Tag Archives: disaster

Volunteers Along Immigrant & Refugee Journey

refugeesLast year, e-Volunteerism, a publication by Energize, Inc. and Susan Ellis, featured an article about volunteers at the front lines of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, and how their impassioned scramble to help—though often inefficient and always insufficient—nonetheless addressed grave needs and sent a message to governments to respond. But the images of these orange-vested volunteers, often entirely self-funded and pulling refugees from boats and greeting them with blankets on Mediterranean shores, represent just a fraction of the diverse volunteer sector that serves the needs of immigrants and refugees worldwide. And these borders and shorelines are not the end of the journey; for the immigrants and refugees, they are where new journeys begin. While some immigrants’ first steps inside a country are more perilous than others, even immigrants who arrive safely at an airport are still plunged into uncertainty and vulnerability. Settling into a new life, a new job, new customs, a new language, and the new experience of being a racial, ethnic, or religious minority can often be a more daunting journey than getting to the country in the first place.

A new e-Volunteerism Voices article by Kerry Martin explores how volunteers engage with immigrants and refugees at every stage of their journey. It focuses on the current situation in the USA (which has relevant implications for other countries) by assessing the nature of volunteer services for three distinct groups: 1) refugees formally resettled through government and other authorized organizations; 2) recent immigrants (non-refugees) who are undocumented, at risk of losing their immigration status, or in need of support due to poverty, exploitation, abuse, etc.; and 3) refugees unrecognized by the U.S. and not formally resettled, primarily those fleeing from gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

The full article is available to subscribers of e-Volunteerism and it’s worth subscribing to read this article!

Also see:

Reality Check: Volunteering Abroad / Internationally

Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip (& where to find credible volunteering abroad/work abroad programs)

How to Pursue a Career with the United Nations or Other International Humanitarian or Development Organizations, Including Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Vanity Volunteering: all about the volunteer

How Will Trump Presidency Affect Humanitarian Aid & Development?

Note: since this blog’s publication in November, I’ve been adding how Trump’s presidency actually is affecting humanitarian aid & development:

How will the Trump Presidency affect humanitarian aid and development policy and practice?

And how will it affect humanitarian aid and development workers from the USA?

Effects on the work

2015-07-21-SDGsAid and development efforts in the last 10 years have made amazing strides in terms of addressing issues that make many people, even a majority of people, very uncomfortable, even angry. It’s oh-so-popular to put in a well for drinking water or to build a school for young children or to provide maternal health care, but it’s rarely as popular in those same communities to encourage women to demand their sexual partners to use a condom to prevent HIV/AIDS, or to suggest a plan for providing housing and other help for refugees from other countries. Women’s equal rights to education, life choices, roles in society and employment are now unquestioned in the policies of most international development agencies, including the United Nations, something I wasn’t expecting when I started working internationally. Honestly, I fully expected some kind of “out” in UN policy documents to allow local people to refuse rights for women, if the refusal was based on religious or cultural grounds. But the UN has stood firm, at least officially. Yes, the UN and other aid agencies absolutely look for accommodation within local cultural and religious practices, they absolutely encourage recognition of local values, and that may mean your meeting with a local village is segregated, with all the men in one place, and all the women in another. It requires very delicate maneuvering at times, but the core policy and priority regarding women’s rights, and other rights, does not change.

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas, like Afghanistan, can be an incredible challenge, as you navigate a culture that does not want women in public and is easily angered if they perceive an attack on their religion. And just because local senior staff are singing the praises of gender mainstreaming doesn’t mean the staff they supervise has bought in. But, as an aid worker, you have to find a way. It is your mandate. You find a workaround. Because you know that full civil rights for all people is the only way a country can prosper and become resilient to corruption, crime, and armed civil unrest, and when civil rights for any residents are curbed, officially or by widespread cultural practice, the entire country suffers, and your aid and humanitarian efforts will ultimately fail.

