After every disaster, I will often hear from people that they are interested in helping out during the disaster. Many are hoping to find an agency that will pay for their trip and they will volunteer in turn. Aid agencies are usually hammered with volunteer requests when a disaster strikes.
Not all Aid Agencies work at the initial point of the disaster. Initial response efforts require trucks, airplanes, security, specialized personnel, warehousing and tonnes of commodities. Large aid agencies are first responders.
Aid agencies (large or small) do not fly untrained workers into a disaster zone to help out. They hire local people to do the work that will help the community recover as quickly as possible. The only time that Aid agencies will pay for your expenses if if they specifically hire you to do the work. If you want to go overseas and find employment after a disaster this is what you need to do it:
1. Have a specific skill that an aid agency needs – Most paid positions for expats are skilled positions. Aid agencies that work in the country of the disaster hire project managers, country directors, logisticians etc. to help them manage a disaster. If you have experience in disaster management, call up those agencies at work on the ground and submit a resume.
2. Have previous experience and contacts in the country – If you have already been working/volunteering in a development role and your country experiences a disaster, you may have knowledge or resources that other agencies (with other resources) require. They will want to find you. Introduce yourself to them, show up at OCHA or other cooperative meetings. Offer what you have to bring and ask for people to provide what you need.
3. Be able to raise a lot of money – if you can raise money, you will be able to find partners with skills and experience to help you to program that money well. Your heart and good intentions are wonderful, but they don’t substitute for experience. Work with agencies, often smaller and faith-based, who are already imbedded in the community.
4. Have a strong healthy prior relationship with an aid agency – volunteer with an agency before the disaster. If you have relationship AND skill, experience, contacts or the ability to raise money, you will be closer to the top of the list when it comes time to find staff for a relief response.
If you still want to be employed as an aid worker and you do not have specific skills, previous experience, ability to raise money or a strong healthy prior relationship with an aid agency, there is one last bold move you can make, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEE THAT THIS WILL WORK.
You may put yourself into a dangerous situation where you put your own, or other peoples lives at risk.
5. Just show up
If you are considering this option, it is a bad idea. If you don’t believe me and are going to do it anyway, here are a few ways to make yourself less of a pain in the butt.
Make sure you tell people you trust about your plans. Research who is working on the ground. During the initial stages of the disaster, buy yourself a plane ticket and show up on the ground. Ask which agency is hiring and take whatever job (assistant) is available.
It may not work. It probably won’t work. No one may hire you, but If you are any good, you may be given opportunity to advance. For most people this is a bad idea, but if you are very flexible and highly entrepreneurial this may be an option for you.
6. Finally. If you don’t fit any of the above categories I still have the right solution for you. If you are not looking for employment and are willing to pay your own way and volunteer during a disaster, get in touch with me – I can make it can happen.
Have you ever helped during a disaster?