Consequences of Volunteerism after Hurricane Katrina

Due to the massive amount of damage that New Orleans suffered in the wake of Katrina, a large number of volunteer organizations began to provide aid to survivors. Churches were a huge source of support—both local churches, and church groups from around the nation organized ways for members to provide help in some way, whether gathering food and helping displaced families, or working on rebuilding projects. Organizations such as The Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity also heavily contributed to restoration projects. These groups offered opportunities for people to travel to New Orleans and volunteer for a few days. Before long, however, volunteerism grew into a tourist attraction, and groups from all around the nation were coming to help.

Positive Consequences

VolunteerPix7The immediate consequences of this were generally positive—more people were helping build houses, raise money, and serve meals. Volunteering became such a popular experience, it kept Katrina in the spot light. Unlike with certain other disasters, the US was very aware of the state of New Orleans for years after the storm. A more far reaching consequence of this volunteer tourism, is that it became a popular phenomenon, and continues to happen today. Today, volunteering in Haiti to help with the aftermath of the earthquake has become very popular.

Donations to organizations that aided victims reached a record amount because of the “identifiable victim” phenomenon. Donnors are much more willing to give money because, through the media, they see and hear about real victims who are actually suffering at the current moment. 

Certain organizations grew so large that they provided stimulus for the local economy. Habitat for Humanity generated roughly 50 million dollars and 528 jobs annually through indirect economic activity.

Negative Consequences

Despite these positive impacts, there have also been several negative consequences of the movements to volunteer for aid organizations.

Many critics noted that, in the long run, it is more important for NGO’s to emphasize education and to focus on teaching people to be able to rebuild for themselves, rather than have a continuing rotation of volunteers who leave as soon as they start to master any aspect of what aid they are providing. Additionally, many of these volunteer organizations began to focus as much on making a positive experience for the volunteer as much as they did on aiding victims. The phrase Volunteer Vacations became commonly used and many people participated in such programs.

Critics also commented on how the glorification of the standard volunteer projects, like building houses, making food, etc., resulted in the negligence of more important long-term aid projects, like finding ways to reduce poverty over time and reduce the number of people who are vulnerable to damage from storms, and other disasters, like Katrina.

In a similar vein, large organizations like Habitat for Humanity were successful based on a simple and standard method of aid. However, this method was not always what was best for victims. Critics say that Habitat for Humanity should have, in some cases, focused its efforts on restoring houses, rather than rebuilding them.

Another interesting consequence of the rise of volunteerism is the way it is associated with privilege. Volunteerism and monetary donations are commodities that are only accessible to some people. In resent years, a lot of research has been done about how race impacted a victim’s ability, and likelihood, to receive aid. These issues were exposed by some of these larger organizations that were supported by volunteers and monetary donations.

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Information on the consequences of the Kony 2012 video can be found here.