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International Agencies Seek Professional Aid Workers

International humanitarian aid work with children.

Aid agencies providing assistance to communities ravaged by natural disasters — from tsunamis to floods to droughts to earthquakes — have historically been overwhelmed by requests from people wanting to volunteer for relief efforts in locations such as Asia.

"We received 320 volunteer applications in 10 days — we normally have only 400 a year," said Bonnie Tickridge, director of the field human resources department for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in regards to a recent tsunami in Asia.

MSF sends health professionals, as well as administrative and support staff such as logisticians, mechanics, water and sanitation experts, managers and financial controllers, to disaster areas around the world. However, it will only be sending aid workers with MSF missions under their belt to the tsunami-affected region.

"Usually when there is a big emergency such as Darfur, tsunamis or the earthquake in Iran, in the first phase we send people who have experience with MSF and with emergencies," said Tickridge.

"We are doing rapid assessments of the situation to determine our response and so need people who understand relief."

Most major humanitarian agencies are following a similar policy — they want to avoid an avalanche of inexperienced people descending on south Asia with little coordination and understanding of relief operations.

"Volunteers without those skills can do more harm than good, and siphon off critical logistics and translations services," said a recent statement by World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization.

Moreover, "In the case of South Asia, the vast majority of work is being met by capable local people," said Kirk Thompson, executive director of RedR Canada, an affiliate of RedR-International Health Exchange, which provides training to aid workers and recruitment services to humanitarian agencies.

Hiring local professionals is much less expensive and can pump much needed cash into the economy of the disaster stricken area. Therefore, most aid agencies are encouraging people to volunteer at home — raising funds in their own countries.

They stress "cash is best," as InterAction, a coalition of US international non-profits, says. It can be moved much faster and more cheaply than donations of medical supplies, clothes or food and enables aid agencies to respond rapidly to realities on the ground.

That said, aid agencies are looking for experienced relief professionals and people with highly technical niche expertise.

"We are keen to hear from specialists with relevant skills and experience and preferably with experience in the region," said RedR Chief Executive Bobby Lambert.

RedR is encouraging "water, sanitation and construction engineers, logisticians and experienced humanitarian co-ordinators and managers" to register on the website, a database used by RedR to find suitably qualified aid workers for humanitarian vacancies.

Jobs at International Aid Organizations

Likewise, organizations like Oxfam, Save the Children, and Mercy Corps have posted vacancy advertisements looking for health workers, water and sanitation specialists, logisticians, financial controllers and relief operations managers.

(See websites for the top aid organizations in this article in the boxout below.)

For those who lack experience or skills necessary to help in the response to the tsunamis, but want to gain the skills and experience necessary to help in future relief operations, Thompson of RedR Canada suggests taking their basic training courses in humanitarian assistance.

Many universities also offer courses in humanitarian assistance, international development, peace studies and related fields that provide grounding in the issues faced by countries and agencies involved in aid.

One can get good foundational experience in aid work from the premier volunteer organizations like the Peace Corps, VSO or UN Volunteers. All three agencies have volunteers in areas hit by the tsunamis, and many other countries around the world.

MSF places health professionals, as well as administrative and support staff such as logisticians, mechanics, water and sanitation experts, managers and financial controllers, in relief operations around the world. Volunteers require two years relevant experience and appropriate qualifications.

Aid Needs are Ongoing

The needs in the tsunami affected region will not disappear soon, as with all major natural disasters. In the next few years, as the situation stabilizes, there will be many opportunities to assist that might not require the highly technical skills needed in an emergency operation.

There are also needs in other parts of the world, including on one's own doorstep. New emergencies, and the short attention span of the media, often make people forget about very real problems existing all over the globe.

Aid agencies hope the publicity of and response to the tsunami crisis will raise everyone's awareness of ways to relieve and release people from suffering, wherever they live.

Aid Work Careers and Job Postings

DevEx Human Development Jobs

Reliefweb Jobs

See the NGOJobBoard via



Thompson Reuters Foundation

Volunteer Aid Work and Service Opportunities

Habitat for Humanity

Peace Corps

Volontary Service Oversease (VSO)

Top Agencies, some with Aid Work and Volunteer Opportunities

Action Against Hunger


International Committee of Red Cross

International Rescue Committee

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)

Mercy Corps

Oxfam Careers

RedR International

Save the Children

World Vision

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