Helping Those Affected by Overseas Disasters

What Can I Do To Make A Difference?

Many of us have been moved to help in the relief efforts of the terrible devastation of recent disasters in our country and around the world. The media attention that follows an international disaster brings about a compassionate response that often fills us with empathy and a feeling of powerlessness. Many are not sure of how they can best support the efforts of groups and governments responding in a crisis situation. Here are a few recommendations on the most appropriate ways any of us can help.

Make A Donation
Giving donations is often the best way to help in a natural disaster. Relief efforts cost massive amounts of money in order for relief teams to do their jobs and provide necessities to victims. Cash allows relief professionals to procure exactly what is needed in a disaster situation and ensure that donations are culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate. Be sure to give to a reputable, well-established organization to ensure that your gift makes the best possible impact toward relief, one that spends the largest percentage of its donations on direct assistance to victims of the natural disaster instead of using the money for other programs and expenditures. As a rule, avoid charities that will not disclose the breakdown of how each dollar is spent. Also, avoid those that spend more than 20% of monies received on "administrative" or other expenses.

Take the time to thoroughly research the organization to which you intend to donate. Treat this as you would any other investment. Beware of scams and if giving online, be sure you are on the designated site for that organization. If you would like to check out different charitable organizations, a good place to start is the Better Business Bureau.

Give Blood
You can literally save a life by giving blood. Even when disaster occurs far from your hometown, or in another country, donating to your local blood bank will help keep national and international blood supplies stocked and ready for transfer to wherever they are needed. Visit the American Red Cross to learn more about donating blood.

First, decide if you can physically and mentally volunteer for disaster relief. When you volunteer to go to a disaster area you will be exposed to one of the most stressful situations you will ever witness. You may work 20 hours and sleep 4 hours. You may or may not have enough food and water. You will be exposed to a dangerous physical environment.

To ensure your skills will be best utilized, it is important to go with an organized agency. The reality is that volunteer opportunities for international disaster relief are extremely limited, and people without disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments. Candidates with the greatest chance of being selected have fluency in the language of the disaster-stricken area, prior disaster relief experience, and expertise in technical fields such as medicine, communications, logistics, or water/sanitation engineering. Most agencies require at least ten years of prior experience, as well as several years of experience working overseas. It is not unusual to request that volunteers make a commitment to spend at least three months working on a particular disaster.

It’s important to know that once a relief agency accepts a volunteer, they are responsible for that volunteer's well-being, including food, shelter, health and security. Untrained volunteers can actually do more harm than good. Resources are particularly strained during a disaster, and another person without the necessary technical skills and experience can be a considerable burden to an ongoing relief effort. Potential volunteers should also keep in mind that relief work is a profession, and that it takes a unique individual who can work effectively in incredibly difficult conditions. Discuss insurance options with the volunteer organization, your insurance agent and your medical insurance organization to make sure that you and your loved ones are covered if anything were to happen to you in the disaster area.

If you truly are interested in becoming a qualified volunteer, start small and start locally.  Volunteers typically have a critical skill such as Physician, Nurse, Emergency Medical Technician. If you do not have these skills, consider taking an EMT course and becoming certified. Then volunteer with the local fire department to keep your skills sharp and learn the "soft skills" such as how to effectively engage with a person who is hurt and in crisis. Volunteering in your own community through a variety of programs will lend you experience in dealing with and helping people in need. Your local Red Cross can provide you with information on their disaster management training courses, which are held throughout the year. To find your local Red Cross, please visit the Red Cross Web site.


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