It is all a bit to easy to sit out little bubbles and get bogged down the with little things in life that often aren’t worth stressing about. You know the things like who changed the bin bags, did the dishwasher or cleaned out the litter tray.
Then something catches your attention and makes you realise that actually there is a bit more to life than chores.
This week I have been speaking with Emma from European Disaster Volunteers, an organisation that works with at-risk communities around the world and those affected by disasters. Forget a plush PR office in Soho, Emma is based in a small community on the outskirts of Manila called Banaba where she is helping run deployment and really is an inspiration.
So today she is talking about the work this organisations does to help communities rebuild their lives so that they’ll be stronger for years to come and more able to meet their own needs.
Please tell me a bit about European Disaster Volunteers
European Disaster Volunteers is an England and Wales Registered Charity which helps disaster affected and at-risk communities worldwide find sustainable solutions to the problems they face. Our origins are European but our approach is global – we welcome volunteers and donors regardless of nationality. EDV is unlike many other disaster response organisations in two ways.
First of all, we don’t provide emergency aid. There are lots of organisations that already do a great job in the chaotic first days following a disaster. Instead of joining them as first responders, we focus on long-term recover and disaster risk reduction. That means that rather than respond to the disaster’s immediate impacts, we help communities rebuild so that they’ll be stronger for years to come and more able to meet their own needs.
Second, we believe well-managed volunteers can make a sustainable impact on the lives of disaster survivors even if they don’t have special skills or a lot of money to donate. To keep volunteering as affordable as possible, we don’t charge any form of administrative fee and we don’t make a profit from our volunteers. We only charge volunteers the bare minimum to cover the food they eat, a place to live, security, Internet, drinking water, and all their basic needs. We also don’t impose a minimum or maximum stay with us, so whether you have a year to spare or a week off work you’re welcome at EDV.
Whilst we welcome both skilled and unskilled volunteers to join our projects and get involved in real, sustainable development, we don’t believe in “voluntourism”. Volunteering with EDV is not an experience that your purchase like a tour – it is an opportunity to become involved in sustainable community based projects that change lives.
Our model of flexible volunteerism has already proven itself in Haiti. We worked in Port au Prince from June 2010 to December 2011, and thanks in large part to our volunteer involvement we were able to execute 20 projects which directly affected 3,200 survivors. Our volunteers invested thousands of hours in building local community leaders’ ability to run their own projects, and as a result they’re now running education programmes for 160 students and an orphanage support programme.
We’re now working in Manila where we’re helping a community group reduce the community’s vulnerability to disaster and become more able to meet their own needs.
Where do you run services?
We’re currently supporting our Haitian partners as they run a free English school called the English in Mind Institute, a small scholarship programme, and support the Hands Together to Defend the Children orphanage. Each of these projects was set up by international volunteers working in close partnership with a Haitian community leader. Together, these three on-going programmes provide a safe home, food, health care, an education, and an enriching environment for 27 orphans as well as ensuring 160 adult and primary schools students can stay in school and learn the skills they need to escape poverty.
We’re also currently working in a small community on the outskirts of Manila called Banaba. Banaba sits in a flood plane between two rivers and is affected by flooding almost every year. Thousands of Banaba’s residents survive on less than $2 a day in flimsy shacks on the riverbank, and these annual floods are devastating for these high-risk families.
Banaba’s poorest are vulnerable, but they aren’t helpless. In 1997, they came together to form a people’s organisation called “Buklod Tao”. Buklod Tao, which means “People Bonding Together” in Filipino has been working to create a stronger, more resilient Banaba since day one. Today, they have more than 600 members and an impressive project list ranging from investing in sustainable livelihoods to reduce poverty to organising community based rescue teams to look after the most vulnerable during floods.
Our goal here is to help Buklod Tao expand its projects and build its capacity to meet Banaba’s needs with reduced reliance on outside aid. To that end, we’re helping Buklod Tao build flood rescue boats, create its own website, improve its IT capacity, accounting systems, and, crucially, build a three-storey livelihoods and evacuation centre.
