As Europe’s refugee response evolves, you should consider all of your options before signing on as short-term volunteer.
Some of you reading this may have decided to make short trip to Europe to help those working within the refugee crisis this summer. But before you set up a crowdfunding page, book time off work and pack your bags for Greece, we want to offer a useful guide to supporting the humanitarian response as volunteer.
1. Look at the alternative ways for you to help
Be an asset from home: It is a 21st Century crisis in every sense. With grassroots groups just as in need of communications experts, researchers, fundraisers and coordinators as any other organisation might be, be creative about how you can help! Are you taking a break from a job in the creative industries? Media? Law? Business? You all have skills that could be utilised effectively from your home, and would be hugely appreciated.
Meet the most pressing needs for grassroots groups: If you only have ten days to spend in Greece, the funding for your trip could be more useful in the form of donations. Even seemingly small donations make a big difference to grassroots teams, and you can also fundraise for your chosen team remotely — this is a role that is in high demand.
2. Help is needed, but resources are strained (or, why sometimes you don’t receive a reply to your emails)
Grassroots groups are now experiencing a “revolving door” effect: a regular turnover of 2–3 week short term volunteers that come in, help and then, just as we are getting used to them and start relying on their skills, need to leave again.
Projects that previously accepted all the help they could get are now becoming stricter and extending their required minimum time commitment to slow this revolving door. Even with flexible systems in place, constant changes in the volunteer list are a strain on Greece’s grassroots groups with limited time to recruit and train.
3. Create your own volunteer role: multitask!
Make yourself available to multiple groups, rather than appealing to one particular project to induct you as a temporary team member.
Look for the more low profile jobs: warehouse organising, aid deliveries, shelf-building. There is a team for every job.
4. Understand Europe’s crisis, and the roles within it, have evolved
In Greece, volunteers have been integral to the creation and survival of sustainable refugee support projects. While the funding funnelled into “the most expensive humanitarian response in history” dribbles away through mismanagement at the higher level, volunteers have been hard at work in Greece’s island hotspots, anarchist-run urban squat schools and cooperative centres.
But the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis has evolved from its earlier days. Although the surge in new arrivals to the islands mean there is still a need for initial emergency provisions (food, clothing, blanket distribution), Greece’s displaced communities now also need accommodation, legal advice, non-formal education, counselling, meaningful integration and support. What is needed is planning ahead, building relationships with displaced communities, improving our teams’ quality of work.
It is now your duty as a volunteer to assess your skills and utilise them effectively for the greatest possible impact. Be smart!