Untrained on the frontline: The importance of predeployment training for aid workers and volunteers

Italian Red Cross volunteers and staff respond to migrants' basic needs and offer psychosocial support upon arrival in Italy. Photo by: Italian Red Cross / CC BY-NC-ND

BASEL — Using the light on his phone as a torch, James worked into the early evening to reconnect the water supply to a refugee housing unit on a long-term camp in Greece. It was well past curfew and unsafe for him to be on camp. He was not supposed to fix the plumbing for individual units in any case. But that night, none of that mattered to him; people needed his help. That is why he volunteered in the first place, after all.

But, he could have put himself and the family he wanted to help in danger.

James didn’t know any better: An education training manager and student with no experience in crisis response or coordination. He only had a 45-minute briefing in a hotel and a one-hour walk through the camp before he interacted with the vulnerable population. With a high turnover of volunteers, it was all the new nongovernmental organization could manage.

Why training matters

This story is not unique. As the European refugee crisis spread throughout Europe, a swath of NGOs and grassroots movements were set up in different countries to support the sudden humanitarian demand that was overwhelming large and established organizations. Volunteers helped fill roles from construction to emergency distribution, but a constantly evolving and oftentimes hectic atmosphere left many new volunteers without adequate training before they were deployed to support vulnerable populations.

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About the author

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    Lucy Spencer

    Lucy Spencer is a freelance writer whose focus areas include technology, international development, and politics. You can read more of her work here: https://naturally-inquisitive.com/