From the DR: Short-term Aid & Sustainability

Hi my muchachos,


Me again, here to talk about one of the biggest issues in providing short-term aid right now – sustainability, or making short-term long term.

Short-term humanitarian aid is the best that many of us have to offer right now. With family, friends, school, extracurricular activities and Netflix all demanding our time, it is very hard to put aside time to dedicate to volunteering locally or globally. So when we finally manage to schedule in some time, it may only be a week or two at the most. Beyond time, cost is another big factor that limits our ability to provide more long-term aid: most weeklong humanitarian trips are already in the thousands, simply unaffordable with the student budget. Given our limited time and resources, the best we can do is about a week.

The issue is that a week is not enough time to achieve any long-lasting impactful change. It’s ironic – it is so difficult for us to dedicate time and resources to go for a week, but the impact incurred by the week itself is dramatically less.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, there were many medical teams that visited impoverished villages surrounding the city to provide aid. Their goal for the week that they were there was to see as many patients as possible, as a measurement of their achievement and aid. However, when they saw these patients, due to their limited resources, they could only provide enough medication to last for a week or a month. This is fine for a transient infection, but what about chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension? It was a very short-term fix to provide medication for the immediate future. And they had put in so much effort to see these patients, so many resources to fund medications, but at the end of the day, they only addressed issues for a week or a month after they had left.

So can be done? Given such restraints, how can short-term become long-term?

Many organizations are starting to coordinate short-term mission trips such that they form a single link on a long chain of aid. In the same example, the teams can be coordinated so that while specific teams only visit specific villages once a month, the distribution of teams to villages, both spatially and temporally, ensures that the healthcare needs are addressed regularly. By working together, our short-term aid is added to the efforts of others’ short-term aid to ultimately result in long-term aid.

Another great way (arguably better), is to involve and work with the locals. There was a fantastic team in the Dominican Republic that visited the same villages every four months, and then asked a local organization to conduct regular visits between their quarterly visits. In this way, foreign and local teams working together have created a long-term solution. The foreign team helps the local team with obtaining funding and resources, and the local team provides the time that the foreign team does not have to consistently visit the villages. In my opinion, this model is better because underlying the solution to short-term, it also is building local capacity – by asking locals to help with certain programs, the locals are being trained and can eventually take over, leading to TRUE SUSTAINABILITY. In this scenario, the local teams are already visiting the villages more often than the foreign teams and if their skills can be further built upon, then they can be the only healthcare providers for those villages. Locals providing local aid is the most sustainable because it can never be taken away (not to mention other benefits such as cultural sensitivity).

I think that this is done locally as well – many volunteer organizations in Hamilton organizes our efforts to become a part of a whole to ensure that constant help is being provided. Personally, I volunteer with seniors once a week during the school semester and the organization that I work with coordinates other volunteers to visit the same seniors during other semesters, so there is never a gap. Working with others is truly important as we try to make the most of what we can give. So when volunteering, though we are only individuals, I think it is important to keep in mind the whole picture that we are contributing to. As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So thinking of your activities, which part do you play? And in the long run, what whole are you helping to create?