Rebuilding Nepal: Donate, Don’t Volunteer

“A young girl runs past her destroyed house in Gangdada village, Nuvakot district, Nepal. 150 kilometres from the capital Kathmandu and closer to the epicentre, the destruction in this area of Nuvakot is close to 100%”
Image Source: Huffington Post/Qazi Zaid

Fifty days down the road from the April 25th earthquake in Nepal, foreign aid and relief efforts begin to dwindle while the need continues to grow. In the weeks to follow the initial quake, aftershocks, landslides, and avalanches contributed to the rising death toll and hindered volunteers and officials from providing sufficient aid for the hundreds of thousands who were displaced. While exact numbers are unavailable, there have been at least 8,500 deaths and 20,000 injured.

Now, more than ever, Nepal looks to the international community for financial support to reach the estimated need of $6.6 billion for reconstruction, according to the government of Nepal. Despite the obvious need presented though, the solution isn’t to drop everything and fly over to lend a hand. The thought, however well-intentioned, is one that could ultimately do more harm than good.

While volunteering abroad is not in itself a bad thing, orphanage tourism has become an increasing problem for countries like Nepal. Orphanage tourism is the practice of short-term unskilled international volunteers at orphanages in developing countries. Rather than providing help, this practice perpetuates the exploitation of children in these places by encouraging traffickers to lure parents into sending their children to ‘boarding schools’ so that they can make a profit from volunteer fees and donations. Additionally, with so many families already sleeping outside with only the sky as their roof, it would be immensely detrimental to the development of their children if they were sent to a ‘shelter’.

At the same time, there are many organizations that are looking to provide non-humanitarian support, which—considering the amount of destruction to buildings and entire villages—is just as important at the moment. Homes, monuments, and dozens of temples including UNESCO world heritage sites were either completely destroyed or heavily damaged. But, as is also the case with children, unskilled volunteers in any field are much less beneficial in the help they give and may even have to go through time-consuming training sessions. Think carefully about whether this is really the option for you. Needless to say, the desire to travel the world should not be a factor in your decision.

For those who do wish volunteer, it’s important to thoroughly research the organization to ensure that they are as committed to helping Nepal as much you are. It would be even better if you could choose organizations that conduct work related to your skillset. There is no doubt that there are many very hardworking volunteers currently in Nepal who have from elsewhere and have been integral in the relief efforts thus far, so adding to that group would only be a positive thing if you’ve followed the right steps in getting there.

On a more long-term basis, for a country situated in an earthquake-prone region, it is necessary to consider how the country could better prepare for such an event. Improper infrastructure makes it harder not only to survive but also to then recover. When the time comes, Nepal may look to foreign governments and field experts from international organizations to work with the National Planning Commission of Nepal for input in construction, training, and other aspects of disaster preparation.

However, at the moment, Nepal is still struggling to provide short-term relief. In addition to money given from governments, individuals have the capacity to immensely help by donating to the correct charities that have pledged to assist Nepal in rebuilding their country, enabling a recovery that will be faster and less harmful. Local organizations like the Siva Foundation are the best option as they can act the fastest, but well-reputed international organizations like Save the Children, Red Cross, or UNICEF, are just as good and will give you the peace of mind knowing your money will be put to good use.

In the end, the devastation in Nepal caught all our hearts and inspired an outpouring of grief and support across social media platforms. The necessity for international funding persists even as headlines turn to other news, and a donation will be much appreciated by those fighting to restore Nepal as quickly as possible.

This piece was originally published in Affairs Today (June 2015).
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