Friday, 4 March 2011

A training guide to blog writing in emergency responses


A blog is a simple, short and immediate way to write about what you have seen and heard when you are involved in an emergency response.  It should be personal without being emotional and objective without being cold or distant.  A well written blog can carry a human interest story to show how the emergency affects people in every aspect of their lives.  It is also a very effective way of drawing attention to what is important and what needs to be done.  Blogs are a great advocacy tool.  Here is one from a simulation of a complex emergency involving refugees.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again

The title should be eye catching and intriguing so people want to know what the blog is about.  I usually use something from a quote in the blog.

“I was at the front of the crowd, my husband and children were at the back.  We were running from the fighting that had come into our village.  When I looked round they were gone.  That was a month ago, I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.”  Bang On a refugee from Camada told me when I met her this morning in the World Vision clinic in Chakuchat village, Saimarea. 

I like to start with a quote, this sets the tone of the story and introduces the human interest right at the beginning.  We see the story through the eyes of the people who are living it.

Bang On was weary from too little food and exhausted from running for her life.  Somewhere along the way she received a heavy blow to her forehead.  It was being treated at the clinic.  Its too soon to get details about how the injuries came about, Dr Sukira who runs the clinic has treated 100 people with serious injuries in the past 3 days.  They all say they fell over or ran into a tree. 

I follow the quote with a description of the immediate context, its like drawing back from the close up to see what is happening.

Over in the child friendly space World Vision has set up nearby the children are faring better.  Pla, who runs the daily haven of painting, exercise and games tells me that the aggressive behaviour he saw when the children first arrived has largely disappeared.  Children as young as six told me about huge explosions and frightening things they had seen.  One boy said that everything was floating when the floods came, dead animals, crocodiles, people’s belongings.  A small girl said she was afraid to ever go home because she didn’t want to see the same things again.  “In time we hope they will put all their bad memories behind them,” said Pla. 

Next I introduce another aspect of the story to show it is broader and that the first example is not a one off.  If I can I have a child focus by this stage because that is where World Vision’s mission lies.

World Vision Ambassador and mega movie star Anastasia Holy was visiting the child friendly space at the same time I was there.  She told me how concerned she is with the plight of these children and said she hopes other people will be a generous as she has been. 

Early on in emergencies we are always concerned about getting supporters involved with the emergency response.  We need some way to talk about how important supporters are to what we are able to do.

Money to expand the humanitarian food distribution, run the refugee camp  and restock the clinic is a pressing need as refugees continue to cross into the relative safety of Siamarea.  At the same time World Vision and other agencies are helping the local Siamarian population who are also struggling to meet their own food needs after 3 years of crippling drought. 

I always try to avoid asking directly for money, its more polite and effective to provide the reasons why money is needed and to explain how it will be used.

Beyond the daily needs of food and medicines, shelter and clean water there is the urgent desire of people to be reconnected with the family members they left behind and the ones who got separated in the confusion of escape.  World Vision is compiling a register of names and pictures of refugees so that family members can be traced and reunited. 

There are so many needs early on in an emergency response its sometimes difficult to know what to do first and what can afford to wait.  Part of the role of early assessment is to identify the priorities for advocacy (like the need to connect refugees back with their families in this example).  Once we know these we must make sure they are highlighted in our early communications.  Blogs, videos, photographs and media statements and stories are all ways to advocate for our priorities.

 Bang On and thousands like her rely on the hope that they will see their families again to get them through the next hungry day, the next fearful week.  I tell her that World Vision supporters around the globe will be listening to her story and hearing about the clinic, distribution centre, refugee camp and the child friendly space and helping with their money and prayers to try to make her hope come true. 

The final paragraph must draw the story together, sum up the situation and say what needs to happen.  Ideally it should end on a hopeful note.

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