Last May, Dave Hutton took a leave from his position as the Director of HEMBC’s Provincial Disaster Psychosocial Team to go to Ukraine where he worked for six months as a mental health and psychosocial support specialist for an international non-government organization. During that time, Dave set up a team of mental health professionals and extended support to Ukrainians who have been impacted by the war, many having lost their homes and now living in shelters.
“While there are crises happening all over the world, this was one of those generational conflicts that really captured our attention. It was difficult for me to sit back and watch what was going on. I felt compelled to help and do whatever I could to make a difference. PHSA was very kind to grant me a leave of absence so that I could volunteer my time in Ukraine.”
Dave has a longstanding background in disaster psychology and has spent the last 20 years in various positions supporting communities and people affected by natural disasters and wars. This has included 10 years with the United Nations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as a range of humanitarian NGO missions in places like Banda Aceh, Chad, East Timor, Ingushetia, Jordan and Pakistan.
Despite all of this experience working alongside communities impacted by disasters, he was particularly struck by the strength, resiliency and spirit of the Ukrainian people. “The day the war started, people showed up to support one another. Whether that be businesses which overnight closed their doors only to open as community organizations to provide safe spaces for people—or just everyday citizens collecting food, clothing, and medication, doing whatever they can to help. Regardless of how you feel about the conflict, it truly is an all-society effort and the volunteerism and spirit of the Ukrainian people is inspiring. But strength and resilience doesn’t mean people aren’t suffering or grieving and struggling with unmet needs every day, especially now as they live without power and electricity because of the Russian missile strikes.”
Before leaving Ukraine, Dave began supporting Ukrainian volunteers and small organizations supporting displaced women, children and families who cannot access funds from large international organizations. Dave found that even small amounts of money in the right hands made real differences at the grassroots level—not only buying essentials of everyday living but reminding people that they are not forgotten by the world. He reminds us that even though things here feel normal, the situation in Ukraine continues to worsen as winter and power outages add to the war’s destruction. “There are many everyday heroes in Ukraine, but they need and deserve our support,” Dave adds. Canadians can support Ukrainians in Canada and abroad by donating to and supporting trusted organizations and initiatives.
Today, Dave is in the process of establishing a non-profit organization and continues to support Ukraine by personally raising funds for volunteers and small organizations that play a critical role in addressing the unmet needs of their fellow Ukrainians. Every cent of every dollar goes to Ukraine. Among other items, this funding buys food supplements for hospital patients and displaced families, toys and psychosocial activities for children directly affected by the war, basic medicines like cold and flu tablets, winter shoes for elderly pensioners living in shelters, and non-food items for families in recently liberated towns and villages.
Disasters can happen anywhere, anytime—including in our own province. If you are interested in providing psychosocial support in the form of psychological first aid to persons and communities impacted by emergencies and disasters, consider applying as a volunteer with HEMBC’s Disaster Psychosocial Services team. Volunteers must have a level of education, training and experience equivalent to a Bachelor's degree in a related field, plus a minimum of five years of recent and related experience working with clients in the field of social work, mental health, counselling, crisis response or similar profession.