There’s plenty of good-will in the world, kind and well meaning people. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always lead to desired outcomes.
After typhoon Yolanda hammered over the Philippines, I go approached by quite a few well-meaning people seeking for my advise (having lived in Manila before and at the time working for a Manila-headquartered non-profit) on how to volunteer in the disaster areas. As these people had no medical background or other actually helpful skills needed at the disaster zone, I tried to give them advises on what could be done without traveling to the Philippines. But without exceptions they were only interested in witnessing the catastrophe themselves. Being in the front-line. Volun-tourism, in other words.
Well-meaning people don’t like to be questioned in how can they help. They are willing to offer their time, so they see it should be accepted. What these well-meaning people failed to understand, was that they could likely end up being in the way of the professionals, drinking the precious water the victims urgently need and potentially in their inexperience and without proper skills and training, ending up needing saving themselves.
Disaster areas are not a tourism sight. People in despair don’t need a well-meaning person playing the hero of the day. They need help. At first they might need clean drinking water, perhaps clothing, food, medicine and a shelter. And dignity.
If you really want to be of help, ask what kind of help is needed and what you can do. If you want to help victims of natural disasters, probably the best is to donate money to big aid organizations who have the resources and expertise to organize the aid operation. If you want to help abandoned animals, ask an animal shelter how you could best do that. If you feel bad for orphans in Cambodia, check with a reputable organization what could and should be done. Often the help they need, and what actually would be helpful and not making things worse, is much different than what the well-meaning person had anticipated.
It’s great to be willing to help. Absolutely. But find out first what’s actually helpful. Traveling to a disaster zone, bringing “treats” to abandoned animals or hugging an orphan are unfortunately not helpful. Instead of buying flight tickets to a disaster-prone country to deliver a bag of clothes to the victims, why not donating the ticket money to an aid organization or a non-profit onsite? If you want to do something, try organizing a fund-raising activity.
Meaning well is a good start, but doing well is the real aim. The first step for achieving that, is to ask what kind of help is needed.