Something that shocks a lot of people is that the UN has a human rights mandate that includes rights for people that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). The United Nations Free & Equal initiative is on Twitter (@free_equal) and on Facebook. It is an initiative of the Office of the High Commissioner for United Nations Human Rights. There is this video from the UN Secretary General in support of the Free & Equal initiative. I was stunned, and thrilled, to find this out a while back. It’s a daring position, given the majority attitudes about LGBTQ people throughout the world, including right here in the USA. In promoting equality and human rights, it’s a great comfort to know that a major international development agency has your back, policy wise.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a government agency, also has the  LGBT Global Development Partnership. It was put into the planning and formation stages by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then launched in April 2013 under the tenure of Secretary of State John Kerry. The initiative works to strengthen the capacity of local LGBTQ leaders and civil society organizations in developing countries and to enable the economic empowerment of LGBTQ people in those countries through enhanced entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprise development.

The UN and USAID initiatives in support of LGBTQ people are in response to the violence, economic hardship, stigma and political marginalization that are a daily fact of life for millions of LGBTQ people throughout the world. These people experience a lack of employment opportunities, discrimination in access to health care, housing and education and violations of their civil rights regularly because of their sexual preference. 83 countries and territories currently criminalize LGBTQ behavior or identification, and at least eight have laws allowing the imposition of the death penalty for same-sex relations. These USAID and UN initiatives are desperately needed, as are women’s empowerment initiatives. As are initiatives to help refugees. As are initiatives to help religious minorities. As are initiatives to help people with disabilities. And on and on.

But now, the USA elections of 2016 show that the majority of people in the USA support politicians dedicated to eliminating the civil rights gained by LDBTQ people in the USA over the last five years. Donald Trump is on the record as planning to create a militarized deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants from the USA, to ban the entry of Muslims into the USA and aggressively surveil any Muslim already here, to punish women for accessing abortion once he makes it illegal with the help of his Supreme Court appointees and Congress, and to change our nation’s libel laws and to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press. He talks about fully militarizing and otherwise empowering police to enforce “law and order” regarding Black and Latino Americans and other racial minorities in their own communities. He has said climate change is a “hoax” and that he will eliminate all government programs that address such. He promotes myths about vaccine safety. International programs that run contrary to these soon-to-be official policy positions in the USA, that run contrary to the values of many millions of Americans who support this administration, are now in severe danger of being eliminated as well.

Even if all of these initiatives are, miraculously, not cut by the Trump administration, they will be much, much harder to deliver in years to come by aid and development workers. Why? Because any local person can look an American aid worker right in the eye and say, “Why are you promoting something – freedom of the press, rights for immigrants, rights for gay people, reducing car emissions, reducing green house gases, increasing wind and solar energy, vaccines for children – that most people in your own country do not support?” Any person can say, “Your own President mocks powerful public women, and brags of sexually assaulting them. Why is it wrong that men in my country are doing the same as him?” People in developing countries intensely watch what happens in the USA, and they are always on the lookout for hypocrisy, for the USA demanding something of another country that it does not do itself. That a majority of American voters support a political party and government lead by a man who promotes nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny and racism will fuel these movements in other countries, resulting in pushback against humanitarian aid and development workers’ efforts for the rights of women, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, the rights of LGBTQ people, the rights of immigrants and refugees, and on and on.

US development policy can—and has—lifted millions out of poverty and social exclusion, and played a role in transforming countries for the better and creating peace and prosperity where it would not be otherwise. Travel the world, talk to people, you hear the stories over and over, in Africa, in Eastern Europe, and even in Afghanistan, by people that have experienced this transformation first hand. Yes, there is still vast amounts of work to do, and many gains are fragile, but that lives have improved and business has flourished because of USAID and similar efforts simply cannot be denied. These programs not only benefit local people in their everyday lives; they also create social and economic stability that, in turn, creates a market for USA-made products and reduces the need for American military action. A lot of support for USAID and other development agencies comes from a motivation for growing the USA’s markets overseas rather than any feeling of compassion – and I’m okay with that, because such investment still helps local people, which is MY motivation. Weak or failed states are havens for armed criminal groups, some motivated by religion but most motivated by greed, and these groups not only keep their home country in chaos, they also destabilize neighboring countries. Human freedoms in such countries are at risk – and so are their economies, and all the economies attached to such. And that includes the USA. Natural disasters, including pandemics, also destabilize countries – which, in turn, threatens surrounding countries – and ultimately threatens the USA.

