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How To Become an International Disaster Relief Worker

There are many jobs that allow you to travel, such as cruise ship worker, au pair, and travel journalist. For those with a humanitarian heart, a career as an international disaster relief worker will allow you to experience the world differently. Rather than lazing on sundrenched beaches, you’ll be rolling up your sleeves during times of crisis. It’s hard, and often thankless work, but highly rewarding. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a disaster relief worker.

What does a disaster relief worker do?

Australia is currently being ravaged by the worst wildfires in a decade. While firefighters are on the frontline, disaster relief workers are in the background helping humans and animals. Volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse has been helping those whose homes were damaged to shovel ash, chop up fallen trees, and clear away rubble and debris. 

This is the role of aid workers — to help in emergency and disaster situations that result from: 

  • Natural disasters like fires, hurricanes, drought, flooding, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, or tornadoes. 
  • Oil spills in the ocean affecting sea life.
  • Large-scale exposure to hazardous materials such as radiation, toxic chemicals or gas. 
  • A disease that’s reached epidemic proportions. 
  • War-torn regions requiring humanitarian intervention such as establishing and managing refugee camps.
  • Terrorist attacks like bombings.

What are the requirements to become a disaster relief worker?

Many people eager to help think they can just show up in a disaster area and ask to be put to work. If they do use you, it will likely be for tasks such as handing out food or being a runner. While this can be helpful, many aid organisations actually prefer not to have random volunteers on site. A disaster site is a highly organised and structured place and unskilled volunteers can impede operations. 

If you are serious about becoming a disaster relief worker, you’ll need to acquire a suitable qualification. If you want to help with casualties, then study a doctor or nursing degree and join Doctors Without Borders. If you’re interested in rebuilding infrastructure, study engineering. A degree in international studies or disaster and emergency management is another way to enter the field. Studying one or more foreign languages will also be useful. 

What attributes do you need to work in disaster relief?

To work in emergency and disaster relief requires adaptability, stamina, compassion, resourcefulness, cultural sensitivity, and a strong stomach. Working in disaster relief isn’t for everyone. Witnessing human suffering is taxing and can be hard to recover from. It’s estimated that up to 30% of aid workers suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) from being exposed to danger, violence, and death. 

Working in disaster areas can also be dangerous. If you’re deployed to a war zone, your life could be at risk. If you’re working in an area where toxic chemicals have been released or a deadly virus, like Ebola, is rampant, you face the risk of exposure. 

Living conditions may be challenging. You may sleep in a tent or share quarters with several other workers. Kitchen and ablution facilities may be basic. The weather could be hot and humid, pouring with monsoon rain, or bitterly cold. Can you adapt to any circumstance?

What types of jobs are available in disaster relief? 

You’ll be surprised at the range of jobs available in disaster relief. This includes medical, veterinary, psychology, rescuers, logistics, drivers, community outreach, social work, administrators, IT and telecommunications, technicians, security, engineers, scientists, and specialists skilled in hazardous materials removal, to name a few.

Where can I find international disaster relief jobs? 

Most governments have disaster response agencies in place to handle emergency situations. For international disaster relief jobs, you can contact the following international aid organisations: 

  • United Nations
  • ReliefWeb.int
  • DevNetJobs.org
  • Relief International
  • Oxfam International
  • World Vision
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • The Red Cross
  • The Salvation Army
  • Save The Children
  • Peace Corps
  • Samaritan’s Purse
  • NGOs (Non-government Organisations)
  • Missionary organisations

How much travel will I be able to do? 

Travelling the world as a disaster relief worker isn’t like being a tourist. Your time is dedicated to the job at hand. You’re not there to sightsee and working long hours leaves little time to explore the area. When you’re on assignment, you could be called to travel at short notice to help in other affected areas. Once the area is stabilised and you’re no longer needed, you can choose to head home, travel independently on vacation, or move on to another disaster relief job. 

If you have a humanitarian heart, working as an international aid worker may be the perfect job for you. However, it’s not for the fainthearted so think it through carefully. If you do pursue it, the experience of helping others and rebuilding communities is highly satisfying, will enrich your life, and are memories you’ll treasure forever. 

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