Personal Preservation – Physical Health Advice for Disaster Relief Volunteers

Cut on piece of rebar that had been previously cut with a demo saw which makes it mad sharp. - HODR Volunteer

Recently, I shared advice with a friend on volunteering in Haiti especially at Hands On Disaster Relief an awesome, innovative, professional and experienced NGO.
We discussed topics like logistics, economics, mental health and physical well being the lata of which I have shared a few tips.

Malaria Prevention – I use a mosquito nets, DEET (small amounts) and clothing over anti-malaria pills like Doxycilin that increase sensitivity to light. Not advantageous in blistering sunshine. On top you have to down pills before arriving in the destination then take them every day with no guarantee of prevention. – My opinion: consult your doctor
Tip – At HODR bring a single 6 point mosquito net for maximum mosquito protection

Update – Elizabeth – HODR FACEBOOK PAGE
You really should take an anti-malarial, even if you do choose Doxycycline. I”ve taken it while on two different Haiti projects…it was fine. Everyone should be wearing super sunscreen anyway. Also, you should make sure all your innoculations are up to date: Tetanus definitely, and I’d also suggest HEP A, Hep B, and Typhoid as well. Rabies not so much. Also those electrolyte things that you can dump in your water bottle really do help.

Counter Swelling – Anti-histamines are not just for runny noses they will reduce swelling and itching from mosquito attacks.

Sleep – If you have the dollars pick up a blow up mattress over the yoga mat type.
Rest is the best way to stay on top of the days and if you are constantly moving to avoid pressure points the following day will be harder.

Recover Quickly – You won’t go hungry at HODR though protein at meal time is on the low side. So consider these power-ups.

  • Protein – If you want to get stronger and recover faster bring protein to subsidize your meals. Alternatively, lump down a hefty slab of peanut butter at breakfast time.
  • Vitamins – I am a fan of Vitamineral Green a product with enzymes and nutrients with instant effects.
    Alternatively, learn basic Creole and buy and prepare vegetables from the local market.
  • Chocolate – Dark chocolate – It will not melt and is a great pick me up after lunch.

Monitor Wounds – Cuts and blisters are inevitable and it is your responsibility to take care of them.

  • Blisters – To pop or not to pop? Who cares? They are going to pop anyway. Dry ‘em out every night with ethanol and apply liquid bandage (HODR First Aid) in the morning before going out. The quicker they heal the quicker you will develop callouses making you better with the sledge hammer
  • Infections – The tropics can quickly turn a small cut into a Golden Staph infection so clean your wounds once to twice daily

Counter Sweat, Grit and Shit

  • Its hot, real hot and humid. Grooming downstairs can mean the difference between box itch and none. Anti-perspiration in the same region is effective too. Enough said.
  • Cut nails - The crud you can accrue during the day is astronomical. Give bacteria no place to hide.
  • Cotton sucks – If you have the cash, wear quick dry, breathable materials and their easy to wash too.
  • Keep your mouth shut - sometimes shit will spray on you.

Annesee Rubble Crew - HODR - April 2010

Golden Rule – Stay Hydrated and Cover Up!
Don’t become a number – Nearly everyone will suffer from the side effects of dehydration. On any given day expect to drink between 8 to 12 Litres a day. Make sure you add electrolytes (salt + Sugar = Potassium + Glucose = Plenty of basic and better alternatives to Gatorade)
I did notice regular occurrences of heat stroke from exposure to the sun being put down to drinking too little water – YOU CAN BE TAKEN OUT BY HEAT STROKE EVEN WHEN HYDRATED.
Slip, slop and slap with a:

  • Full brim hat
  • neck scarf (I used a tea towel)
  • sun glasses (expect them to chip)
  • long sleeves
  • fill in the gaps with sunscreen.

Finally practice being ambidextrous in everything you do (especially sledge hammer) it will balance out the back muscles and reduce injury and pain.

So there you go. A few tips from me. Remember to make your own mind up and speak to a doctor when it comes to any medication.

Have you volunteered in a similar situation? What other advice do you have?


  • David

    Wear safety glasses when working in proximity to sledging.