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How to get volunteering experience in conflict zone

The people who live in conflict zones are often in desperate need of our help. And yet, it can often be incredibly difficult to get help to them. There can be many reasons for this. For example, it might be that the powers that be don’t want volunteers to go in there, possibly because they believe they have ulterior motives.

So how do you avoid problems like this? How can you go into these areas and help the people who live there? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. 

1

Decide why do you want to go to a war zone

The first thing that you need to ask yourself is why you want to go to a warzone to volunteer. There are really two big reasons why people do so:

  1. They want to help people who are desperate and need all the help they can get.
  2. They think it’s an adventure.

Often these two are intermixed. If it’s the second reason, then you might want to think again. War is not an adventure and nothing like the movies. It is miserable, difficult and dangerous. The good guys don’t always win and the hero does not always dodge bullets.

If you want an adventure, perhaps go rock climbing. If you really want to help people and it’s really about that, then continue reading.

2

Make sure you have the right skills

Giving humanitarian aid requires understanding what people need. This is more difficult than you may initially imagine as if you do things wrong, you might very well make things worse. Perhaps you end up giving people resources that they then use to make the situation worse or last longer. Or perhaps the groups who are perpetuating the conflict will end up taking it from the people you’re trying to help and hurt they as they do.

For this reason, get educated. There are a ton of courses online that you can take. The best place to start it to go to the website Disaster Ready and take the courses on offer there. Also, pick up a Sphere handbook to get yourself educationally ready.

Even after you’ve done all that, make sure that you hook up with a respected and well-regarded outfit. There are a lot of them out there and they have a great deal of experience in these kinds of things. Just as importantly, they are better equipped to keep you safe.

Also, it’s important that you actually speak the language of the area you’re going to. This will allow you to hear what the people in those places actually have to say and that can be a huge advantage. 

3

Check organizations you can try

There are a lot of organizations that work in war zones. Some good ones to start with are:

The United Nations. The United nations are everywhere and in almost every zone where there is conflict. They have the resources to make a difference and the support to generally protect their workers.

Of course, they are a huge bureaucratic organization so it is entirely possible that you’ll spend a long time waiting to hear back from them. At the same time, it is worth it as they pay well and will give you all the training you’ll need.

The Operation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). Another big employer based out of the US, OSCE is a great outfit if you want to help with such things as human rights and election monitoring.

The International Rescue Committee. This group has been around since the second world war and is mainly occupied with providing food, shelter, medical services and refugee assistance. What’s particularly nice about the IRC is that they’ve got volunteer and intern positions to help you strengthen your CV in case you can’t go straight to work as a paid employee. 

4

Get to know the region

Wherever you want to go, you’ll want to make sure that you really know the region, the custom, the people and the language. In conflict zones – even former conflict zones – there are a lot of emotions and those can explode at any moment. You’ll want to be as prepared as possible to make sure that you don’t end up at the receiving end by making a faux pas or screwing up in some other way.

Further information

Even then, of course, you might still not be safe. It is a conflict zone, after all. Be prepared for that. Just as importantly, make sure the people you love are prepared for that. Not everybody can take their friends, family or children working in a war zone. 

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Page last edited Jul 12, 2018 History

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