What to expect when volunteering at a refugee outreach

The job of a volunteer isn’t something that every type of person can handle. It takes someone with a kind heart, the willingness to help others and the strength to set aside personal preferences in order to help those in their moment of need.

If you can’t “rough it out” or live without an internet connection, then you might be able to volunteer for a charity in your local area or in the offices of welfare organisations. But if you can put those pleasures aside, you might be the perfect candidate for a refugee outreach volunteer.

According to the UNHCR, there are about 25.4 million refugees who have had to leave their country of origin and are currently displaced out in the world. Not all of these refugees have been able to secure a new or successful life for themselves or their families, like the Rohingya refugees, for example. Most of them are in outreach areas in the neighbouring countries of their home country.

These outreach areas have NGOs and welfare organisations doing their best to help wherever they can, and it’s in these places that you can find yourself volunteering your services. If you’re unsure if being placed at one of these refugee camps is something you would be interested in doing, we’re going to provide some insight as to what you can expect to experience at a refugee outreach.

A variety of help is needed

Your first thought might be that you’re not entirely sure how you would be able to help. Well, there is a variety of help needed in these areas and every helping hand is welcome.

  • Teaching: To help refugees turn their lives around and give them the tools they need to break out to the rest of the world, teaching English is a sought-after volunteer role. Welfare organisations appoint volunteers to teach English and other subjects to the children (and even adults) in the camps. This is done in the hopes of them finding work opportunities in other parts of the world so that they might have a chance at a successful future.
  • Counselling: Another volunteering task that assists with the futures of the refugees’ lives is through career counselling. Welfare organisations also provide family counselling to help families through the emotional difficulties associated with being a refugee.   
  • Healthcare: As one can imagine, the informal settlement of a refugee camp can easily experience a variety of health issues. Especially in areas where there is war or where the refugees are coming from war-ridden countries. This requires nurses, doctors, surgeons and other specialists to volunteer their skills and knowledge to treat as many people as they can.
  • Translating: A great setback for most welfare organisations is not being able to speak the native language of the refugees and, understandably, that might slow down the ability to build trusting relationships. For that reason, you could volunteer as a translator and help the NGOs establish relationships in order to help those communities.  
  • Physical labour: The areas to which these refugees flee, generally, have no solid foundations or structures in which they live. This means that there is a demand for physical labourers who can help build living spaces, set up medical tents and create a basic but supportive infrastructure for the people.

If you were to approach a welfare organisation and offer your skills and time, there’s no doubt that they would find a way in which you would be able to help. All help is welcome and appreciated.

You would just need to be prepared for what you will see, smell and experience in these areas.

Diseases all around

Because there is a lack of resources in these settlement areas, clean water and food sources are difficult to come by. If they’re available at all. This type of contamination is one of the causes of malnutrition, amongst other diseases.

And it’s not easy to see and live amongst diseases. The symptoms of malnutrition include a loss of muscle mass and fat, a weakened immune system, hair loss, fatigue, depression and difficulty breathing. Seeing this not only in adults but in helpless children is heart-wrenching.

As a volunteer, this is something you will come face-to-face with every day. You will be tasked to do your best to treat these symptoms of malnutrition with the help of the welfare organisation. You should also be prepared to be witness to chronic pain and death amongst the camps.

The life of a volunteer at a refugee outreach is emotionally draining and volunteers need to be sure to keep themselves in check every once in a while. While it’s difficult, it’s equally a rewarding life. To know that you had a part to play in helping some of the 24.5 million refugees in the world who are in desperate need of it.