From disasters to development: When volunteering goes under scrutiny

Members of the Young Pioneer Disaster Response crew load onto a truck boxes of textbooks and school materials for distribution to students of Santa Fe Elementary School in Bantayan Island where the organization is helping rebuild schools. Photo by: YPDR

When Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines in November 2013, Christopher White called up some of his friends and did what many groups did at the time: volunteer on the ground.

Back then, White was a travel director for an extreme adventure tour company based in Beijing, China. Mobilizing 25 people from different backgrounds, he initially led a team of volunteers — most of whom paid their own expenses to travel in the Philippines — to help and achieve a simple goal a month after the disaster: work with local groups to deliver food and medical supplies, clear debris and build ten houses in one of the hardest-hit areas in Bantayan Island, Cebu.

But what was once a modest and humble coming together of like-minded individuals and friends who want to help in emergency relief operations has now become a full-blown commitment to aid Haiyan recovery efforts. White co-founded Young Pioneer Disaster Response with several peers who are committed to long-term programs and solutions as part Haiyan recovery efforts in Bantayan. The organization is now accredited both in the Philippines and in the United States.

According to its website, YPDR was a realization that “short-term solutions would be ineffective in addressing … [the] problems.” Employing short-term solutions — not just in disaster situations but also in the broader context of international development — is akin to shooting water from a water gun to a barren land and expecting the deed to address drought and harvest issues.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.