We’ve only been working in Manila for a few months, but we’ve already helped reinforce Buklod Tao’s access road, executed IT trainings, begun construction of a sturdy roof for the 2013 rainy season, funded a rescue boat, and much more. You can learn more about our work here: http://www.edvolunteers.org/philippines
What is your role at the organisation?
My role as Media and Marketing Director is to ensure that the world knows all about EDV’s great work! I am also an experienced disaster response volunteer myself, so I also take an active role in developing and executing our projects. Here in the Philippines, I’m focusing on capacity building trainings for Buklod Tao’s leadership.
Where do you work from?
I am based in a small community on the outskirts of Manila called Banaba where I’m helping run our deployment.
How do you decide where to work and who to help?
At EDV, we focus on responding to disasters and working with communities which are very vulnerable to disaster to reduce their risk. That’s obviously a large category. To narrow it down, we focus on communities where there are already existing community led efforts which we can support. This way we can be sure that our efforts will enhance locally led work rather than displace community efforts.
What success stories have you had?
In Haiti, we were able to help 3,200 earthquake survivors with 20 projects. While we’re proud of all our projects, the biggest project successes we had in Haiti were the education programmes which are still running today.
Our goal in Haiti was work that would continue long after our volunteers left Haiti, and that’s exactly what we did. As above, our education and orphanage support programmes are providing a bright future to hundreds of at risk disaster survivors.
Our work here in the Philippines has also been a huge success because it’s shown that smaller volunteer driven organisations like ours don’t have to be limited to “simple” reconstruction projects. By focusing on long-term disaster risk reduction, we’re showing that volunteers – even “unskilled” volunteers – can support sustainable, community-based change.
The above are our biggest project successes, however some of our most affecting successes have taken place on a much smaller scale. We have so many individuals who have told us how their lives have been changed for the better thanks to EDV’s work. One that stands out is 15-year-old Richardson. He lives in Port au Prince, and lost his mom in the earthquake. A few months later, and his dad died of Cholera. He was selling water on the streets of Port au Prince before he was brought to the orphanage where we work.
He was 13 when he arrived, and he had never been to school before. We provided the funding and volunteer support so that Richardson and all 27 children at the orphanage would have education, psychological support, health care, healthy food, and enriching activities. Richardson couldn’t read or write when he arrived, and was extremely withdrawn. Today, he’s one of the brightest kids in class and dreams of being a teacher.
These kinds of “small” successes make our work worthwhile!
How do you raise funds?
EDV raises funds through a variety of private sources like private trusts and foundations, online giving platforms like GlobalGiving (https://www.globalgiving.org/donate/3243/european-disaster-volunteers-edv/), JustGiving, and The Big Give (https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/charity/view/9607). We also receive plenty of private donations!
The rest of our funding comes from the generosity and hard work of our volunteers and our volunteers’ friends and family. In fact, in our 2012 fiscal year, more than 70% of our income came from our network of incredible volunteers and their friends and families.
Much of that came from a variety of inspiring fundraising events. We’ve had supporters cycled the UK for EDV, run countless marathons, and this summer more than a dozen supporters are even abseiling for EDV! We’re still looking for more abseilers if you’re interested J
We have also enjoyed significant support from the Vodafone Foundation. Vodafone has awarded our executive director, Andy Chaggar, with both the £40,000 Vodafone International World of Difference Award in 2010 and the £20,000 Grahame Maher Award in 2013. Vodafone has also provided EDV with four staffing grants through it’s UK World of Difference Award.
What is the Vodaphone award about? The Vodafone Foundation honours extraordinary individuals who donate themselves to charities worldwide. Our leader, Andy, has now received two major Vodafone Foundation Awards – the £40,000 International World of Difference Award in 2010 which paid his salary for the year, and the £20,000 Grahame Maher Award. The Grahame Maher Award was available to all Vodafone Foundation Winners Worldwide and was extremely competitive.