Nancy Birdsall and Ben Leo wrote in White House and the World:

Gender discrimination, corruption, lack of opportunity, and repressive governments in many parts of the developing world are an affront to universal values. America is often the only actor capable of marshaling the resources, political capital, and technical know-how required to address these tough issues.

In addition to security threats, the US economy and the American workforce are more reliant than ever on developing-country markets. US exports to developing countries have grown by more than 400 percent over the last 20 years. Today, they total more than $600 billion annually and are greater than US exports to China, Europe, and Japan combined. Brazil, Colombia, India, Korea, Malaysia, Turkey, and other countries are leading markets for US exports. Three decades ago, these were relatively poor countries that offered limited US export potential. Populous countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Nigeria have the potential to be the next wave of emerging markets. It makes strategic sense to further advance America’s global prosperity agenda, thereby helping to grow middle-class societies that drive democratic change, promote peace with their neighbors, and reliably purchase US products and services.

Even if what happened far away didn’t affect the USA, I would still want to help – that’s who I am – but the reality is that even neo-liberals have acknowledged this reality, hence why even Republican Presidents in the USA in the last three decades, until now, have supported the idea of a global economy and foreign aid.

(for USA-based readers, particularly Trump supporters – the term neo-liberal doesn’t mean left wing. In the rest of the word, the word liberal means someone who believes unfettered free market capitalism is the best economic and social policy for the world – in the USA, we call those people libertarians or Republicans).

Effects on aid workers

Trump has said he will reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture. This, coupled with his stated attitudes about Muslims, immigrants and refugees from Syria, has the potential to put workers in aid and development from the USA, working abroad, in further danger than they already face. It is yet another thing people from the USA working in humanitarian aid and development must consider, must be mindful of as they are offered posts abroad, and must think about as they navigate another country’s landscape.

Distancing yourself from these policies and statements on social media, including Facebook, might adversely affect your employability with USAID and international agencies that receive funding from the US government during the Trump President and Republic control of the federal government, however, such posts could also help you in your work with people from other countries, people angered and further disempowered by Trump’s foreign policy. That doesn’t mean you post anti-Trump memes on Instagram or are ever have to say publicly who you voted for. It could mean posting sometimes on social media of your support of and concern for Muslim Americans, Syrian refugees, people in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Occupied Palestinian territories, human rights for immigrants, etc., and your condemnation of waterboarding, torture and any violations of human rights.

It was already difficult for female aid workers to complain about sexual harassment on the job; when I complained about such 10 years ago, while doing field work, I was told by a UN HR manager, “Well, you just have to ignore it and not let it bother you. If you can’t, you can always quit.” That’s the usual response, I quickly learned when talking to colleagues. But now, women aid workers from the USA are going to be at even greater risk of sexual harassment and assault because of the Trump presidency. The incoming President has, by his statements and behavior, made it acceptable for anyone, including politicians and other government representatives, to rate women by their looks and to insult women reporters, politicians, artists and celebrities with most vile statements about their character, appearance – even their sexuality. His bragging about sexual assault also normalizes such behavior in the minds of many men, in the USA and abroad. Megyn Kelly, a reporter for the politically right-wing Fox News channel, noted to Trump during a Presidential debate she moderated: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” Imagine a female aid worker having such comments directed at her by men she is working with, and when she says these comments are inappropriate, is told, “But it’s what your own President says!” It will be hard to demand such comments stop when the head of the most power country on Earth is saying the same.

