NRNA’s Nepal earthquake volunteers without insurance protection a concern

by tirtha khatiwada

3 May 2015 6:38 PM AEST: A not for profit organisation of Nepalis living across the globe has been hailed for its response to Nepal earthquake but members of the diaspora worry if the band of brothers and sisters the organisation has been dispatching back home may become victims themselves.

Non Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) has announced, besides its NPR 100 million (approximately $1 million), it will bring as many as 1,000 volunteers from around the world to assist in the rehabilitation and relief operations.

Nepal earthquake
Call of Motherland: NRNA’s Nepal earthquake relief volunteers on the ground in Nepal. Courtesy: Facebook

According to the organisation, it will provide a brief induction but not the insurance protection to cover the risks usually associated with a disaster zone that Nepal has become, specially districts like Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk where NRNA said it would be mostly working in. This is alarming some members of the Nepali diaspora who express concern about the safety of the volunteers.

They opine that although volunteering means donating time, skills and efforts, the volunteering environment is still a workplace and the concerned organiser must fulfil certain responsibilities such as safe work environment, insurance and reimbursement of out of pocket expenses to name a few. The volunteers must also be well trained and capable of doing the job they are volunteering for.

Nepal earthquake
NRNA’s president Shesh Ghale overseeing relief operation in Nepal.

It is understood that the people willing to go to Nepal as volunteers through NRNA are required to bear all expenses on their own, airfare and insurance among other.

“Anybody wishing to volunteer must be prepared for any unforeseen incidents at their own risk”, said Bishnu Hamal who manages volunteers from Australia. He said the Nepal earthquake volunteers are required to sign a form declaring NRNA would not be responsible for any loss whatsoever. Shamim Anwar, another airport coordinator for the volunteers, confirmed the case. He expressed the belief that superannuation or other insurance packages might cover if anything unusual should happen but said he was not sure. He stated that travel insurance comes as part of air tickets but he was unable to comment on the details as well. NRN Australia president Mahendra Oli could not be contacted by

Another NRNA NSW member involved in the coordination of Nepal volunteers, Dila Kharel, revealed NRNA has not provided any job description and written guidelines to the volunteers. When asked if this was professional and ethical, Mr Kharel suggested his organisation was prompted to action based on spontaneity of feelings but later realised that many things remained to be considered.

Mr Kharel failed to point out the particular benefits of volunteering through NRNA and not individually. Under the current circumstances, volunteers have no real incentives to be part of its relief operations because it does not provide the airfare and insurance coverage.

Asked to comment on the public perception that NRNA’s activities were a bit on the unorganised side, Mr Kharel accepted that there were things to be improved but claimed whatever the organisation was doing was for a good cause.

When contacted Red Cross, it was advised that once accepted, a volunteer becomes a full responsibility of the organisation. Summa, a Red Cross staff, believed that it was the organization’s “duty of care” towards their volunteers to ensure appropriate safety. Red Cross does provide sufficient insurance protection to cover any untoward incidents that might befall a volunteer during the assignment period, Summa added.

Michael from State Emergency Service (SES), on the other hand, said they provide comprehensive training and get their volunteers insured before they go to the field to help the community, a safety first approach. He pointed out that it is very difficult to send volunteers through not for profit organization in situations like this, as people involved are not usually skilled.

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