Many things we learn about providing relief to the victims are not true. We are often told that individuals are not effective in the field. We are told not to donate clothes, but to only give money. However, when you think about it, do you know how your charity money is spent?
I have been to several disasters, and I have realized that there is a big role for individual volunteers to play. Large charities and governments bring aid to the field fast, but due to bureaucratic red tapes, they are unable to act fast enough to satisfy the changing needs on the ground, and individuals are required to fill the gaps and meet the needs on the field.
I have often seen children running around naked, and yet charities tell us not to donate clothes to them. The reason is not because the people do not need them, but rather the charities do not have the manpower to do the necessary sorting. As an individual, I have been to a shelter and got the children in the shelter involved to help sort the donated clothes. At the end of the day, the sorted clothes are picked through and used by the survivors.
There are times which I do not agree with how the charities act. Most incoming resources for recovery are managed by foreign organizations, professionals & volunteers and they exclude local stakeholders. Funds provided are largely spent on foreign resources. Local resources and stakeholders are not actively engaged in relief and recovery initiatives, often being displaced by foreign providers. But instead of complaining, I felt that one should take action to do what is right.
Fear prevents people from taking action. Even when you feel that you can contribute, you will find excuses to stop youself from taking action. Procrastination sets in and it is hard to overcome.
With social media, emails and smses, the world is a much smaller place. Everyone is interconnected. With information about disasters whenever they strike readily available, I am able to go to the areas and contribute as an individual. One way I receive support is to constantly send information back on social media, and request for reimbursements from my friends to support my effort. When they see how I am involved and the photos I take, they are more than willing to help cover the cost of my participation.
When I declared to friends that I am going to Japan a week after the tsunami, there were people who cautioned me about the dangers, and others who wanted to contribute. Some questioned how effective I could be on the ground, some asked why I wanted to go. Frankly, I don't really have the answer. Some time ago, I decided to live life by my rules, not by rules others set for me.
It is a liberating experience not to be controlled by fear, but to have the courage to do what you think is right.
Article and pictures by Robin Low.
More pictures by Robin of the tsunami: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1656287@N23/
Relief 2.0 is also holding a photo exhibition at Social Enterprise Affair @ Orchard Central - RYSEC partnership with IWFCI.