According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four Americans volunteered for an organization at least once during the course of a year. Despite their good intentions, volunteers could hinder relief efforts, even being a danger to themselves and others during a during a disaster response. When it comes to volunteering overseas, good intentions generally do not yield good outcomes unless the volunteer has extensive technical expertise. Simply showing up in a disaster-affected country is not the way to go.

What’s Required

The provision of humanitarian assistance, especially overseas, requires trained and experienced individuals who can work effectively in exceptionally difficult conditions for long periods of time. Resources are strained during a disaster, and a person without technical skills and experience can be more of a burden than an asset to the relief effort. Offers to do less specialized work (such as driving trucks, setting up tents) are rarely accepted, as relief organizations typically hire local people, including disaster survivors, who know the area and could benefit from participating in relief activities.

Experience Needed

When there is a call for volunteers, candidates with the greatest prospect of being selected typically have the following:

  • Language skills, in other words, they know how to speak the language and are familiar with the culture of the disaster-affected area.
  • Prior disaster experience, at least 10 years of relief experience, in some cases. Some aid organizations will also require several years of overseas work experience.
  • Technical expertise in fields such as medicine, communications, logistics, water/sanitation/hygiene. In many cases, professionals who meet these requirements are available in-country, not far from the disaster site.
  • Time: Some hiring agencies will request volunteers to commit a certain amount of time (i.e. three months) to work on a disaster response.

Gaining Expertise

People interested in becoming qualified volunteers can begin by starting locally. Volunteering in your own community will help you start building experience to be qualified for additional volunteer positions. Local colleges and Red Cross Chapters may offer disaster management training course you can take. To find a local Red Cross Chapter, visit www.redcross.org. As you gain more experience, you can reach out to domestic relief groups to see if they would accept you as a volunteer. Ask about qualifications they require and whether your training and experience makes you eligible to help.

Help That’s Needed

Those who lack necessary training can help by raising funds and fostering public awareness of aid groups operating around the world. No donation is too small, and every dollar contributes to saving lives and reducing human suffering in the most cost-effective, efficient, and appropriate way. We put together this toolkit of best practices, videos, PSAs, and more to give you what’s needed to be an ambassador of effective giving.