Disaster relief

Helping the people who need it most

Few rewards are as fulfilling as seeing your efforts making a difference to the lives of people less fortunate than you. Disaster relief work offers technical professionals the opportunity to use their skills to help the people who need it most. Take engineering graduate John Leung. He didn’t want a regular job: he wanted to use his civil engineering degree in a more global context instead. So, he got a job with an engineering consultancy that was favourable towards overseas projects.

“Reading stories of people that had been involved with projects in developing countries really brought home the idea that a career choice did not have to mean choosing between a regular job with an engineering firm or having to take the leap of faith into an exciting – but not necessarily secure – job in the world of disaster relief, development and humanitarian aid,” Leung says. “I realised I could do both.”

Leung had been involved in projects in El Salvador with a team from his university, which meant he had enough experience to get an assignment with an organisation in the Dominican Republic, through disaster relief organisation RedR.

“It was a six-month posting on a project involving the construction of a new building to extend the existing school in the community, consisting of two classrooms, a plant room and a toilet block,” Leung explains. “My role was as a construction supervisor, which expanded to include project management, engineering and accounting duties. Working with the local team, I learned how things could be done just as efficiently without all the usual equipment at home.”

A few months after Leung returned to his job in the UK, Tropical Storm Noel struck the Dominican Republic, destroying hundreds of homes. The classrooms Leung built stood firm and became emergency shelters for the homeless; he and the school are very proud of this achievement, knowing that lives were saved through engineering.

“When I first applied for this posting through RedR, there were two other positions open – one was full time in Pakistan following the Kashmir earthquake and another was a one-year posting in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Leung. “Both of those are more typical disaster-relief and humanitarian projects. At the time however, I felt it would have been a step too far too soon. In such a critical situation it is absolutely vital that the relief worker is 100 per cent prepared, as there is very little room for learning the ropes. A lack of preparation can mean it is actually possible to add to the problems rather than reduce them.”

For engineers and built-environment professionals, a disaster-relief assignment can reaffirm their commitment to their profession and help to develop new skills. In general, there are six things you need to do to get involved in disaster relief: get professional experience in the UK; get specialist training in relevant technical issues (such as first aid or car maintenance) as well as the basics of humanitarianism and personal security; network with others already in the sector, particularly when choosing which relief agencies to approach; research and stay abreast of the issues, such as news from Darfur or Somalia; seek out cross-cultural experiences, such as working with your local refugee support group or getting active travel experience away from typical holiday resorts; and stay enthusiastic, because you’re going to get a lot of rejections before you get a yes.

Andrew Lamb, an adviser at RedR, adds: “You have to be careful about how you proceed – disaster relief rarely becomes a career, usually taking the form of a series of projects. John [Leung] has the right approach of committing to work for an engineering firm as well as looking for relief assignments. He prepared well for his assignment – speaking to construction experts and using guides such as RedR’s Engineering in Emergencies handbook. Because you have a massive impact on people’s lives, the right preparation and training is invaluable.”

Leung says: ”Having carried out this posting in the Dominican Republic and at the same time gained more experience back here in the UK, I am a lot closer to that reality of one day being able to make a real difference when it is urgently needed.”

Sarah Milnes is the communications manager at RedR, www.redr.org.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS2 supply teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

KS1 Supply Teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job ? This is a new post...

ICT Teacher for Maternity cover

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job * This is a new post...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London