For male aid workers in particular, repeated statements on social media and as a part of your aid and development work in support of women’s equal rights and respect for women, as well as condemnations of sexual harassment and assault, can help counter the dangerous narrative being established about acceptable treatment of women. More than ever, your female colleagues need you to speak up when you hear people you are working with joking about sexual assault or women’s behavior.

Final thoughts for now

It’s all quite dire, I know. But it’s based on what Trump and GOP members of the House and Senate have said and promised, and therefore, it must be considered as really happening. Organizations and governments abroad that have counted on support from UN and USAID need to think about what they will do if that support vanishes, both the financial support and the rhetorical support. Aid workers from the USA, more than ever before, need to be conscious of how they are perceived abroad, and remember that the safety climate in a place can change dramatically per a rumor or a sound byte on the news. And aid agencies need to revise all of their safety measures for their staff, particularly women, and to think about how they will reinforce their anti-sexual-harassment policies in the face of this new climate.

Also see:

US aid for women’s sexual health worldwide under threat, from The Guardian

Taking a stand when you are supposed to be neutral/not controversial

Update Dec 1

The UN in the Era of Trump from Centre for Policy Research, United Nations University

The $64,000 Question: Can the UN Survive the Trump Era?, from PassBlue.

Battles to end poverty, inequality will falter in Trump era, experts predict, from Reuters

Also, I’ve gotten two comments from people taking issue with my comment “the USA elections of 2016 show that the majority of people in the USA support politicians dedicated to eliminating the civil rights gained by LDBTQ people in the USA over the last five years.” It is true that Secretary Clinton garnered more votes on election day – and that her lead in the results continues to grow: As of Dec. 1, Clinton has garnered 65,152,112 votes, compared to Trump’s 62,625,928. That’s a margin of 2.53 million votes. The Democratic Party nominee’s margin in the popular vote is also rapidly approaching 2 percentage points. But I’m not sure the vote really does represent what a majority of Americans think. Perhaps I’ve got more access outside the bubble than a lot of folks, but being from a rural part of the USA, I see and hear a jaw-dropping amount of glee over the soon-to-come rollback regarding civil rights gains in the USA. There’s no question in my mind that this is, indeed, what a majority of people in the USA want – and that’s something we need to accept in order to address and change it.

Update:
Donald Trump might be more popular than you think, from Politico, Feb. 2, 2017

Update January 13, 2017

From an article today in The New York Times: “a series of questions from the Trump transition team to the State Department indicate an overall skepticism about the value of foreign aid, and even about American security interests, on the world’s second-largest continent… the tone of the questions suggest an American retreat from development and humanitarian goals, while at the same time trying to push forward business opportunities across the continent.” The article says, “The questions seem to reflect the inaccurate view shared by many Americans about how much the United States spends on foreign aid and global health programs.” In the article, Monde Muyangwa, director of the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, noted that “the framing of some of their questions suggests a narrower definition of U.S. interests in Africa, and a more transactional and short-term approach to policy and engagement with African countries.” Ms. Muyangwa said the queries could signal “a dramatic turn in how the United States will engage with the continent.” The article notes that Former President George W. Bush quadrupled foreign assistance levels to African countries during his term, and President Obama largely maintained that, even as his administration was making cuts elsewhere.

Update Jan. 26,  2017

More from undispatch.com Trump dramatically expanded the scope of the Global Gag Rule to include all global health assistance provided by the US government. Rather than applying the Global Gag Rule exclusively to US assistance for family planning in the developing world, which amounts to about $575 million per year, the Trump memo applies it to “global health assistance furnished by all department or agencies.” In other words, NGOs that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, support early childhood nutrition and brain development, run HIV programs, fight ebola or Zika, and much more, must now certify their compliance with the Global Gag Rule or risk losing US funds.

