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.