to “let the experts” do their job. However, when it is time for volunteer assistance, you will find that your efforts are much more impactful than a simple donation.
Relief workers play a pivotal role in recovery efforts following natural disasters, such as typhoons, earthquakes, forest fires, and hurricanes. Natural disasters threaten public safety, leaving many people displaced and in desperate need of assistance, whether through temporary shelter construction, relief goods, or medical care. As a volunteer relief worker, you will be placed “amidst the ruins” to a certain extent, giving you the opportunity to help rebuild infrastructure, offer psychosocial support to survivors, and work to safeguard communities from future disasters. Without relief volunteers, those affected by disasters would be left to fend for themselves.
The location of natural disasters changes with each event, as do the best locations to volunteer in relief work abroad. Therefore, countries that have been most recently affected by a natural disaster, or are consistently devastated by disasters, are the most common locations for disaster relief volunteering abroad.
The Philippines is unfortunately prone to natural disasters, so numerous tropical storms and typhoons, landslides, and flooding issues occur annually. The most prominent storm in the history of the world, Typhoon Haiyan, struck the Philippines in November 2013, and the areas affected are still rebuilding years later. As a country that lacks strong infrastructure and resources, many people are displaced by natural disasters each year, leading to a great need for relief workers nearly year round. Disaster relief volunteer work in relief in the Philippines gives volunteers the chance to work closely local communities and government bodies to not only rebuild and recuperate, but also develop plans to prevent future disasters from causing such a great deal of destruction.
Nepal faced devastation in the spring of 2015 when two earthquakes struck just outside of the capital city of Kathmandu. While these recent natural disasters were devastating and have a huge impact on the country, Nepal is no stranger to earthquakes. Similar to many other countries in need of disaster relief volunteers, Nepal experiences disasters rather regularly, so volunteers may find relief work in Nepal at almost any time of the year.
India. Nearby to Nepal, India also has its fair share of natural disasters, which are coupled with constant socioeconomic struggles, making disaster relief volunteers essential in local communities. From flooding during the monsoon season to earthquakes and typhoons, India faces disasters year round.. Relief work in India will give volunteers the chance to provide crucial support to low-income families when they need it most.
Relief Volunteering Abroad
Relief work abroad can last anywhere from one week to six months. How long you should volunteer abroad in relief work depends on how long you feel you can tolerate the challenges present across disaster zones (ex. limited access to food and electricity). There’s always a community in need of disaster relief, so if you are ready and willing, there will always be a place for your to volunteer in disaster relief and recovery. That being said, most programs that conduct relief work abroad do not require any previous experience of volunteers, since the need is most often immediate and great.
The following are just a few of the ways you can support disaster relief through volunteering abroad, but keep in mind that each disaster and location presents its own unique needs:
Disaster Response is the most common form of relief work abroad, providing necessary services and supplies to communities affected immediately after a disaster strikes. Providing food and shelter for those who have been displaced or impacted by the disaster is one of the major responsibilities of disaster response volunteers. This type of relief work abroad may also entail providing emotional support to survivors, especially vulnerable populations, which is in some cases equally as important as providing food and shelter.
Reconstruction. Infrastructure damage is one of the biggest problems faced in the aftermath of natural disasters, since destroyed communities are left at even higher risk of future damage. By working on cleaning up debris and rebuilding essential infrastructure, such as government buildings, schools, and family homes, you will be helping survivors recover and move forward with their lives.
Volunteer Management is a very important aspect of relief volunteering abroad, since without properly managed volunteers, disaster relief would not be successful. Helping organizations that recruit volunteers to conduct relief work abroad by managing volunteers and placing them where they can best utilize their skills will help the organization and the volunteers make an even greater impact on the lives of survivors. Those who volunteer abroad to assist with relief volunteer management may be responsible for record keeping and project monitoring, volunteer orientation and support services, and a host of other duties.
Disaster Preparedness. The final vital component of relief volunteering abroad is disaster risk reduction, which prepares communities to better respond to future disasters, leading to lower casualties, damage to structures, and chaos in the event of a disaster. In general, countries that suffer from frequent natural disasters lack the resources to implement preventative measures and educate local communities on disaster risk reduction. Education and development of preventative measures can therefore help save lives and protect livelihoods in the future.
Benefits & Challenges
Victims & Volunteering. It’s easy to turn off the television, be grateful for our privileges, and dissociate from the suffering of people around the world. However, that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Disaster relief volunteering abroad will take you far out of your comfort zone, but it will also lead you to find a sense of purpose and peace of mind through helping others. You will not only be helping others, you will also be developing your own skills and understanding of the world too, so get out there and truly make a difference!
Resources & Relief. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a two week relief volunteering, whether rebuilding one school or one home, may seem like putting a band-aid on a cut that needs stitches; however, keep in mind that every little bit helps. You can’t fix the world with one grand gesture, but offering your time, energy, and resources to a community in need can start a ripple effect. Contributing to relief work abroad can promote change and healing among affected communities, and also spark a desire to help among your own network at home too.