Update February 8, 2017: Charities Say That Trump’s Refugee Ban Will Be “Incredibly Problematic” For Their Work Abroad. Charities operating in countries on the US president’s banned list, or employing staff with dual nationality from these nations, also warned the ban would jeopardise their work. A nonprofit has said plans to have Syrians speak to the US Congress have had to be shelved.

Update February 27, 2017: With aid under attack, we need stories of development progress more than ever – from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues.

When ICT help goes wrong: warning for aid workers going to Nepal

Here is a comment I read on one of the many online discussion groups I follow, and I think it is really important for aid workers to keep in mind when going to developing countries to help, particularly in post-disaster situations. I’ve removed any specific identifying information, and any emphasis is mine:

One issue we’ve observed many times when doing relief work, perhaps worst in the 2004 tsunami, the 2003 conflict in the Congo, and 2010 in Haiti, is that areas with modest ICT infrastructure that was adequate to the sustainable needs of their market, are swamped by aid workers with immodest expectations. i.e. a desire to video-chat with their families every day, play WoW, and download video porn. So they all show up, and declare “repairing the Internet infrastructure” (to levels never before seen) to be their first priority. They run rough-shod over the local infrastructure operators, step on carefully-regulated or carefully-negotiated frequency allocations, etc.

I very much hope we won’t have to deal with that in this case. Nepal’s ICT environment is mature, its professionals are expert, and its community is well connected. If and when they need help, they’re perfectly capable of indicating what help they need, and anyone from the outside who believes they know better is WRONG. So, if you’re interested in helping, by all means, make your availability known to any of the many other ICT professionals in-country, but please don’t assume that you know what’s needed, or worse, that they don’t.

The Swedish-Finnish telco TeliaSonera operates in Nepal and is engaged in relief efforts, and is urging everyone in Nepal to communicate whenever possible by SMS rather than voice in order to minimize the strain of the network.

Also see: How to help Nepal

How to help Nepal

I’m already seeing these posts online:

How can I go to Nepal and help regarding the earthquake?!

Unless you have specific areas of expertise regarding post-disaster situations, speak Nepalese, and can go under the auspices of a respected non-governmental organization or your own government, DO NOT GO. And please don’t start collecting things to send to Nepal either.

When a disaster strikes, thousands of people start contacting various organizations and posting to online groups in an effort to try to volunteer onsite at the disaster site. If the disaster happens in the USA, some people jump in their cars and drive to the area.

But what most of these people don’t realize is that spontaneous volunteers without specific training and no affiliation can cause far more problems than they alleviate in a disaster situation, particularly regarding disaster locations far from their home. Consider this:

  • In many post-disaster situations, there is NO food, shelter, services or gas to spare for volunteers. Many volunteers going into the Philippines, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan, even the Gulf Coast states in the USA after Katrina or states affected by Sandy, had to be absolutely self-sustaining for many, many days, even many  weeks. No shelter or safety measures could be provided to these volunteers by the government. Those volunteers who weren’t self-sustaining created big problems and diverted attention from local people in need.
  • Just because you have some equipment does not mean you are ready to volunteer: inexperienced people have been killed using chainsaws after hurricanes and other disasters, by falling limbs and live electrical wires, during their DIY clean up efforts. Responding to these people when they get themselves into a jam takes away from the needs of local people.
  • In disaster situations, you are going to be encountering disaster victims. They are going to be stressed, maybe desperate, and maybe angry. As a trained volunteer or paid staff member working with a credible organization, you are going to know how to comfort these people and direct them to where they can get assistance, and how to convince them that you have to save this person over here instead of their relative over there. If you are untrained and unaffiliated, you may become a target of their anger, because you cannot provide them with appropriate assistance, or because you provide them with incorrect information.
  • What will you do when you are accused of stealing from someone? Of harming someone? Of making a situation worse? What do you know about local customs and cultural taboos that, if you violate them, could taint all outside volunteer efforts? Aid workers have been arrested, even killed, because of cultural missteps. Who will navigate local bureaucracies to save YOU in such situations?

