How to get started in refugee/disaster victim/etc camp infrastructure?
December 5, 2016 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in joining the field of disaster response--specifically, setting up and running the infrastructure for refugee camps. I realize that this is just as much of a political problem as it is a logistical problem, and I'm interested in that aspect too. Where on Earth do I start?

I'm 26 years old, majored in Urban Studies for undergrad, and I'm considering grad school. I have some experience in being a volunteer coordinator for a large nonprofit, and some experience in research. I'm attracted to helping people, setting up systems and making order out of chaos, connecting many various pieces into a cohesive whole, and work that's on the high-adrenaline side of the spectrum. I also perceive this as being an increasingly important field as climate change, wars and natural disasters continue to displace people.

I don't care to just get a master's degree in a field that sounds relevant and hope for the best. I'm looking for advice from people who have experience in the field or know people who do. Maybe you know what kind of background or skills are desperately needed for this? Maybe there are resources you can point me to? Any help is appreciated.
posted by myelin sheath to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe start by checking out the career and volunteer information for groups that do this sort of work? For example, I know the American Refugee Committee has been running such camps for a few decades and has some information on its website about the types of skills it looks for in volunteers and members of its rapid response teams.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2016

I know people who do this; many of them went to Columbia's School of Public Health, particularly the Forced Migration & Health program. The Humanitarian Assistance certificate program for MPH students would be another option at Columbia. Most of my friends who do or did this started with Peace Corps, then went to grad school. I'm not sure how easy it is to break into the field with zero international experience.

Sanitation (water, etc), epi research/disease management, logistics, medical training are also places to look, as various aspects of public health.
posted by john_snow at 7:08 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The person I know who has a career doing this started out as a volunteer for Medecins sans Frontieres. They need logistics people to do everything else that makes it possible for the medics to do their job.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 8:20 AM on December 5, 2016

I'm an epidemiologist (MPH) and some schools have program tracks that specialize in large-scale response projects. Physicians, EMTs, sanitation experts, and very good managers are some of the people who end up being allowed to rush in to the places you're talking about. You'd probably want to talk to the agencies that handle those projects before deciding to pursue a program like that (think: Red Cross, USAID, Médecins Sans Frontières, etc.), because there are a lot of people in the U.S. and abroad who specialize in this line of work already and it's not straightforward to get directly into a position like this (i.e. "high adrenaline" work).

Be aware that there is sometimes too much interest in immediate, urgent response work and too little on the long-term, much more difficult work preparing for and preventing crises that do emerge from becoming disastrous. When I was in grad school, there would be periodic swells of minimally-trained people RAGING to get involved after a devastating event (think: Katrina, Banda Aceh) where before they'd had little or passing interest in resolving the problems that made those events so literally catastrophic. This is a problem in the field, because disaster response usually requires a small team of highly-trained, deeply-experienced people -- ideally from the local region -- backed up by long-term support programs after the immediate crises has been addressed. It's usually a given that the immediate response teams will show up. It's less certain how many people will show up once the endorphins have settled. Keep that in mind as you work your way toward your goal.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine was a logistician for Medicins sans Frontieres. He says that a Master in Public Health is the way to go.
posted by Thella at 11:07 AM on December 5, 2016

Here are the basic requirements for MSF's logistician jobs. One thing to note is that a second language is highly desirable, with French being the most versatile. MSF has webinars and in person recruitment sessions, which might be a good place to get started.
posted by kimdog at 1:03 PM on December 5, 2016

Read the Sphere Standards
posted by eglenner at 3:55 PM on December 7, 2016

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