Volunteering with International Relief Agencies for Emergency Services Personnel

Volunteering From Local to Global:

How to Take your Emergency Services Training on the Road

Goal:  To apply your Emergency Services Training and experience to help people, volunteering in different locations around the world.

Last year I had the amazing pleasure of travelling to the Zulu Natal in South Africa.  On the way there I spent one day and one night in Johannesburg, where I was fortunate enough to take a guided tour of the city.  We saw the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which is the second largest hospital in the world boasting 3200 beds and almost 7,000 employees, and drove past the seemingly endless tin shacks in the neighborhood of Soweto. Both of these are so very close to the pretty little street on which both Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu grew up (making it the only street in the world where there once lived two winners of the Nobel Prize for Peace).  I was overwhelmed by the need and spirit of the people who live in this beautiful brutal country that smells, everywhere, like baking clay and fresh rain.

Being in Emergency Services means that one is already a helper and a doer, a giver and a fixer.  So naturally I wondered, what can one person do to help if they’re looking to go beyond their own hometown, not just to Africa, but anywhere in the world? Where do you even begin to find out about such volunteering opportunities?

EMS in Africa

Although volunteering with an ambulance in South Africa differs from service to service, there are opportunities to be had.  In some cases you may only be allowed to ride as an observer, and in some you may be allowed to help in a limited capacity. Like in any emergency services, some responses be difficult in ways you might not anticipate. You can see this in a preview for  Tell Me And I Will Forget, a documentary that shows the service of paramedics in Pretoria and Johannesburg.  In order to be more involved in patient care, the minimum requirements in South Africa require you to be a BAA (Basic Ambulance Assistant), the US equivalent of an EMT.  Check with the individual service to find out what their policies are.

Some services include (but are not limited to) : Hout Bay EMS, False Bay EMS, Table Bay EMS Camps Bay EMS, and AMS (Air Mercy Services) .

Not Just Doctor Livingstone, I presume?

As it turns out, doctors aren’t the only ones without borders.  There is an organization called “Medics Without Borders” (MWB), which asks for the help of EMT’s, Paramedics and other healthcare professionals and administrators.  Their aim is “to help provide preventive medicine to the masses around the globe by focusing on the training and dissemination of Emergency Medical Services and Technology in developing countries where such services and programs are non-existent.”

Pick a Country, (almost) Any Country

If you’re looking for an opportunity to spend a shorter period of time and some of your own tax deductible money to get there, A Broader View is a volunteer organization that offers over 180 Social and Conservation Charity opportunities in many countries in South America, Central America, Africa and Asia.  A Broader View arranges, volunteer abroad programs for spring break journeys, gap year trips, humanitarian mission trip and Peace Corps alternative programs.  Programs include medical and dental/healthcare, orphanage support/child care, HIV /aids awareness Care, animal rescue and many others.

Be a Disaster Volunteer

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, building collapses, and tsunami are just a few of the disasters that can befall a community and effect countless human lives. While being a freelancer (a responder who takes it upon him or herself to head into a disaster area alone to “help out”) is always a bad idea, there are other ways you can become part of the action.  Whether you choose to join a known volunteer humanitarian organization*, or a more resolute alternative (meaning you must be willing to devote specific time for training, etc.) such as Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT), Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR), you can become part of the solution.

Country Mouse, City Mouse

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a volunteer health and veterinary relief corps that provides free health care, dental care, eye care, veterinary services, and technical and educational assistance to people in the United States and the world.  Because healthcare needs are so vast, RAM has expanded from visiting remote parts of the country to places as urban as Los Angeles.  RAM uses volunteers from all levels of the medical profession, as well as support staff.

Fight Fire with Fire(fighters)

Did you know that there are over two million people living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and only one fire station?   The next closest fire station is eight hours away.  You can help to educate and train people in other countries in firefighting, EMS and public safety through the International Firefighter Assistance (IFA).

Be like Clara Barton

The Red Cross is such an integral part of help across the globe that sometimes people simply forget how important it is.

  • Every year the Red Cross responds to more than 70,000 disasters—including approximately 150 home fires every day.
  • About 11 million Americans learn first aid, CPR, swimming, and other health and safety skills from the Red Cross. Last year, more than 158,000 people volunteered to teach those courses.
  • Half the nation’s blood supply— six million pints annually—is collected by more than 155,000 Red Cross volunteers.
  • Among emergency services for the men and women of the armed forces is the delivery of urgent family messages—around the clock and around the globe.
  • As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Red Cross reconnects more than 8,000 families separated by conflicts and disasters around the world through international tracking services and Red Cross messages.

You Can Do It

Whatever you choose, remember to research carefully before you go anywhere.  As you look to the benefits and cultures of those you want to help, please also be aware of the dangers of many places that are in need and the dangers posed specifically to those who are from the outside.  As in any emergency service, you should take care of yourself first before you can help others.

And remember, as an emergency services provider you already give to countless people every day.  Whether you choose to work beyond your local borders or not, you stand among these organizations and their volunteers and employees, and countless others across the globe, as someone who makes lives and living better for others.  Be proud of that today.

Application:  Find the right international aid organization for you.

*Humanitarian organizations

About The Author

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Elizabeth Duckworth is the Senior Editor of RescueDigest. An accomplished writer and editor, Elizabeth has written extensively in the fields of healthcare, emergency services and education. She is the co-founder and Director of Education for the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine.

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