Many times some of these individuals with good intentions will actually lie to you on twitter to look like a hero.
That is not to put down those who are really helping.
February 28, 2010 at 02:17 PM
Point well taken Steve! Thanks! I was premature in my judgment, obviously.
January 28, 2010 at 12:31 AM
I concur with the sentiments of this article. I see good hearted people who want to help and volunteer all the time, but they have no experience, and it usually works out about as well as a city-boy going on African safari... if that good.
Nobody is suggesting that people shouldn't be involved or that there is only a select group that can't change or shouldn't be added to. We need teams and the personnel on these teams will change over time. You can be a part of that. But if you aren't experienced, work with groups that are. They know where the real problems are, they can coordinate your assistance and know where your skills are needed, and they can bring backup to YOUR efforts in case you do run into problems. If they can’t use you, take their word for it. These people are all about getting the job done and if they can use you, they will. If they can't or know you will be a hindance, accept it. They aren't being mean or contrary, but they do know the situation better than you do. Keep in mind that all the work that can be done, isn't just on the ground in Haiti. Supply lines are critical as are fundraising efforts. If you want to volunteer, go where those in charge need you to go.
Before you go into a critical needs area like this, chances are that you need "boots-on-the-ground" experience, so volunteer-up first somewhere here in the USA. When the next hurricane or tornado ravaged area comes here, get involved with Red Cross. Nothing will prepare you for a Haiti, but at least you'll understand the basics and they will know they can depend on you.
A desire to help is critical to these relief organizations, but it isn't the only qualification.
January 27, 2010 at 02:21 PM
Your post, slightly edited:
"Most of your prescriptions are very sensible Saundra but I still fear that there is a creeping "insider-ness" in medical efforts these days. I'd term some of it as "doctor-snobishness" of the sort "we know better than anyone else how to provide medical care". Admittedly, medicine is a skilled activity but not the rocket-science that it is sometimes made out to be. This is what one could term as the "self-important careerist culture among doctors". That's something to guard against if we are not to make medicine into some kind of "exclusive club" that then makes new entrants have to jump over higher and higher barriers."
You know, like college. And medical school. And internship. And residency.
Rahul, I'm guessing you're about, what, 23? You're about to find that every job asks for previous experience in order to enter it. You get it by being trained for it and doing internships, making the right connections, working in related organizations that ultimately expose you to the work at hand. Professional experience matters, and it takes years to accumulate.
It sounds like you're interested in getting involved in disaster relief. If so, go for it--but recognize that no one is going to make you director of their organization until you've got a few decades of experience. The Peace Corps can be a good jumping-off point; why not start there? From there many move into aid work, which can lead to disaster work.
But if you think this is something you can just jump into feet first, you're going to break your legs and make others put you back together.
January 26, 2010 at 04:15 AM
Thanks Saundra, for this article. As a disaster relief worker who wishes he could be in Haiti right now, I understand the desire of volunteers to respond to the obvious need. A few thoughts for readers that want to go:
Although media reports will indicate needs in outlying areas, etc., aid workers are trained to perform triage, and assess priorities. They have to respond where the need is greatest. There are some smaller, but still professionally staffed agencies that focus on picking up these pocket areas, and are not necessarily publicized as well.
There is always a need for "just a pair of hands", but it is a fact that over 90% of relief volunteers are victims, and this has been identified as a therapeutic part of the recovery process. Let Haitians help Haitians, it's only fair.
The reality is that "non-professionals" may be able to help, but at what cost? As more volunteers fly in, it breaks down the ability of the established agencies to coordinate aid. Although some may not care what happens to UN or Red Cross agencies, and argue that they are inefficient anyways, they still have the ability to move billions in aid, and should still have priority in response.
If you are a trained professional (e.g. doctor, logistics, IT, water technician) there are many organizations that will use volunteers, and plug you in to the best need on the ground. If there's no info at their site, call them, knock on their door, etc. IN THE US, or other HQ.
Finally, the need in Haiti is far from over, and support significantly drops as time goes on - why don't you plan now to volunteer in 3-6 months, when groups like Habitat for Humanity and others will be doing rebuilding projects. The need will still be great, and you will still be saving lives, rather than relinquishing the Haitians to a news item in early 2010.
January 25, 2010 at 05:16 PM
I agree 100%!
I've been following closely the efforts of a local church to send a team of health workers to help in Haiti.
Although they have been to Haiti many times before in 'mission trips', they're facing many unforeseen difficulties this time around. They were clearly not prepared to work in 'emergency mode', under unpredictable and ever-changing conditions.