I could go on and on – and I do, on this web page about how to help people affected by a huge disasterDisasters are incredibly complicated situations that require people with a very high degree of qualifications and long-term commitment, not just good will, a sense of urgency and short-term availability.

Also, more and more agencies are hiring local people, even immediately after a disaster, to clean rubble, remove dead bodies, build temporary housing, rebuild homes and essential buildings, and prepare and distribute food. Hiring local people to do these activities, rather than bringing people in from the outside, helps stabilize local people’s lives much more quickly!

If you want to help the people of Nepal, donate to CARE International’s efforts in Nepal and/or UNICEF’s efforts in Nepal and/or Save the Children’s efforts in Nepal (all of these organizations serve all people, not just children).

Here’s more about donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions).

If you want to go abroad to help after a disaster, then here is advice on how to start pursuing the training and experience you need to be in a position to do that – it will take you about 24 months (two years) to get the minimum of what you will need to apply to volunteer for such scenarios.

Also see:

guide to social media emergency management analytics

Need a guide to social media emergency management analyticsHumanity Road just published one.

“Emergency Management is a mature field of study but Social Media Analytics is still in its infancy and navigating this field requires an understanding of the opportunities it presents. We are publishing this guide as a helpful tool for emergency managers and decision makers to help them identify and discuss relevant questions in planning their SMEM response. One example of key lessons to include in your own SMEM plan is establishing a baseline for communications activity in your area of operation.”

“We outline two types of application of social media analytics: one as postdisaster assessment and research which aggregates and analyzes data for statistical trending and strategic planning purposes, and the other conducted at the onset, during disaster response, and during recovery phases for rapid assessment and response focused on tactical execution. In general, this guidebook is meant for the latter, although the principles apply to both.”

I’ve been reviewing this for the last few minutes, and it seems absolutely RIGHT ON. Great stuff here – real-world advice, not just theory.

coyote1Have you read this report? Have a comment about this report or about using social media in community emergencies? Comment below!

Online volunteers, social media, disaster response & the Philippines

United Nations OCHA and the Digital Humanitarian Network are looking for online volunteers to help in geo-tagging twitter messages and images to support relief efforts in the Philippines. Find out more and sign up here, at the UN Volunteers Online Volunteering web site.

Also, other online volunteers across the world are building the digital infrastructure for the organization’s Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts: since Saturday, more than 400 volunteers have made nearly three quarters of a million additions to OpenStreetMap (OSM), regarding areas in and around the Philippines. Those additions reflect the land before the storm, but they will help Red Cross workers and volunteers make critical decisions after it about where to send food, water, and supplies (OSM aims to be a complete map of the world, free to use and editable by all. Created in 2004, it now has over a million users). The Red Cross is using the data. More at this article from the Atlantic.

And, hurrah, the first shipment of Facebook “likes” have arrived in the Philippines (article in German – and is a better criticism of slacktivism or slackavism than anything else).

Spontaneous “online volunteers” after disasters

When a big news story or disaster strikes, the result can be hundreds, even thousands, of people contacting organizations to offer help, including potential online volunteers. It could be a natural disaster, an act of violence, or a particular issue suddenly becoming the hot item on the news. A nonprofit organization, NGO, school, or other organization could suddenly be swamped with emails and phone calls from people who want to help in some way online.

