Volunteering During Disasters

Spoken by 7,000,000 people in Haiti.
Linguistic Lineage for Haitian Creole French

Papa nou ki nan sièl la,
ké non ou va sanktifié.
10. Rouayom ou vini.
Ké volonté ou vi-n fèt sou la tè,
minm jan li yé nan sièl la.
11. Ba nou jodi-a pin mou bézouin chak jou.
12. É Padonnin dèt nou yo,
tankou nou padonnin moun you ki doué nou.
13. Pa minnin nou nan tantasion,
min délivré nou anba malin an:
paské rouayom , é puisans, é la gloua sé
pou ou pou toujou.

~Lord’s Prayer in Creole`

Volunteering  During Disasters

I started this post with the Lord’s Prayer for a reason. I need prayer right now. Haiti needs prayer right now.  I pray to help me make sense of the horrific images I am seeing every day. I pray because I want to be in Haiti, helping and yet I know I cannot be. I ask you to please keep in prayer the families and communities left devastated by this disaster in Haiti. Pray also for God’s protection and guidance upon those who are responding with emergency assistance.

As the emergency in Haiti is brought under control, the focus will be aimed at restoring lives and the infrastructure that supports them. There is no distinct point at which immediate relief changes into recovery and then into long-term sustainable development.  Haiti needs long term sustainable development. I am just sorry it has taken a disaster of this magnitude to make people sit up and pay attention. What was Haiti like before the earthquake?

By most economic measures, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. It had a nominal GDP of 7.018 billion USD in 2009, with a GDP per capita of 790 USD, about $2 per person per day. About 80% of the population was estimated to be living in poverty in 2003. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day. Haiti has 50% illiteracy, and Haiti’s richest 1% own nearly half the country’s wealth. Poverty has forced at least 225,000 children in Haiti’s cities into slavery, working as unpaid household servants.

Technically recovery activities continue until all systems return to normal or better. “Normal” for the average Haitian was a struggle before the earthquake.  The level of poverty that these people live under daily is unholy and we can no longer ignore it.  This is an opportunity for us to use all of our resources and help rebuild a country and move families out of extreme poverty. The tireless dedication of volunteers will be a critical part of a Haiti’s emergency response and recovery — both physically and emotionally. Eighty percent of the long term recovery efforts are conducted by NGO’s who rely on volunteer manpower. Let’s be clear, these groups will be in Haiti for the long term…volunteers, donations and help will be needed for years.

Things to keep in mind if you are interested in volunteering to help with disaster recovery:

Please do not travel to the affected area

You’ve seen the news reports, the pictures, and your heart is breaking. You HAVE to help. Just wait a minute and think.  Basic essentials like food, water, medical supplies and fuel are in short supply. Housing and infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed. Your presence on the scene before facilities are set up to receive and assign volunteers will only make matters worse. You won’t be able to get to work immediately, and without intending to, you’ll put an added drain on the limited resources available to aid the survivors.

I know it’s frustrating to wait. But don’t go anywhere until volunteer operations are in place so your energy and efforts can do the most good.

In the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) community we call these individuals that show up wanting to help “Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers” or SUV’s.  While having hearts as big as all outdoors and being amazingly noble, SUV’s can be difficult, if not impossible, to involve in operations.  Management of volunteers during a disaster is a very large, coordinated, and intentional activity. Volunteers work side-by-side with emergency personnel, law enforcement, and other government officials and need to understand how they operate and how they interact.  Relief workers can also be exposed to hazards, both physical and emotional, that aren’t encountered on a typical basis unlike their professional counterparts who are trained and have experience in dealing with disasters.  Because of this it’s critical that disaster volunteers affiliate and train before a disaster strikes. Taking care of the ABC’s now will make sure you are able to be involved when your neighbors are in need:

  • Affiliation
    Find an organization or group that you would want to work with during a disaster. We all have coordinated roles during a response. The extensive planning and collaboration between VOADs & government agencies helps ensure effective service delivery during large events.
  • Badges
    many operations require you to have an ID card or badge to be involved. These credentials verify that you are affiliated with an agency that is involved in the relief operation. You many also need to have satisfied other requirements for service such as a background check, specific training, or a license to operate vehicles.
  • Certification
    some activities simply require a large number of willing people. However, most disaster relief volunteer opportunities demand specific skill sets. Getting involved with an organization before a disaster happens will allow you to get training in food safety, shelter operations, disaster assessment, psychological first aid, search and rescue, casework, radio communications…& the list goes on!

6 months from now when Haiti is no longer the lead story on the evening news the Haitian people will still need money, resources, infrastructure and volunteers. There will be houses and churches to be built, babies that need to be immunized, farmers that need tools, wells that need to be dug. I want you to remember what you are feeling now- then. Don’t worry, I will be here to remind you.

Not 3 weeks ago I had a wish for 2010.  It was a simple one:

May we all have the opportunity to use our gifts to contribute to the healing of the world.

You have that opportunity. Please use your gifts to contribute to the healing of Haiti.

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