Volunteer Essentials is an introductory course designed to give volunteers access to the basics of humanitarian good practice, through a comprehensive introduction to the humanitarian sector and practical guidance around ‘need to know’ skills and activities.  It can be accessed as standalone sections, or as a complete learning journey that will give participants a clear overview of volunteering in the humanitarian sector. It will take between 2-3 hours to complete the full course.

The course is structured into five modules.

1.    Humanitarian 101: the basics
This essential introductory guide to humanitarian action gives learners an overview of the sector through four units: 1. purpose, principles, and history of humanitarian action; 2. the humanitarian system; 3. what a volunteer might do; 4. case studies.


Each unit draws on practitioners and experts to explain things in their own words. At the end of this module participants should have a basic grasp of what the sector is and how it works, and where to find more resources to extend their learning.

2.    Security and well-being
Staying safe and healthy is the number one imperative for any humanitarian worker. You can’t help others if you are run down or at risk yourself. This short module gives an overview of some of the key topics to think about, and sign-posts other resources for learners to explore in-depth.


3.    How to guides

This innovative library of short films is designed to give participants an introduction to some key aspects of humanitarian programming. These short, concise videos bring learning to life through real life examples of volunteers in action carrying out these activities. Drawing on volunteers own experience, they offer practical guidance to how to do the basics in:

  • Carrying out a distribution
  • Community engagement
  • Needs Assessment
  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
  • Shelter and non-food items (NFIs).


4. Programme Management, Delivery and Leadership

This module is aimed at volunteers who are managing and leading other volunteers and humanitarian programmes, but have had minimal or no training in this. This includes an introduction to key elements of programme management, financial management and people management. Participants will also be introduced to the principle of ‘Do No Harm’ and standards for humanitarian programming. This is a supplementary module and participants are not required to complete it to obtain the Volunteer Essentials final certificate.


5. DRRM for volunteers

This module gives an introduction to disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM), giving volunteers an overview of the human cost of disasters and disaster trends, the main types of hazards and risk, and the relationship between livelihoods, vulnerability and exposure. It outlines the basic elements of the disaster cycle and the role of volunteers during different phases of the cycle. Participants will also be introduced to different concepts of resilience, in particular community resilience.