Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Young People Supporting Relief and Recovery Efforts

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, young people throughout the world are asking what they can do to help Haitians recover. Many responses to young people suggest that they can organize fundraising events to funnel needed funds to relief agencies operating in Haiti. In the immediate aftermath, securing financial support for relief agencies is crucial and a clear way young people can be contributing to the effort from afar.

If history is any guide, there are many more things young people can do in the long-term to support relief and recover efforts. Over the last decade, young people have responded to natural and human-made disasters throughout the world providing immediate and long-term relief to their fellow global citizens.

For example, in 2005 a devastating earthquake struck Northern Pakistan, killing approximately 75,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and crumbling infrastructure. Shortly after the earthquake, news reports indicated that relief agencies were struggling to reach those who most needed aid.

As reported in the World Bank’s World Development Report 2007, students in Pakistan quickly responded to this need.

"A group of 24 students from Lahore University of Management Sciences volunteered to be the first surveyors of devastated villages. Sleeping in tents, traveling by foot and in borrowed cars, these young men and women—between the ages of 18 and 22—surveyed 3,500 households, assessing needs and delivering supplies."

In addition to the immediate response, the students conducted a second study surveying 32,000 individuals in 200 households. The data the students collected has helped relief agencies coordinate their efforts and save lives.

Young people serving in AmeriCorps in the US were engaged in recovery and rebuilding following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast. In August 2005, the US Gulf Coast was battered by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in flooding of approximately 80% of New Orleans, Louisiana, as the levee and flood systems failed in more than 50 locations throughout the city. Approximately 1,830 people were killed in five states and damage totaled nearly $81 billion. Residences, businesses, hospitals, schools, government buildings and numerous other structures were destroyed and more than one million people were displaced. The response to this devastating natural disaster required tremendous human and financial resources in the short- and long-term.

In the aftermath, national service programs in the US joined with local, state and national relief and recovery teams to provide assistance to Gulf Coast residents. In the initial aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government sent hundreds of administrative, emergency and security personnel from throughout the country to the region. AmeriCorps teams were quickly mobilized and sent to the region to assist in emergency operations. AmeriCorps members deployed to assist in donations and volunteer management efforts as well as mass care efforts. More than 1,650 volunteers assisted in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Since that time, many more AmeriCorps members have helped to rebuild Gulf Coast communities. AmeriCorps also saw enrollment rates increase as more Americans were compelled to help in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast through service. Gulf Coast residents relied on the invaluable services provided by AmeriCorps volunteers to help rebuild their community.

Finally, young people participated in community efforts in Sri Lanka and other Asian nations in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Deadly waves from the December 2004 tsunami struck in 11 countries surrounding the Indian Ocean with more than 150,000 estimated dead or missing and millions left homeless. Throughout the countries affected young people gathered in relief and recovery efforts.

USAID reported that young people in Sri Lanka were reaching across ethnic lines in coastal villages to help clean up debris, secure protective gear, clothing and medical equipment, and help with other relief. In northeastern Trincomalee, USAID worked with multi-ethnic teams of 400-1,000 young Sri Lankan volunteers to provide recovery support. “Each of our ongoing conflict resolution programs includes components encouraging people of different ethnicities to come together for some purpose, which has manifested itself in this spirit of volunteering,” said Wayne Brook, head of USAID’s Ampara Office of Transition Initiatives.

Young people in other countries volunteered throughout communities in relief and recovery efforts. Young people worldwide also travelled to affected countries to provide support. Students at Brigham Young University (BYU; US) joined with individuals from seven universities and 14 countries to carry out reconstruction efforts in Thailand.

During the 2005 Summer, students served in 10 teams in gathering debris from land and water, constructing and painting new furniture, reconstructing homes and schools, rebuilding boats, initiating income-generating programs and holding fundraisers to purchase supplies for homes, schools and medical facilities. Since 2005, new groups of volunteers have gathered in Thailand to continue long-term recovery support and the volunteers have expanded their efforts to other countries under the auspices of the Empowering Nations non-profit organization.

