OzVPM HOT TOPIC – JANUARY 2005
By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar
The tsunami disaster that struck on December 26, 2004 has captured the headlines like no other story since the terrorist attacks on NYC and Washington DC in 2001. It is an absolute tragedy on a scale most of us still cannot begin to comprehend.
While a total of twelve countries have directly experienced the frightening reality of nature at its worst, I doubt there will be any place on earth that will not experience a loss as a result of this catastrophe. At the time of posting this hot topic, 125,000 people (including many Australians and New Zealanders) have already been confirmed as dead, with thousands more missing. The final death toll is certain to rise to even more horrifying levels.
Within this scene of total destruction, amongst the debris, the bodies and the emerging disease, we find a human response unlike anything that has come before it, for the effect of this disaster on the earth’s citizens has resulted in the mobilisation, without doubt, of the single largest movement of volunteers, working for one cause, that the world has ever seen.
While the Indian Ocean tragedy is not the worst loss of life ever experienced* , never before has a disaster been so widespread affecting so many countries. Never before has a natural disaster seen the death of so many foreigners. Coupled with technological advances that enable each and every one of us to experience first hand, via out TV’s or computers, the horror that is unfolding, the response by citizens both at the front line and in their local communities the world over, is truly amazing to witness.
Consider the following examples of volunteer effort:
- those caught up in the tsunami themselves who, having survived the initial experience, began immediately to help others – and who remain in the worst affected areas today, continuing to assist
- the many doctors, nurses and aid workers being deployed to the hardest hit areas daily from all around the world
- the multitude of organisations all around the world stepping in to give aid to people from their own area of concern (eg Diabetes organisations seeking to provide insulin to the area, child welfare organisations seeking to establish safe areas for children affected by the tsunami to play and resume some sense of ‘normality’)
- the many other professionals volunteering their time to renew vital infrastructure in the worst affected areas
- the relief agency volunteers working tirelessly behind the scenes preparing aid packages and supplies to be shipped to tsunami ravaged regions throughout the world
- airlines offering free aid flights whose staff have crewed these flights in a voluntary capacity to assist the relief effort
- fundraising volunteers who are taking calls for millions of dollars worth of pledged donations
- others mobilising themselves and their workplaces to raise funds their own funds in a whole range of other innovative ways for the relief effort
- on-line volunteers establishing online fundraising forums resulting in the raising of millions of dollars
- individuals giving money instead of their time
While much of this voluntary work is by nature ‘informal’, such a massive deployment of volunteer effort would suggest that we are also currently witnessing the greatest volunteer coordination / management effort in history .
It’s a sobering reminder that the work we are involved in as volunteer program managers is important work that really does have a major impact in so many ways through our communities. Not just in times of disaster, but everyday. While volunteering is often portrayed and interpreted as being only ‘soft and fluffy’ activities, the tsunami disaster is again a timely reminder that for many volunteers, their activities and actions remain at the cutting edge of society.
The truth is that many volunteers work on a daily basis with individuals experiencing the worst day of their lives – in emergency rooms, intensive care units, palliative care programs and in the emergency service arena.
It will be interesting to see what acknowledgement the international volunteering community gains from this experience – and what lessons we can all learn from the coordination of a volunteer effort on such a massive scale.
In the meantime, let me encourage you all to think about ways that you can offer and use your expertise as leaders of volunteer effort to aid the situation in your own local area.
Please share your thoughts
- How can we as the volunteer management community, offer our expertise to assist individuals and other agencies through this situation?
- Share your own experiences Are there other ways that volunteers are being involved in the relief effort that haven’t been listed above?
- Please feel free to share any other thoughts you may have about this terrible event
* 900,000 lives were lost in China in 1887 when the Yellow River broke it’s banks in Huayan Kou,
an estimated 830,000 lives were lost in China in 1556 as a result of an earthquake in the Shanxi and Henan provinces while a cyclone in Bangladesh in 1970 killed 500,000 (source: BBC News