Shelters International Disaster Response: Interview with Laura Allan

Rebuilding communities affected by disaster, Shelters International Disaster Response (SIDRS) is a registered Canadian charity, and soon will have its 501(c)3.

An adventurer and humanitarian, Laura Allan has been in disaster relief for 16 years, and administered SIDRS for 9 years.

Shelters International Disaster Response – we are “a grass-roots volunteer based agency that provides permanent sustainable relief after disaster has struck – from recovery to reconstruction – empowering the local community through training.”

For more information and/or how you can help:  www.sidrs.org

NP:  How did Shelters International Disaster Response begin?  How did you become involved?

 Allan: SIDR or Shelters International Disaster Response began in Morocco in the High Atlas, a mountain range in central Morocco, North Africa. When I saw people walking 20 miles for a simple pail of water, I returned the next year and found water and installed a gravity feed system. They now only walk a mile. That showed me simple solutions were easy to implement and they changed lives.

We respond to a variety of disasters – hurricane or typhoon related disasters in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Haiti are but a few examples of our efforts in providing a meaningful humanitarian response. Our volunteers come from all over the world including Canada and the US.

NP:   As a volunteer organization what is the motivating factors for people to volunteer their time and effort? Do volunteers pay for all their own costs including travel to disaster area, meals and housing?

Allan:  A core motivating factor indeed is humanitarian. We strive to make an immediate difference in a person’s life that also involves the opportunity to explore a different culture.

As I’m massively underfunded all volunteers kick in funds for food. I’m the president and I pay my way on all levels. Yes, of course there’s housing if it’s Haiti. Elsewhere – it’s sometimes a tent, after a disaster. One shouldn’t take the remaining homes when others obviously need shelter. Call it a solidarity thing. Plus, the locals really appreciate you are on the same level of living.

NP:  How is SIDR different from other similar organizations that provide aid and relief? Does SIDR work with other organizations to compliment the need relief work?

Allan: We are completely volunteers and there is zero salary except for nationals affected. Bigger agencies have high paid expats and stay in high-end hotels plus office and administration in home country. That eats up a huge amount of money. We empower locals by training them and they are the ones who carry it forward. On rare occasion I can’t be in two countries at once. I work with small groups who roll the same way. Volunteer driven. Zero bureaucracy and just getting it done. No weeks of meetings. Just assess the need and dive in.

NP: What are your thoughts about the future of volunteer aid and relief organizations?

Allan: Grassroots movements are the ones making long-term changes. They stay longer and integrate into the communities. They are far more in touch in what’s needed and what’s effective by far. Bigger relief organizations tend to stay in air-conditioned offices and do rare appearances in the field. They hold months of meetings with each other while people suffer. People need to research where the money goes and not be led by television or media campaigns. Look up who is working on the ground and read about their work. Smaller is better – it’s driven by love and not by a paycheque.