These are just a few examples of the many ways that young people have significantly contributed to relief and recovery efforts following natural disasters. Young people should also be engaged in efforts to rebuild Haiti in the years to come.

Do you have other stories of youth volunteers in relief situations? We would love to hear them! Please share your stories in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Day of Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once poignantly stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” There were over 10,000 opportunities for Americans to answer this question and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy on January 18, 2010. Established as a national day of service by Congress 16 years ago, volunteers all over the country spent their holiday serving others in their communities, marking the day as a “day on” rather than a “day off.” In light of the nation’s economic situation and in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti last week, service opportunities were varied and plentiful for thousands of Americans to spend a day as King dreamed: working for and with each other.

In the weeks leading up to MLK Day, elected officials and organizations alike promoted this national day of service. On January 13th, the U.S. House of Representatives released a statement, calling on Americans to participate in the community service projects organized throughout the country. To make finding a volunteer opportunity simple, and service organizations such as the HandsOn Network set up search databases for volunteers to enter in a zip code and search for the service project that most interested them. There was a variety of different ways for people to get involved and serve, from activities such as painting murals on elementary school walls to working in a soup kitchen, serving lunch to the homeless. No matter what the project, Americans of all age, race, and creed worked together to improve their communities.

The National Day of Service, lead by The Corporation for National and Community Service, successfully brought out thousands of Americans to lend a hand, and a record number of elected officials and corporate companies contributed to the King Day effort. Nine members of Congress and 27 Mayors participated in the day’s events, working on events such as area school beautification, making toiletry kits and fleece blankets for those in need, and making and distributing food to senior citizens. Corporate companies used their money, supplies, and resources to give back to their communities by sponsoring community service projects or having employees offer their expertise and services pro-bono. All in all, all factions of society proved the validity of Dr. King’s statement that “everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

Here are some highlights of great National Day of Service projects around the country:

  • The President, Mrs. Obama, and their children visited So Others Might Eat, and served food to the homeless and hungry men, women and children.
  • Philadelphia – Over 70,000 volunteers participated in over 1,000 different service projects, making it the largest citywide service effort in the country.
  • Chicago – ChicagoCares brought together corporate, community and civic volunteers created better school environments for children by painting murals, designing mosaics, and rejuvenating libraries.
  • Shell Oil Company offered employees paid time off from the normal workday to volunteer in the corporate sponsored efforts, which include sorting and packing food at the Houston Food Bank and offering a day of activities for youth and seniors at a Houston neighborhood center.
  • Wisconsin – About 50 students at the Racine Unified School District persuaded their administrators to close school on Monday and organized a daylong event with 14 different service projects, a peace march, social justice workshops, and a banquet.
  • New Jersey – JerseyCares, along with 1,000 volunteers from ages as young as four years old to adult, participated in service projects in 10 counties. Projects included opportunities such as rejuvenating parks and schools, financial literacy workshops, and tutoring.
  • Accenture employees worked on web strategy at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and undertook simulation and testing activities for AidMatrix Online Food Bank and Warehouse Distribution System, to help the organization distribute goods and services more effectively.
  • Maryland – 2,500 volunteers of all ages came out in Rockville, MD to participate in service projects including designing bookmarks for children with terminal illnesses, packing snow-day baskets for Meals on Wheels, learning how to donate bone marrow, and attending sessions by the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County.
  • Seattle – Seattle Works set up classroom discussions about the importance of community and community service. Cameras were given to the students, who then photographed and interviewed their families about their roots and what community means to them. The students then made collages of they backgrounds and presented them to their class.

What did you do on MLK Day of Service? Please share your stories of service and why it was important to you in the comments section below.

Photo: CNCS photo by Cade Martin, Cade Martin Photography

© 2009 Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Public Affairs


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