GoAbroad.com is a focal point for prospective volunteers and has supported relief organizations, volunteers and efforts in Japan, Haiti, Peru and Pakistan over the years. Typically we advise well-intentioned volunteers to stay away from disaster areas during the initial relief period unless they are trained disaster specialists or medical professionals. Additional mouths to feed and the taxing of the local resources alone is enough to advise volunteers to stay home at least for a while.
Volunteer for the Visayans (VFV) has been providing social welfare support and volunteer placement for over a decade in the area now known to the world as ground zero, where Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) made landfall. VFV staff were also victims of the typhoon and needed time to secure their families and find housing. VFV is now back in operation providing the support they always have at their three community centers and through their various local partners. In addition VFV has taken on many more disaster related projects. VFV’s unique history of providing relief food, developing construction projects and providing educational support gives VFV a unique role in the relief effort in Leyte.
If you have been impacted by what you have seen in the news about the typhoon or you simply have wanted to volunteer in the Philippines and feel now is a good time to go there are a few things you might consider.
1. The media provides moments, often heart-warming and rewarding images of recovery and survival. Real relief work rarely involves many moments, often days are long and hard and the people you are working with may be having the worst day of their life, or at minimum they are having one of the worst years of their lives. There are rewards but the rewards are more subtle.
2. There is no room for a consumer mentality. It’s all hands on deck. Volunteers should be prepared to do whatever they can whenever it is needed. Doctors often move rubble, and engineers have applied first aid.
3. You may be coming to an area that has been devastated by a typhoon but you might not necessarily work on typhoon related projects everyday. Things like educational support for children who have been out of school for two months is related to the typhoon but it might not feel like it.
4. The trauma stage of relief ended in the first couple weeks. Many of the medical relief crews who are still in the Philippines are treating non-typhoon related illnesses now. Your work will be related to long-term projects or the overall recovery of the Philippines.
5. Reduce your impact on local resources by bringing some items you need like mosquito netting, power bars, flashlight etc.
6. Be prepared for camping-like conditions. Some volunteers are literally camping, living in tents. Other are living in homestays in which there is no running water or electricity. As a prospective volunteer in a developing country you may already be prepared for this, but be sure you are.
7. Start a fund raising campaign before you go. The physical reconstruction of homes, schools and the VFV community centers will take years. You are already paying for a volunteer fee and an airplane ticket but I strongly encourage you to start a modest donation campaign on FundMyTravel.com or any fundraising site and help support the additional reconstruction that is required.
This will be one of the defining experiences of your life. Make sure your expectations are realistic, you are committed to help and you are ready to do whatever is needed to rebuild our communities.
Troy Peden is the founder of Volunteer for the Visayans (VFV) and owner of GoAbroad.com. He currently lives in Tacloban with his wife and four of his children. His family survived the typhoon and they have been volunteering with the relief efforts following the storm.