First on the Ground: Collaborating to Serve in Disaster Areas

When Craig Williams, the disaster response coordinator for Water Mission, gets ready to travel to the heart of a devastating crisis, he considers not only what might be necessary to bring safe water to people affected by disasters but also how to best collaborate with other organizations engaged in this work.

Craig says he “makes new best friends” before he gets off the plane, as the other passengers often represent humanitarian organizations. He knows how crucial it is to make these connections — everyone is a possible strategic partner, especially in a crisis situation.

Craig secures storage for our equipment in Puerto Rico

He had this principle in mind when he was in the Philippines in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2014, in Nepal just days after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2015, and in Malawi and Mozambique after Cyclone Idai hit this past March. In each instance, Craig’s role was to implement the first phase of our response: assessing the state of the land, the needs of the people, the resources at hand, and the possibilities for cooperation.

“I have to figure out how to get our people and equipment in the zone and where they will go,” Craig explained. “It’s a bit like juggling the puzzle pieces while trying to put them in place… In a disaster environment, things are changing all the time.”

Craig with children in a refugee camp in Bangladesh

Craig is often among the first relief workers to enter a disaster zone. And although he’s been doing this work for more than seven years, he’s heartbroken every time he witnesses the fresh destruction and pain. In Craig’s view, entering a crisis with humility, empathy, and grief allows Water Mission to work effectively with local communities. Here again is the collaborative, interdependent spirit of our work.

“I believe there’s a missed opportunity if [we] aren’t connecting on an emotional level to the people around us,” Craig said. “Our biggest strength is partnering with local residents and church groups. We’re there to help lift them. By partnering with them, we’re empowering them to help themselves and help implement their own response. If we are desensitized to what they are going through, we are not going to build those partnerships. If you don’t feel that level of heartache, I don’t believe you should be there.”

This is evidence of Water Mission’s core values: love, excellence, and integrity. These essential practices of placing ourselves in the shoes of those we serve, giving them our best, and doing it all at a higher standard and for a higher calling both ground and uplift our work. They empower us in the face of catastrophe. And they make our efforts impactful for the long-term.

Learn more about some of the disasters to which Water Mission has responded.

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