Of course it’s appropriate for your organization to encourage these spontaneous online volunteering candidates to make an emergency financial donation to the organization — and be explicit about exactly what this money will be used for. But in addition, you should think about ways these spontaneous online volunteering candidates could engage in other activities to benefit your organization in a crisis situation:

  • Put up a page on your web site specifically for these people thanking them for wanting to help in this time of crisis or intense attention. Outline on that page all of the ways they can help your organization both as donors and online volunteers. Direct them to other organizations if there are ways to volunteer at these organizations in some way.
  • Encourage these spontaneous online volunteering candidates to subscribe to your email newsletter, your blog, your FaceBook account and/or your Twitter feed, wherever you are posting photos online, etc., to stay up-to-date on what your organization is doing to address whatever issue or circumstance is occurring.
  • Encourage them to repost your messages to their own blogs, their own status updates on online social networking sites, etc., to educate their friends and colleagues about what is happening. Direct them to where to find information about the online volunteering activities you have available.
  • Encourage them to write you if they see misinformation online about your organization and its work in this crisis situation.
  • Set up a YahooGroup or GoogleGroup only for these potential online volunteers, and tell them online volunteering opportunities will be announced on this group as soon as they become available. You could use the group to brainstorm with these potential online volunteers what activities they could undertake for your organization.

Some things these spontaneous online volunteers could do regarding this crisis or immediate high-profit situation:

  • Translate some of your existing web site material, flyers, blogs, Facebook status updates or new information into another language
  • Translate texts or blog comments coming into your organization from another language into English, so you can read and respond to such.
  • Monitor media reports and bring certain articles or information to your immediate attention.
  • Monitor online communities and blogs and bring certain information, and even misinformation, to your immediate attention (more on how to deal with misinformation).
  • Research what other organizations are doing that your organization might need to urgently know about, such as projects that are mapping eyewitness/on-the-ground reports of critical needs. For instance, following the Haiti Earthquake, OpenStreetMap created a crisis mapping project, mobilizing highly skilled online volunteers to layer up-to-the-minute data, such as the location of new field hospitals and downed bridges, onto post-quake satellite imagery. This data was made freely available by for-profit companies including GeoEye and DigitalGlobe. The digital cartography — informed by everything from Tweets to eyewitness reports — helped aid workers speed food, water and medicine to where it was needed most.
  • Create a smart phone application that is urgently needed. CrisisCamp mobilized hundreds of online and onsite volunteers in Washington, DC; London, England; Mountain View, California; and elsewhere to build and refine a variety of tech tools needed after the Earthquake in Haiti, including a basic Creole-English dictionary for the iPhone to help aid.

These are not just nice things for online volunteers to do in a crisis; they are critical services. Depending on the mission of your organization, you might want to consider including how to deal with spontaneous online volunteering candidates in your crisis communications plans.

The above information is from the revised Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, which will be published later in 2013.

For those that want to help those affected by Sandy

For all of you wanting to volunteer to help people affected by Hurricane Sandy, and all of you wanting to donate clothing, food, or other things to help those affected by Sandy, please see these two resources ASAP:

Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters

Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions)

Let’s give the REAL help that’s needed – or get out of the way and let those who know how to help do their jobs!

 

People not following-through on volunteering in disasters

The state of Queensland, Australia suffered from horrific floods in December 2010 and January 2011. Thousands of Australians expressed interest in volunteering, inundating volunteer centers and online message boards.

Recently, Volunteering Queensland offered this Submission to Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, which said, in part:

QUEENSLAND’S peak volunteer organisation says the vast majority of people who registered to help clean up following the floods and cyclone Yasi backed off at the last minute.

Some people backed out because they realized this was a real commitment of time, and they couldn’t make that real commitment. Some dropped out because they could not donate a significant amount of time – an hour or two when you might have some time eventually is usually not enough for such a situation. Some backed out because they really were not prepared to volunteer (they hadn’t set up child care, time off from work, transportation, etc.).

Seasoned volunteer managers, of course, aren’t surprised. Even in a non-disaster situation, we have come to expect at least 50 percent of people who express interest in volunteering to drop out. That’s why many volunteer managers, including myself, insist on at least a bit of screening before a volunteer is placed into an assignment, so that drop outs happen in the screening process, not after the assignment is given and we’re counting on those volunteers.

Martin Cowling has done a great blog about this Queensland report, and I encourage you to head over to it, read it, read the comments (yes, I’ve commented there) and respond yourself.

