YMCA disaster volunteers groups have been active in preparing their communities for floods, and reduce the impacts when they strike. Photo: Lizz Harrison/YCI YMCA disaster volunteers groups have been active in preparing their communities for floods, and reduce the impacts when they strike.

On the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, Lizz Harrison tells us how training young people to be active in their own communities has been key to saving and protecting lives when natural disaster strikes.

Young volunteers have been trained across the world on the risks of natural disasters that threaten their lives, jobs, education, health and food security. Whether it’s fighting fires in the slums of Sierra Leone or tackling drought in rural Nicaragua, young people are better equipped to prepare and respond to disasters.

In the last six months alone, Y Care International, through our local YMCA partners, have trained almost 500 young community volunteers on disaster risk reduction.  This training will increase their knowledge for life – the theme of this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction – and their resilience to future disasters.

In August, I met with young disaster volunteer group members in a flood prone area of Bangladesh. Despite the area being flooded at the time, the young volunteers said they felt more prepared this year for the floods than they had before. The young women I spoke to said that the knowledge they had gained through training provided in their community by the local YMCA had helped them to prepare for and reduce the impact of the floods. They had secured their belongings on the beams of their ceilings at home, bought oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea in advance, and brought a mobile stove to allow them to cook the extra dry food provisions they had moved with them to higher ground. Not only have these young volunteers ensured they were better prepared, but each of them has also shared their knowledge with around 10 people each in their community. This has increased the reach of vital information on disaster preparedness to over 2,800 people!

Three young local volunteers in Monrovia, Liberia who reached hundreds of their fellow community members with information about Ebola. Photo: Lizz Harrison/YCi

Three young local volunteers in Monrovia, Liberia who reached hundreds of their fellow community members with information about Ebola.

Young volunteers are so effective at reaching their peers and other community members because they know the local area, the language, the culture and the problems that their fellow community members face; and because they share them too.

This local knowledge is priceless when adapting messages and information to the context; something shown very clearly in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Over the past year, young volunteers trained by the YMCAs in Sierra Leone and Liberia, reached over 80,000 people with information on how to stay safe from the virus which killed thousands. Not one of the young volunteers got Ebola showing that knowledge truly can be life-saving.

The effectiveness of local volunteers is also complemented by the sustainability of this approach. Giving local young people knowledge for life means they can keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe from future disasters and emergencies. If they are able to manage disaster risks at community level then external assistance in the form of emergency relief may not be necessary. This saves money and lives.

Young people’s motivation to volunteer their time to make the world a better, safer place should be harnessed. We need to embrace their energy, enthusiasm and drive and ensure they have the knowledge they need for a safe, productive and happy life!

Lizz Harrison, Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergencies Advisor

Find out more about the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 here: www.unisdr.org/we/campaign/iddr