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Tsunami Volunteers: Too Much of a Good Thing?
28 January 2005

In the days following the Asian tsunami, many people were surprised to hear that aid agencies were turning down volunteers' offers to help.  At a time of such tremendous need, when many experts were predicting the largest volunteer effort ever, what's a volunteer to think?

One issue is that relief organizations sometimes don't have the capacity to absorb large numbers of new volunteers.  In recovering disaster areas, these agencies are responsible for the well-being of their staff and volunteers, which means that they oversee volunteers' housing, medical care and work.  For organizations that are often already stretched to their limits, this is no small task. 

In addition, there's the issue of finding the right volunteers.  After a major disaster, there's a greater chance of missteps and cultural misunderstandings that could worsen the situation.  For this reason, the first rounds of volunteers are typically experienced relief experts and members of the affected community who speak the local language and are in a position to consult with locals on everything from burial rites to road development.  

Yet potential volunteers shouldn't be discouraged – their help is needed more than ever!  When development organizations shifted priorities and resources to respond to the tsunami, problems elsewhere in the world didn't go away.  One of the best ways to help is to volunteer elsewhere in the world, which will allow these organizations to both remain committed to South Asia and not neglect their other operations. 

If you're looking for help in getting started as a volunteer, take a moment to consult NetAid's VolunteerGuru. She will give you personalized advice on how to find your perfect placement.  Whether in the tsunami-affected regions of Asia, online, or in another area of the world, your skills and energy are needed.