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Disadvantages of Short-term Humanitarian Missions

We recently covered the advantages of short-term humanitarian missions. And while there are plenty, it is also important to consider how short-term humanitarian missions can negatively impact global development and aid. When humanitarians can only deploy short-term, what are the disadvantages?

Limited context and immersion

Global development and aid involve travel to new contexts. It means getting to know a new culture, community and sometimes language. But more importantly, it means understanding the specific setting of each place that you work in.

Unfortunately, short-term missions cannot provide the level of immersion to understand a given situation fully. It’s only in day-to-day life that we can get to know the hardships, needs and wants of the people that we work with.

That said, there are plenty of humanitarian aid workers and volunteers from various backgrounds. In a short-term mission, it can be helpful to deploy someone who is already familiar with the context. At the same time, it’s essential to listen and follow instructions from local stakeholders, including colleagues and community members.

What NGOs are looking for in a Humanitarian Aid Worker

No time to build relationships

Similarly, short-term deployments don’t provide enough time to develop meaningful relationships with stakeholders.  Trust is established over time in most cultures. A couple of weeks is just not sufficient to get across communication lines and create a long-term relationship.

New technologies are helping to begin to bridge this gap. Being able to stay in touch over social media, phone, and other apps is definitely helpful. It can also provide insight into everyday life. But face-to-face communication is still the best way to build human relationships that allow for trust.

Rushed implementation

Another pitfall of short-term missions is a time constraint. Global development takes place over long periods of time. But aid workers and volunteers on short-term deployments want to see immediate results. So, they may sometimes rush their implementation and skip steps.

It’s key to remember that small contributions make for a bigger impact. Short-term missions should not have the goal of seeing drastic changes. Rather, they are part of a bigger picture of humanitarian development in a project.

Inadequate community focus

Voluntourism and high-profile country visits can take the focus away from community needs. This becomes an issue when workers and volunteers are prioritized over the beneficiaries in short-term missions.

For example, communities may give them special treatment as guests or interrupt activities to accommodate their schedules. Sometimes, it’s almost like there is a celebrity in town! It’s important to always keep the focus on community needs, particularly when working short-term.

Disruptive to local communities

Most communities have a way of life. They take time to develop and implement changes. Therefore, short-term missions can be disruptive. For one, they can provide false hope for big improvements, when these typically take many years to realize.

At the same time, short volunteer missions can create a sense of attachment and then abandonment, particularly in children. It is essential that all interaction with vulnerable populations on short-term missions is well-designed and thought through.

Lack of sustainability

Finally, sustainability is one of the biggest issues when it comes to short-term humanitarian and global development missions. As mentioned before, change takes time. A few days or weeks of help won’t generate meaningful positive changes right away.

However, organizations do have the opportunity to make a sustainable impact through short-term travel missions. It just involves an extra level of planning. Humanitarians need to ensure that short-term missions are part of a bigger picture. This way, they are part of a sustainable long-term impact plan.

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