Community Outreach: Outside on the Streets, in Villages and Plantations

Outreach Worker

"To start where the need is - outside on the streets, villages, plantations, towns and in the grassroots."

Basic Outreach Kit Zashnain
Kit: the basics, what I carry when I'm conducting outreach activities. They are (clockwise): allocated money in the wallet, multi-tool pocket knife, extra mobile battery, watch, BlackBerry Bold 9790, Blackberry Passport and my Malaysian Passport.

1. Outreach is an activity conducted by outreach workers, emergency aid workers, relief workers, peer interventionists and trained volunteers, out on the streets, in isolated villages, farms and plantations, face-to-face, with individuals-at-risk from conflicts, social marginalization, poverty and those surviving the impact of natural disasters.

2. Activities provide information, education, risk reduction, referrals, counselling and treatment to the population-at-risks. Framework of the outreach activities varies, as environmental circumstances are different such as with people needing immediate aid during floods compared to a homeless man urgently requiring wound-dressing in a city. Whatever the activity, it all boils down to providing aid in a timely, effective manner.

3. Due to limited resources, I usually conduct outreach alone whether in a slum or when reaching out to marginalized young people living in a palm-oil plantation. However at times when there is a new colleague who requires extensive training or when the situation is dire and in need of more than one person, 2-6 people would band together to form a team. 

4. The team coordinator needs to be aware of the situation (for example, its a conflict-torn area, or facing landslides, heavy rain) and the target group. The coordinator is required to provide a briefing (and debriefing) on the accurate needs of supplies and situation analysis that they are facing.

5. The concept of outreach exhibits a group of concerned individuals' willingness to go to the community rather than wait for the community to come to the group or seek support from drop-in centres, evacuation spots or even clinics.

Effective Outreach 

6. Is done by a trained volunteer or paid professional emergency worker - either one must work in the best interest of the target community, in an approach that is non-judgemental and consultative.  

7. It would be effective if the outreach worker, at least one if its in a team, who self-identifies with members of the target population, or familiar with the territory, before entering the community to provide services.

8. Outreach workers provide essential services, which may differ from one village to another, and disseminate aid, information to reduce risks or improve quality of life.

9. Outreach efforts develop a much-needed link between the team and the affected community.

10. The activities also foster collaboration and networking through services for the community. Most importantly outreach can stimulate behavioural change and the implementation of aid intervention.

Outreach during the flood of 2011 in Thailand. We were on a boat, providing supplies and counselling to people trapped in their homes by floods.

Target Population 

11. An effective outreach program must recognise the extreme diversity of communities affected by natural disasters, conflicts or marginalization. There are factors to consider in the differences in economic and political circumstances of these groups.

Outreach Based On Lessons Learned

12. Outreach in pairs offer stability to the program, for example at least two workers conduct activities in a village. Though the number of outreach workers would depend on the situation at hand.

13. Ideally a community outreach pair should consist of a male and a female. Do consider relevance of effective outreach, reflective of the gender, ethnic, age and linguistic make up of the target community. 

In November 2011, my colleagues and I travelled with supplies of drinking water and medicine through badly flooded canals in Bangkok.

Outreach Team

14. Strategy is to be visible, provide support services based on the actual needs of the community, as well as to provide some basic organization during a crisis.

15. During a team outreach activity, in cases of floods or drought, a coordinator could set up a table, or just chairs, at a dry corner of a targeted venue, for example in a dewan (public hall), evacuation centre or at a warung (small restaurant, eatery). If possible, place a small inexpensive poster/banner displaying the name of organisation (or program), and emergency telephone number (hotline). This helps for the purpose of identification and accountability.

16. The team should also gather information and photos to be shared with each other, with relevant authorities to ensure follow-up of intervention, such as a damaged bridge or an update of a flooded kampung (village).

17. The use of relevant tech for communication is important. What's useful is a mobile phone with minimal battery-draining apps, and provides compression when sending/receiving emails/messages. Based on my experience, any BlackBerry device that uses OS7 (using the BIS, which many will say is outdated) works well for me even to this day, and thus my preference to this device brand.

18. Building rapport with the affected community is a critical prerequisite when it comes to conducting outreach. It helps in enhancing communication, building trusts, and even the overall safety of the outreach workers. However building rapport is a time-consuming task and must be noted that it's an on-going, organic process.

19. Team must be professional in their work. I've seen too often the amateurs who create confusion amongst the community and their teams, simply because of bitter personality clash with villagers and their colleagues. When building trust and delivering services, the outreach worker must be sensible and respectful.

20. Its crucial for outreach team to advocate for its target community when they are called to speak to the authorities. In many situation, the authorities are clueless or ill-equipped, and tend to prescribe solutions that are not based on the needs and concerns of the community. 

21. Listening is essential, in order to learn, understand and represent the issues of the community. I think its important that outreach workers are proficient in counselling, as in many situation in southeast Asia, the mental health aspect of marginalized communities are neglected.

Moving On...

The information provided is simply to get a better perspective of what outreach is all about, at least to understand the basics. The activities depends on what services are needed and where, however the operational cost is usually kept minimal, depending on location and emergency level. I'll do my best to update this blog post with more relevant information. As it is, this is just a summary about outreach, and an opportunity for me to sink into my memories, remember those days and prepare for tomorrow.

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