"There is nothing that can prepare you for the moment you have a gun to your head or the days and weeks after. There is nothing that can prepare you for how it will feel to have a child die in your arms, to see people living and dying in misery, to see bodies lining the streets, to hear thousands beg for help and not have enough for everyone. There is no information session or manual that can tell you how that will feel or when or how it will hit you. The debriefing sessions aren’t enough a lot of the time and we [aid workers] end up just trying to talk it out with each other but we aren’t qualified therapists, we just do what we can to support each other when it feels like too much.” - Olivia Westguard, relief worker in Central America after Hurricane Mitch (article)
This is the core reason for The Refuge Project. The impact of doing humanitarian aid and disaster response on the people performing this work ranges from casual reactions to lasting post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To support this population who give so much to help others in need, we are establishing a community hub where the experience of deploying as a humanitarian aid or disaster response worker is understood and the after effects of deployment are eased.
There are many ways people deal with their experience participating in humanitarian and disaster work. To assist in their recovery The Refuge Project will provide a few specific options such as a home base location, counseling, skills training and local outreach and group activity. We will also provide a place for people to discover and pursue their individual needs and facilitate those pursuits where possible. There is no one right way for a person to react or process and we strive to provide the facilities so that our residents can process their experiences however they need.
We are creating a refuge site structure that can be easily replicated at additional sites around the world. The needs of this population of heroes is too great to be met with just one site. In 2013 a study posted on Reliefweb.int estimated the number of relief and humanitarian aid workers in the field was 450,000 with trends in humanitarian aid work suggesting this number will only increase. It is not feasible for a single refuge site to care for the number of those workers who need a refuge site. The plan is that other sites will be started as they are needed and as we have the available funds and people to run them.