Thursday, 21 November 2013

One of the bidders on the Authors for Philippines

site has asked me to describe the sort of things the people I work with have gone to do. It's a reasonable request because it also helps to describe where some of the money raised in a disaster situation goes.
First of all however I have to explain that the people I work with are volunteers. They do not get paid. They pay their own airfares and for whatever accommodation they happen to find. They take their own food - or have arranged for it to be at the other end. They take their own equipment or tools. Airlines tend to be pretty generous about baggage allowance in such circumstances - but not always.
There is an enormous amount of paper work involved. You don't just hop on a plane and go there. There is all the usual paperwork for travelling plus security clearances and/or police checks, professional qualifications or certificates stating you can do a certain job etc. It all has to be up to date, checked, certified, stamped etc. The authorities wherever they have come from and in the destination have to be aware of what is going on and offer other assurances, clearances and demands.
A lot of this can happen very rapidly, particularly with people who have done it before. They know what is needed and often keep their paperwork up to date - or their staff will do it for them. Often the biggest challenge is to find people willing to cover for them in their normal positions while they are out in the field. It is not that people are unwilling to help but they too will be overworked.
Going into a disaster area is not a holiday. Anything less like a holiday would be hard to a imagine. You can end up working twenty hours a day in filthy dirty, dangerous conditions. You do it without enough food and, if you are not careful, enough clean water to keep yourself hydrated. It is not a game for amateurs.
The bikers I mentioned in an earlier post know this. They have done it before. They are building something out of the debris - on a "waste nothing" principle.
There is a retired teacher who worked with severely traumatised children. She will be there to help locals set up suitable programmes for children who need care. Again, she has done it before and her community has provided her with some basics for the children.
There are doctors and other medical staff who have done this sort of thing before. They will work with local people. It is the best way of getting things done because the locals can continue to provide care when the doctors need to leave.
There are architects. They will go in with locals to check any structures which have remained standing. If they are safe or can be made safe without too much effort then they will leave the locals to get on with it but be there to offer advice if asked. They will check any significant sites,
There are engineers who will check remaining roads and bridges, airports, harbours etc. It is all done with safety in mind and how best to repair things to the point where they can be used.
There are logistics experts who work with local teams deciding priorities and getting people who have remained and are fit to do so to work. (For example, they will have provided the bikers with some young labourers.)
Often there are local people who could do this work but they may injured or so traumatised they cannot function as well as they might. They will have asked for assistance.
All the people who go are there to support the aid efforts we see on television. They won't be seen. Most people will never hear about them or even know of their existence. They will go in and do the job they went to do and then leave again. It isn't part of their role to stay around. The big aid organisations rely on them and coordinate with them but they are there for the local community and not the organisation.
It often seems like small and insignificant aid but it can have a huge impact on a small community.


Jan said...

I take my hat off to such as these and was happy to make a bid on the auction. It seems mine was the top bid for that item, so I guess I'll be hearing from the organisers soon.

I know a couple of doctors and some others in similar fields who do such things as you have described above.

Rachel Fenton said...

I spent some time watching NewsAsia whilst overseas last week and it was hugely apparent how valuable and appreciated the volunteers' work is in the Pilippines - they do amazing work, and more power to their elbows x

Anonymous said...


I suspect that the work the volunteers do has a bigger impact than we could ever understand ... the young labourers will be learning a few skills, and making friends with the outsiders. Both sides are building memories as well as rebuilding structures.

Nicola said...

Even though I live no where near the Philippines, but I feel so grateful that there are volunteers out there doing the work that needs to be done. My heart goes out to those who have suffered this terrible trauma. The best we can do in life is to help each other.