January 25, 2010 at 04:45 PM
I understand the motivation for writing this and don't completely disagree. But then I keep hearing person after person that is their saying that the professional aid workers are in the cities and not getting into the country. They keep saying that especially initially they needed many more workers. It has been widely reported that there were a number of orphanages that had very few if any adults and lots of kids, no skilled labor needed. I understand that people need some basic intelligence and need to be prepared. I also understand that not all volunteers are useful or prepared. But neither are all aid workers. What about the professional aid workers that have been buying prostitutes? Blanket statements are rarely helpful.
January 25, 2010 at 03:44 PM
Note to everyone leaving comments, if I suspect that you have used a fake email address or one developed just to leave anonymous comments I will not post your comment.
If you feel strongly enough to comment on something then stand behind your convictions, don't hide behind the anonymity the internet can provide.
January 24, 2010 at 10:19 AM
How many resources are going to be diverted from the recovery efforts to try to keep you from dying. Once you are dead how much is it going to take to recover your body and transport it back home. Even if you didn't care about that, your family likely would. Chances are good that they would make enough noise to force the UN or one of the aid organizations that you are criticizing to devote staff, time, and resources to your care.
There is a saying in search and rescue - a dead rescuer is worse than no rescuer at all.
January 24, 2010 at 10:17 AM
You guys are messed up, care about yourselves... I'm goin on my own, and I die, then i die helping, not sitting on my fat asses like these ppl
Brandon Bell |
January 24, 2010 at 06:41 AM
Why is that when a post like this comes out from development experts, we don't question the intentions of the expert? I've done development work on and off for years, and have many friends who do as well. Not one of them is on post for 'the right' reasons, but for the most narcissistic motives humanity can conjure. Themselves. It is no different whether in the Peace Corps, or working independently ~ many humanitarian and development workers often exacerbate the 'isms in country, and are free from criticism due to their position.
Perhaps the most exciting thing that could happen in the world of international development is that the experts can deal with their own personal issues, not cloak them in 'good work', or exempt themselves from being as ego-based as any CEO would be.
Time for development models to change too...as we all witness events that don't have a fool-proof and pitch perfect response strategy. Imperfect world. Just as imperfect as the 'development experts' who seek to impact it...
January 24, 2010 at 05:35 AM
Don´t go to Haiti? I was shocked to see Hilary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon and María Teresa Fernández de la Vega on TV pumping hands in Haiti. The sensible advice here just goes to show how badly advised our politicians are.
January 24, 2010 at 04:18 AM
I agree totally that if the "professionals" were to do the job they would do it way better than the amateurs but in disasters of such scale do we really have the choice? Does the Haitian who's gonna lose a limb to infection care if he is treated by a doctor fresh out of school or a veteran disaster relief expert? I'd rather have a few limbs lost in bad amputations than many more people die because we wanted to do things "right" or not at all.
I can totally see why some random Joe with just a desire to do good is advised against going. But it makes me cringe when the same patronizing tone is adopted towards professionals like doctors, nurses and others by "career disaster workers".
The utility of centralized "organization" is often overrated. Humans can be surprisingly self organizing if only allowed to.
January 24, 2010 at 12:38 AM
I understand how it can seem like disaster relief can seem like an exclusive club but it is a profession and it's a profession for a reason. Good aid is not intuitive, most of the standards and best practices that have been developed are there because too many mistakes were made in the past. If we don't know or learn from the lessons of the past we will repeat them. And in the end it is always the aid recipients that pay for our folly. I have seen the impact of far too many poorly planned and implemented projects, many of them done by people that rush in to help without understanding the impact of their actions. I have seen people worse off because of the aid they receive. Do large organizations always do the right thing? No. But thousands of inexperienced people rushing into a very chaotic and difficult situation are only going to make it more chaotic and difficult, not less.
Right now people are at their most vulnerable, they have the least ability to recover if things go wrong. If they have a bad amputation (stories already surfacing about this) or if their child is adopted away from them (which often happens after a disaster) there will be lifelong ramifications for them. Remember, whether what we do is right or wrong - we are doing it to someone else's child.
January 23, 2010 at 05:39 PM
Rahul--get local and national disaster response experience by getting trained as a response volunteer with your Red Cross Chapter. In New York City, volunteers respond to 5-7 disasters--fires, vacates, explosions, collapses--A DAY (I personally have been to 3 in an 8-hour shift, several times).
For everyone--training is not the main issue. Self sufficiency is.
A gallon of water weighs about 8.5 pounds. If you go for 10 days, you need to carry 85 pounds of water _alone_. Food can weigh about a pound. That's 10 pounds of food. How about clothing? Bedding? First aid supplies?
We are talking about lugging more than 100 pounds of supplies for yourself for a week, through destroyed streets, among tens of thousands of rotting corpses, in 80-degree heat.
