Volunteers for the Tsunami Relief work in Tamilnadu

It is 10 days since the Tsunami struck in parts of Tamlinadu on 26th of December, the number of people who want to volunteer in the relief efforts are very high and from all over the world. This truly represents the compassion the world feel towards the victims.

Now that the relief efforts have moved from the initial phase of immediate needs to the second phase of creating temporary shelter, the role of volunteers is also changing. In the initial days, there were volunteers required to recover dead bodies, to organise people in relief camps, to provide management assistance in the camps, to distribute immediate relief materials. Now generic volunteers are required to clear-up the debris in the villages, to motivate the communities to go back to the village, provide them health and counselling help, construction of temporary shelters and assessing the damage.

In this phase optimally, volunteers would be required to at least spend a period of 1 month. We insist that volunteers at least spend a week, this minimises the effort on the part of the field team in orienting volunteers.

The following are advantages:
1. Knowledge of Tamil language
2. Knowledge of the region and its culture
3. Ability to live in make-shift volunteer camps
4. Have a self-containing volunteer kit with bedding, personal health needs, lighting and mosquito repellents
5. Ability to safe guard the kit mentioned above (the place is not unsafe, but, with too much material to be distributed lying around, it is very easy for your belongings to get mixed up with them)
6. Comfortable with the local food (staple food is rice, sambar, vegetables if they are available) and whatever form of water available (you may carry some water purification tablets to be on the safe side)

In this phase the additional advantages that qualify you immediately are:
1. Ability to motivate people who are under trauma, particularly children who cannot relate to all the high activity happening around them; ability to listen to people in the area, understand their demands and the thinking behind those demands; treat them with respect
2. Ability to do manual labour - reconstruction requires much manual work and there is a need to clear the village of the rubble and all of this cannot be done by machines
3. Communication skills - ability to manage the various visitors each with their own agenda including government officials, funding groups, international aid agencies, journalists, volunteers need to accommodate all these visitors amidst the reconstruction activity without rubbing anyone the wrong way
4. Management skills - to manage much work with less skilled manpower and a volunteer team consisting of different cultural and regional backgrounds, to manage to think ahead and place necessary demands with different support groups
5. Documentation skills - people who can keep a calm head and document whatever relief and rehabilitation work is going around without being overwhelmed by it; who can do high speed documentation of correct and complete information for funding and support groups that would help them to provide assistance

The major disadvantages that we have observed are:
1. Volunteers who are planning to write their own experience / travelogues / memoirs in a relief camp kind; they can do it individually without being a burden on the relief teams
2. Volunteers who are disaster travellers; we have had several in the past week who want to visit the place for a couple of days and wish to see the disaster at its worst, shoot pictures for the personal album and leave; this also consists of people who would do work for a day on the field as an individual and eventually leave behind much unfinished work
3. Volunteers who themselves need to be taken care of either because of health reasons or because they cannot palate the kind of disaster that has happened in the place or get into emotional depression over the plight of the victims so much that it affects their normal functioning
If you belong to any of these categories, the best you can do is to make a small contribution to the nearest agency that is working towards the relief initiative and pray if you believe in prayer.

Having read the above, if you want to volunteer, here are our work requirements:
   1. We do NOT need volunteers till the 15th of January
   2. We DON'T need generic volunteers from abroad

If you can volunteer for a week or more after the 15th of January, please send us a mail at shanthiom@gmail.com with the following details:
a. Name
b. City / Town to which you belong
c. How will you reach Chennai - road, air or rail
d. Your contact details: phone, email
e. Are you willing to leave in 48 hrs. notice
f. Any special skills - ability to drive truck, physician, documentation, etc.