How the Internet is revolutionizing volunteering

The ability to prioritize volunteering in a time of crisis can be the difference between life and death

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

When refugees initially first starting arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos, they found very little help waiting. But when the international community reacted, Lesvos set up registration camps and provided basic amenities. Still, the numbers of incoming refugees fluctuate between 3,000 and 10,000 a day, making it difficult to plan. Eventually, island locals were helping the incoming refugees get to the registration sites. There was reportedly a 60km gap between the shores of Lesvos and the first point of registration. International aid organizations had experience in organizing static camps, as they do in Jordan and Lebanon, but Amnesty International described the situation in Greece as “chaos.”

These camps come with bureaucracy and protocols, but when up to 10,000 refugees are arriving every day, there is no time for bureaucracy. Many online realized this and began to pave the way for hundreds of self-organized volunteers – mainly through a Facebook group.

No obstacles

Depending on technology and private volunteers take bureaucracy, egos, and the inefficiencies that come with large organizations out of the equation. While volunteering sometimes requires basic training on interaction, protocols and first-aid, there isn’t always time to provide it. Sometimes, it takes longer to train volunteers and register them than it does to solve the crisis, leading to even greater time inefficiencies.

The ability to prioritize volunteering in a time of crisis can be the difference between life and death

Yara al-Wazir

Using technology to facilitate and administrate volunteer efforts saves on the administration costs of NGOs. Depending on the size of the NGO, the cost of overheads ranges from 10-25% of the total charitable contributions and income to the charity.

This is a problem because every dollar spent on administrative fees is a dollar taken away from people who are desperately in need. For this reason, some people choose to not donate their money, and go on volunteer trips instead.
While individual volunteers struggle to bring donations to the island, they turn to crowd funding and online fundraising. This is how the Giving Food Truck manages to feed 2,000 refugees daily, with a capacity to feed up to 10,000 people if required, says Adil Izemrane, one of the organizers.

The Internet gave birth to the Giving Food Truck

The refugee crisis needs individuals who have experience in managing crowds, travelers, and a wide variety of people from different backgrounds. That is how The Giving Food Truck was born. A group of business-minded individuals with experience in music festival organization flew out and structured a shelter, a food truck, and a small medical care center between the registration points.

The absence of bureaucracy, coupled with the right kind of experience – crowd management, organization, social skills, catering skills, are what made the project successful, and that is exactly what refugees arriving at Lesvos need.

Language is a barrier volunteers overcome from home

One of the biggest challenges arriving at the shores of Greece is the diversity of the refugees. On-the-ground volunteers tell a story of Arabic, Farsi, and Dari being spoken. There is little knowledge of these languages within continental Europe and most of the refugees struggle to communicate. This is where Rapid Response Refugees Translation comes in – another Facebook group.

The volunteer translators work from their phones or laptops, providing life-saving translation efforts, such as telling refugees to not put their legs inside the boats so that the boat can continue to balance. The responses to these translation requests often come within minutes.

Refugees deserve another chance at life

Business and technology-savvy individuals have the vital skills required to provide fast response efforts. The ability to prioritize in a time of crisis can be the difference between life and death.

Volunteering is becoming revolutionized. While not everyone may have the ability, time or money to volunteer, the use of social media to share positive news and fundraising websites is key to the longevity of these efforts.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.