Should I get on a plane to Nepal and volunteer to help?
On April 25th 2015 Nepal was hit by an a devastating earthquake that killed thousands. For those wishing to help I would recommend a generous donation to Mercy Corps, an organization I have personal experience with that has existing programs and staff in Nepal. For other options take a look at the New York Times’ recommendations.
I feel conflicted about even posting on this issue, but I have already had questions asking whether it’s a good idea to get on a plane and go volunteer or look for jobs in Nepal. Well – the short answer is “no – don’t do this“. The slightly longer answer is that this isn’t a good idea – you risk making things worse by traveling to an area you don’t know, getting in the way, getting hurt, and / or putting more strain on relief efforts at a critical time.
That said. This is a difficult issue. While on the one hand it seems tasteless even to be talking about looking for work while the dust has literally yet to settle in Nepal, the fact is that aid workers are employed where there are disasters, just as doctors are employed only because there are sick people. The aid community does not have an unlimited number of people to deploy to new disasters. While existing staff in country will mount the initial international response, and national efforts will make up the bulk of assistance, many people, local and international, will be hired into the aid business for the first time as a result of the Nepal earthquake.
People who are on the ground with skills that are needed by aid groups, be they national or expatriate, can and should be hired to fill vital roles, and this is one of the ways that new people get their first opportunities, especially since the aid world tends not to hire people without prior field experience. Certainly earthquakes and other natural disasters are a much more forgiving recruiting channel than wars and civil unrest.
So – for someone who is serious about making a career of international relief and development (not simply wanting to go help for a few weeks), and ready to get their first field job, my answer to the question “should I get on a plane to Nepal” would be pretty similar to my usual advice on this issue:
“No. Not yet, at least. Wait until search and rescue operations are complete, and the danger of getting in the way of life-saving activities is past. Then, if you’re serious, do your research (there’s much more advice elsewhere on this blog about that) and then get on a plane to the nearest unaffected city.
As of three days after the quake in Nepal it is being reported that taxis are not functioning in Katmandu, there are no hotel rooms available, the single runway is overcrowded with relief flights, and food and water are in short supply. DON’T show up in a place with these conditions – wait until things normalize at least to the point where regular infrastructure functions.
Figure out where the major aid agencies are basing their operations, make sure that there is functioning tourist infrastructure (hotels, taxis etc) so that you are not being a burden, and then go knock on doors and volunteer. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself, introduce yourself without getting in the way, explain what you’re good at, and ask if there is anything that you can do to help. Chances are if you are gracefully persistent, someone will be able to put you to work.”
- The Guardian has a useful article on this.
- Bustle has a nice piece on ways to volunteer from home.
- CityLab talks about OpenStreetMap, which is using remote volunteers to create high quality maps of Nepal to aid humanitarian operations.