You only have to see the news to know that war, famine, environmental disasters, as well as economic and cultural challenges are always happening around the globe, creating an urgent need for humanitarian aid. Finding the right assignment that fits your skills means that you will impact the lives of people somewhere in the world.
I was a volunteer on Leros and Samos, in 2015 and 2016. Here is my advice to help your experience be more effective and rewarding.
#1 Plan carefully!
This is probably the most important piece of advice. Make sure you go where you are needed! Find a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) or group that has need of your skills – it doesn’t have to be one of the giant NGOs. If you want to go to a specific region, use the internet and social media to find local groups that could use your help and agree to a placement with them (before you decide to go).
#2 Check for accommodation
This needs attention, particularly if there is a mass migration of people into a small area (as happened on Leros and Samos) or there has been an environmental disaster that seriously limits the availability of rooms.
#3 Be transparent
Once you have found the
If people donate money, keep receipts and post about your activities. Be accountable!
#4 Pace yourself – don’t try to be a superhero!
This one is hard. When faced with a humanitarian crisis where people are suffering it is natural, through guilt and adrenaline, to be driven to extreme efforts to ‘keep going’. This is a mistake! You are absolutely no good to anyone if you burn yourself out. When I arrived on Leros, I had a big van on a little island so was in demand around the clock. After 19 days of 16-20 hour days, I succumbed to a back injury and flu which put me out of action for 10 days or so.
Passion is important but trying to be a superhero is not. Manage your time. Take a break!
#5 Mental Health support
This is crucial, particularly if it’s your first time as a humanitarian volunteer. If you are in a fast-moving crisis situation or environment, the adrenaline kicks in and you may not consciously notice how you are coping. Guilt and ‘not wanting to let anyone down’ can stop you asking for help if you are struggling. It is so important to have an outlet to talk about the experiences that you are going through. When working for a larger NGO, this will normally be provided, but if you are an independent volunteer or working with smaller groups it is less likely. Make sure that you have a trusted friend or family member that you can reach out to and, importantly, know when it is time to leave.
If you want to be a humanitarian volunteer and follow these steps, go for it! It is without doubt the best thing I have ever done, and I would recommend that everyone does it at least once.