If you are injured while trying to "rebuild", your health insurance is no good. You become a liability to the other, prepared organizations. And, right now the way the overstretched medics are treating infected broken limbs is by AMPUTATION. Are you prepared for that?
January 23, 2010 at 05:35 PM
Most of your prescriptions are very sensible Saundra but I still fear that there is a creeping "insider-ness" in relief efforts these days. I'd term some of it as "relief-worker-snobishness" of the sort "we know better than anyone else how to provide relief". Admittedly, disaster-relief is a skilled activity but not the rocket-science that it is sometimes made out to be. This is what one could term as the "self-important careerist culture among some aid workers". That's something to guard against if we are not to make disaster relief into some kind of "exclusive club" that then makes new entrants have to jump over higher and higher barriers.
This seems like a very relevant article to read:
January 23, 2010 at 02:53 PM
That seems like a pretty circular statement:
""Volunteers without prior disaster relief experience are generally not selected for relief assignments. "
How does one get "prior experience" if that is a prerequisite for experience?
January 23, 2010 at 02:44 PM
I agree with Saundra - 'Don't go to Haiti!' and Vance has good points as well about online volunteering via Ushahidi and Twitter.
Technology and social media offer connectivity and global information sharing and collaboration opportunities that have not been seen in past emergency and disaster situations. Established, experienced aid agencies could benefit greatly from nimble technologies/new media such as Twitter, Ushahidi, SahanaFOSS, mobile phones, and other tools for managing, using and communicating information. It's good that people are asking why emergencies are managed in a certain way, and asking if there is a better way or suggesting/testing new ways.
At the same time those from the ICT sector who are newly working or volunteering in a crisis situation, eg., at Crisis Camps and other efforts involving technology, internet and the disaster response in Haiti, can benefit from the advice and knowledge of those with more experience in managing disasters. Sometimes there are reasons that things move more slowly.
What's needed on both sides (if we can call them 'sides'- many people/groups are already working together on new technology for disaster management) is openness to new ideas, sharing and learning, and some patience. We also need people who know something about both areas to help the two 'sides' come together and understand each other to avoid re-inventing the wheel or repeating mistakes, or coming up with systems that are not based on what end users actually need to manage a disaster situation.
I hope we will learn how to take the best of these two areas and integrate them for a more efficient and effective response now and in future disasters.
Linda (@meowtree) |
January 23, 2010 at 02:42 PM
If someone is already in the area when a disaster strikes then by all means they should go ahead and help. They are part of the friends, neighbors, and by-standers that are a huge part of the immediate relief efforts. However, having thousands of people descend upon an area is going to cause problems and solving those problems is going to take the government and aid organizations away from responding to the original disaster.
While it's great that some people have been able to really help out and have shared their successes, there are a lot of things that aren't reported on those networks, some of these issues the person themselves aren't even aware of.
They might not know what relief supplies or staff were bumped to make room for the volunteer. The time that organizations have to put into orienting and guiding the hundreds of volunteers coming through everyday. The occasions when disaster victims themselves have to help out sick, injured, lost, or just over their head volunteers. The resources taken up if a foreign volunteer gets hurt or has to be evacuated from country. The times that unscrupulous people take advantage of well meaning volunteers, or use the volunteers in their own power struggles. They probably don't realize that publicizing a lot of information about a separated child puts them at greater risk of someone coming in and taking the child.
I am glad to hear that people have been able to help out. But what has happened that we haven't heard about?
It would be great if all those ways of connecting were instead used to connect with community based or local organizations who are already on the ground doing everything they can to help.
January 22, 2010 at 12:31 PM
Good post and I broadly agree with you here. However, I'm curious as to what you make of the various testimonials to be found on twitter, blogs, etc. of individuals and groups who did go to Haiti and report that there was and still is a need for unskilled/nonexpert volunteer labor; that many established aid groups are still wading through logistics inertia and only now mobilizing in mass; that their own non-connectedness (did I make that word up?) was in fact an asset that allowed them to connect with desperate locals and move quickly into areas where no "established" groups were working and begin pulling survivors from the rubble, offering medical care, etc. Many of these groups are organizing and connecting online via twitter (see the group @ShaunKing is working with as just one example), pulling cries for help off of news feeds, Ushahidi, twitter, etc. and connecting to and mobilizing both on the ground support and online resources to direct/coordinate aid to those who otherwise seemingly would not have received it. Are these groups/individuals outliers or exceptions or do they perhaps represent a new more nimble way to respond (disclaimer: I recognize even if some of these groups don't that their very ability to respond is predicated on the existence and presence of the "established" aid system that they are circumventing)? Curious as to what you would say to these groups.
January 22, 2010 at 11:27 AM
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