It is impossible not to feel for the people of Japan as they attempt to recover from the earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc on the region. These types of natural disasters often evoke a sense of urgency to help any way that you can, to hop on a plane an offer an extra set of hands to anyone who needs them. This is a great way to give back to people who have the passion and energy to volunteer.
However, it can be difficult to be put to work under these circumstances if you don’t have any experience. Disaster relief sites are often fast-paced, and volunteers are called upon to take a significant initiative in uncertain situations. Some experience in the areas of construction, project management and emergency services can be an essential part of being successful in a disaster zone.
The Center for international Disaster relief is one agency that keeps a ongoing roster of volunteers who are ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice to help. They also encourage people to donate funds responsibly if they want to volunteer, but cannot. CIDI also gives a lot of great information to people who are willing to volunteer, and are very upfront about the limits of volunteer for people who do not have the experience necessary to be truly useful.
The more specialized experience you have, the better when it comes to disaster relief jobs. Health jobs are in the highest demand, and doctors, nurses and emergency medical practioners can generally jump into action. The best places to find health care disaster relief jobs are with the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and OCHA. However, these organizations generally have pre-existing rosters of volunteers who are ready to be called upon if and when disaster strikes. If you are not already on a disaster relief list, it might be difficult to pack up and go without prior planning.
If you are lacking disaster relief experiences, there are organizations that can help you find a meaningful way to volunteer abroad. All Hand Volunteers is a no-fee volunteer placement agency that closely monitors ongoing relief efforts on the ground and matches volunteers with projects that can use people at all skill levels. Many of the volunteer projects offer food, shelter and tools, but that often depends on the needs of the region, and the availability of resources. Their current efforts in Japan are focused on assessment, and they are seeking Japanese speakers to help with some of the administrative and planning tasks. You can find out more about their ongoing work by visiting the All Hands Volunteers website. They are also updating their Twitter feed with up to the minute information about the situation in Japan.
A great piece of advice from Transitions Abroad that often goes overlooked is to think small. Many of the big agencies will be inundated with requests for volunteer opportunities, but do not have the capacity to find placements for everyone. However, the smaller NGOs in the area might have some unexpected ways for volunteers to help. You might be able to put your office skills to work coordinating phone calls and smaller scale relief efforts. Or you could be placed outside of the disaster zone to assist with helping people who may have been displaced by the disaster.
One of the most powerful ways to volunteer in a time of disaster is to stay put, and use your energy for fundraising campaigns, to keep the awareness going and serve as a source of information for people interested in the most recent developments of a tragedy. While this may not seem like a big help, especially when images of people without homes and food take over our television screens, a influx of funds to an area in need can be invaluable. If every person who felt the need to volunteer abroad put that desire into action at home, on the ground through fundraising campaigns, we could collectively send a significant amount of aid to those in need. Check the CIDI website for some ideas about fun and interesting fundraising ideas for the whole family.
It is also important to remember that disaster relief is ongoing. While you may feel excited about helping immediately, you might be of the most help months, even years after the disaster has happened. Habitat for Humanity often conducts home building projects in recovering countries, and is designed to engage people at all skill levels. If you happen to have construction or project management experience, you might be able to find a placement as a project leader.
It is important to consider those around us, both in times of disaster and in times of prosperity. If at this time of need in Japan you feel like you need to help, but cannot volunteer, please consider giving to one of the international relief charities that are providing food, shelter and medical help to victims of the earthquake and tsunami.