Should Volunteers go to Haiti?

With most disasters like Haiti everyone wants to help but doesn’t know how. The Red Cross text campaign has worked really well to raise immediate funds but the internet is also atwitter with people wanting to volunteer in Haiti. Is this a good idea? Is money more valuable right now than a bunch of unskilled volunteers getting in the way? Or does Haiti just need bodies right now to help with food distribution and maybe some foreigners to be there showing compassion?

I say keep the volunteers that aren’t especially skilled (doctors, nurses) should stay at home and have them send money to the organizations on the ground that can really get the job done. What do you think?

What has your organization done in response? I found this article from Peter Greenberg to really helpful, maybe consider passing it on to people calling you asking what they can do: How to Help Haiti


7 thoughts on “Should Volunteers go to Haiti?

  1. I agree — every reputable organization I’ve come across asking for help on the ground has only requested skilled medical and disaster response volunteers.

    Clearly many untrained individuals want to help, and their intentions are good, but at this point I believe they’d get in the way. It might be best to leave the work to those who have the knowledge and training for this type of disaster for the time being; later, less trained individuals will be needed for rebuilding, lighter clinic work, etc.

    While it’s heartbreaking to hear reports of bodies being stacked in the streets as a protest to lack of aid, it should be noted that these people have NO idea what kind of mobilization has been put into place by international governments and NGOs. We hear all of the coverage because we have access 24/7 to news networks, so obviously there’s a disconnect. Unskilled individuals are hearing on one side that people worldwide are contributing enormous amounts of funding to the effort, and then on the other side they’re hearing that very little is getting through at the moment (though I understand as of tonight, aid organizations will be able to distribute far, far more than they have been able to in the recent days).

    It’s frustrating to those who want to help hands-on, but the best they can do right now as untrained individuals with good intentions is to donate money to the reputable, established organizations that already have mobilized their trained, skilled workers.

  2. I agree with Sarah. There will be plenty of ways the rest of us will be able to help in the years (and we all know it will be many years) to come.

    In the meantime let’s keep giving our emotional and financial support.

  3. Unskilled volunteers at this stage would do much more harm than good, in my view, as they would be a drain on peoples’ time, which, in a crisis situation, is extremely precious.
    In time, once things have settled down, there my well be opportunities to help in Haiti that unskilled but caring and enthusiastic volunteers may be able to make a hands-on contribution, but for now, I would advise leaving it to the experts and help fund them with donations.

  4. I think most of us reading this probably all agree…. we shouldn’t jump on a plane to Haiti with our band-aids!

    No matter when or how we plan to support the rebuilding process in Haiti, today or tomorrow, with funding or with volunteer time, I think the key to successfully supporting positive change is by researching where you give your money and time. Just because we can “give XXX dollars to Haiti by texting here” or “add two dollars to your grocery bill for Haiti” there does not mean those are the best places to give our money.

    With the popularity of voluntourism rising, I’m sure volunteer trips to Haiti are going to be a huge thing in future years. This guy thinks it could be “Haiti’s Only Hope” I think it could be something which takes dollars away from Haiti as people feel that they are supporting the country’s re-development by buying flights and paying voluntourism operators take them to Haiti so they can “help”.

    With this tragedy, and with all areas where we want to positively effect change, we in the travel sector need to be a voice of reason and remind people that unskilled travelers “helping” is NOT what Haiti or any developing area needs. To help, now seek out the best disaster relief organizations and in the future give money to community based organizations who know how to rebuild their communities best. If we want to do that AND bring our tourism dollars to Haiti in the future when it is ready for us, great. But “voluntourism” is NOT “Haití’s only hope” – well-researched and generous giving combined with intelligent and innovative community-led development projects might be.

  5. Daniela, I absolutely agree! I cringe at the “voluntourism in Haiti” articles that seem to be coming out lately. I also noticed many of them are released by voluntourism operators that are trying to promote their already-existing Haiti programs, which I find to be in bad taste at this time. I understand they want to do good, but there has to be a better way — specifically by donating money to other organizations that actively work in this field.

    I think people greatly misunderstand the difference between emergency relief and voluntourism. This might just be me talking, as I work for a humanitarian assistance agency full-time, so I am very familiar with the distinction between the two. It’s unfortunate that people are using the two concepts interchangeably.

  6. Sarah,
    You make the most important point in all of this debate – these two terms simply are not interchangeable – there is a huge difference between emergency response and relief and “voluntourism”. The latter will only be able, responsibly,to build on the work of the former in the years to come. Responsible voluntourism organisations already working in Haiti and any other disaster area should seriously question when and how they should start sending volunteers again. We do not send volunteers to Haiti but we are recieving enquiries – our advice – don’t go and if you really want to help – send the money you would have spent on a trip to a reputable aid agency.

  7. A self-reliant person who has the conviction to volunteer—and has enough reasons why—will appear in Haiti like a homing pigeon—with little or no regard as to how they got there.

    They will arrive ready to do what they are confidently skilled to do.

    Your I will is more important than your IQ.~ Marva Collins

    The Apostles were 12 ordinary “men”.

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