Do Volunteer Efforts During Humanitarian Crises Help?

I am in Bangkok and have been very impressed with the work our local team is doing in delivering needed supplies to people that are still living in water and who have not received any help and many of them are in this situation for two months.

During a natural disaster such as an earthquake, a flood, or a hurricane there is a propensity for many individuals who want to rush out and volunteer their help. Many feel it is their duty to go to the stricken area and help in some way or the other. Most of these folks are not qualified to be responders and eventually become a burden on those that are on site providing relief and assistance.

I have always advised folks to just write a check to a non-profit whose work you believe in and let them provide the assistance needed. Yet I am frankly impressed with the work our team in Bangkok are doing and how much effort they put into this work and what they have achieved. Further, for all of the employees who are participating in this work it is a very moving experience and they believe that serving has brought them together as no other experience has.

This was the fifth volunteer effort over the past two months the team has undertaken. They have packed necessities and medicine as well as donated blood at the Thai Red Cross, and made life jackets from water bottles at Flood Relief Operations Center.

However, on Saturday December 3, 2011, a team of 20 individuals; Microsoft staff, their friends, family members and some of our Microsoft partners headed to one of the most impacted area in the Nakornphatom Province to distribute flood relief bags to the effected people and families in the area. Many of the folks who participated have their own homes still flooded and are waiting for the water to fully recede before they can clean their own homes.

The area that was selected was some of the hardest impacted. These communities are off the main road have been under flood waters for six weeks and these areas are only accessible by boats -- with many of the areas still under 2-3 meters of water. The team worked with a local NGO named 1,500 Mile Foundation to deliver the supplies.

The activity on Saturday was just a tip of major effort from the entire company in which the employees took turn to pack a thousand relief bags, gave cash donation to buy additional supplies to put into these bags. Each bag weighed almost 18 pounds and included rice, instant noodles, Chinese sausage, pumpkin, chili paste and water.

With many of the supplies especially water in short supply, Microsoft APAC in Singapore shipped water bottles and instant noodles. The team spent more than 15 tiring hours to load 1,000 bags from the 38th floor of the Microsoft office building onto the military trucks and then driving to the affected areas and finally rowing the loaded kayaks for over 10 kilometers to the flood victims.

When I spoke to Khun Briathon the country manager of Microsoft Thailand he said this was both physically and emotionally the hardest thing he has done. "After just loading the thousand bags on to the trucks we then had to row back and forth covering over 10 kilometers to get the supplies to the people who needed it most. We passed others in need and it took special courage not to stop and hand the supplies to the first group of affected people. In his mind this is what makes the company so special -- in times of need our employees just step up, Microsoft employees from all over the world contributed and urged us on."

Khun Birathon firmly believes this effort of their local commitment to "Make 70 Million Lives BETTER" mission.

This was an extremely well planned and executed effort which involved a community of partners that stepped up to help execute. This is what made this so special. I continue to be in awe of our employees who always manage to step up to a challenge.

You can watch a short video of the relief efforts by kayak here.

You can see a slide show of the relief efforts here.