The Vodafone Foundation’s support is due in large part to Andy’s personal story. In 2004, Andy was an engineer who decided to take a year out and travel the world with his fiancé, Nova. The couple was sleeping on the beach in Thailand when the 2004 Asian tsunami struck. Nova was killed, and Andy was seriously injured.
After the tsunami, Andy returned to the UK to recover from his injuries. That recover was a seven-month process that included relearning how to walk. As soon as he was able, he returned to Thailand to volunteer rebuilding homes for Thai tsunami survivors. After his volunteer work, Andy found that he couldn’t go back to being an engineer. He gave up his well-paying job, and spent several years volunteering in disaster zones worldwide before founding EDV.
Today, Andy’s experiences as a survivor are at the heart of our community-based approach to disaster recovery. Andy has experienced both the physical and psychological effects of disaster first hand, and he knows that empowering survivors is just as important as rebuilding their homes. Now, as the leader of EDV, Andy helps other survivors retake their lives, just as he did after the tsunami.
What has been the charity’s highlight?
I think our highlight has been being able to launch our second deployment in the Philippines. We were able to fund our work in Haiti in large part because of the media attention which the earthquake attracted. Here in the Philippines, our work is based on preventing a disaster by reducing risk, not responding to an event that has generated lots of press cover.
That makes this kind of deployment more of a challenge because we have to generate interest ourselves. It’s been really exciting for us as a young charity to have had success in generating that interest, and we can’t wait to see this deployment grow!
How can people get involved?
At EDV, we believe if you’re over 18, ready to learn, and wiling to work hard, you have what it takes to help vulnerable communities find solutions to the problems they face. We need all types of volunteers to join us in the Philippines and work on projects ranging from youth empowerment to construction to helping Filipino women market locally made products! Learn more about joining us overseas at www.EDVolunteers.org/volunteer.
If you can’t join us overseas, we hope that you’ll consider helping from home by fundraising or donating. We need to raise £40,000 for the completion of a livelihoods and evacuation centre in a flood-prone community on the outskirts of Manila called Banaba.
The centre will provide a safe place for 89 of the community’s most vulnerable families to weather the annual floods that affect Banaba and give our local partners the space needed to involve hundreds more community members in their poverty reduction programmes. For just £10, you could sponsor a meter of floor.
You can make your donation here: http://www.justgiving.com/edv/Donate.
Fundaising is also another great way to help us complete the evacuation centre. We’re seeking runners to run the Great British 10K in London on July 14th (learn more here: http://www.edvolunteers.org/run-edv) There are also still spots available to Abseil in support of EDV on June 2nd! (Learn more: http://www.edvolunteers.org/dont-look-down)
Of course if you want to fundraise on your own you’re more than welcome – there are tools and ideas available here: http://www.edvolunteers.org/fundraise-edv.
What are your plans for 2013?
We have big plans for the rest of the year! We’ve been accepting volunteers in the Philippines for about six weeks now, and we’ve already been able to fund a rescue boat, execute a youth workshop for at-risk young people, provide IT training, support construction of the Evacuation Centre, and build a new safe workspace where Filipino community leaders can carry out poverty risk reduction and development programmes. Check out all of our activities in the Philippines here: http://www.edvolunteers.org/philippines
But our plans for the rest of the year go well beyond this small start! We plan to complete the Livelihoods and Evacuation Centre, build at least five more rescue boats for community rescue teams, partner with local paralegals to help vulnerable community members advocate for their rights, help market and sell locally produced recycled products, empower youth leaders to take responsibility for their future, and work with local communities to ensure that the most vulnerable members are ready when the floods come.
We need volunteers and donors to get involved and help us reach these ambitious goals! Please don’t hesitate to visit www.EDVolunteers.org to learn more, volunteer, or give!
Happy weekend x