Here is a resource I created following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Volunteering To Help After Major Disasters, which I’ve regularly updated at least monthly every since, per the over-whelming number of posts to places like YahooAnswers by people who want to volunteer following a disaster (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, tropical storm, flood, tsunami, oil spill, zombies, etc.). It’s become one of the most popular pages on my web site, despite being posted as almost an after-thought and being focused on people that the majority of my web site is not focused on (it’s not even linked from my home page!).

Tags: volunteering, volunteers, relief, disaster, response, spontaneous, episodic, microvolunteer, microvolunteering. communications, public relations, engagement, engage, community, nonprofit, NGO, not-for-profit, government, outreach, staff, employees, civil society, floods, tornadoes

 

Helping Southern states in the USA

Disaster is striking in the American Southeast. Recent tornadoes and current flooding have brought devastation and heartache to many parts of the South, and messages are everywhere on various online communities, asking how to help. There is an incredible amount of misinformation being posted about how to help as well.

If you want to help the states affected by recent tornadoes and current flooding in the USA, you can:

  • Watch the news, and when you hear a county name for a state that is being affected, or a city name, look up the American Red Cross chapter, or the local Humane Society/ASPCA/animal welfare organization serving that area on Google. Most of these will have a web site that allows you do donate directly to the organization. The Red Cross provides emergency housing and various other emergency services to local people, but usually doesn’t allow pets in their emergency shelters; local animal shelters are struggling with abandoned pets and pets that aren’t allowed into emergency shelters. Your donations provide desperately needed funds to help both food and animals! The Red Cross estimates that it will spend as much as $31 million responding to these recent disasters; you can donate to the national chapter, but many feel better donating directly to chapters serving an affected area.
  • If you want to volunteer in a disaster-affected area, you need to be entirely self-funded and self-sufficient, formally affiliated with a credible organization, and have full approval of that organization to go to the area and serve as a volunteer. People affected by these disasters need to be protected from unscrupulous people who may use this situation to take advantage of others (it’s already happening), and people affected by these disasters deserve trained people who won’t end up having to be cared for themselves because they are woefully unprepared (yes, it happens). Here’s much more about the realities of volunteering to help after major disasters.
  • Unless you have read on a web site by an organization in the affected area that they are accepting donations of food and clothing, do NOT start gathering food and clothing for the affected area. It’s often much cheaper – and much safer – for a relief organization to buy food and ship it to an area, knowing they are buying exactly what’s needed, knowing the food is not spoiled, knowing it’s appropriate, etc., than to ask for donations and have to spend endless hours figuring out what food is usable, what is not, and trying to put together meals based on what is donated. If you are determined to donate items for an affected area, then call the local Red Cross and local communities of faith in the affected area and ask if they will accept what you are gathering to donate. And be prepared to drive to the area yourself – no one is going to come pick them up from you, as they are much too busy dealing with disaster victims. Also, note that organizations are saying they CANNOT handle any more used toys or cast-off clothing (they would prefer cleaning supplies and diapers!). More on donating things instead of cash or time (in-kind contributions).
  • You can also look at the web sites of high schools serving these affected areas; if they are in need of something (prom dresses, school supplies, etc.), they will say so directly on their web site.

Obviously, donating financially is the way to go if you really want to help. Even just $10 will help – and, yes, you can afford $10 (don’t buy coffee shop coffee for a few days, make your lunch for a few days, don’t eat from any restaurants all week, reduce your cable package subscription to the most basic for a month or two, etc.).

Use this as an incentive to call your local American Red Cross, right now, and start getting training for disaster in your own area. Why not at least call and attend the next volunteer orientation? There’s no obligation to volunteer just for attending the orientation!

Tags: nonprofit, NGO, not-for-profit, outreach, disaster, volunteer, tornado, flood, earthquake, tsunami, volunteers, donations, donate, canned goods, clothing, clothes