Frequently asked questions about Desert Aid

Below are the most frequently asked questions about volunteering with Desert Aid. Please check to see if your question has been answered before contacting the volunteer coordinator.

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Volunteering

Can I/my group come to your desert camp for the day to volunteer and/or visit?

Many people, both visitors and locals, ask to come to visit Byrd Camp or our other field sites at which we provide humanitarian aid. Because those we are providing humanitarian aid to can be in extremely vulnerable circumstances, we are not able to host day guests who are unaffiliated with No More Deaths at our field sites.

If you are interested in seeing more of our work in the interest of sharing it with your own communities or media outlets, please contact our media coordinator, who may be able to organize a site visit to some of the other places where we work in southern Arizona. Please give at least three weeks notice.

(See also Can we come as a group to volunteer together?)

How can I volunteer with No More Deaths?

Please see the main volunteer page. If you do not live in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Ajo, or Arivaca and you wish to volunteer for less than a month, please consider our summer and spring volunteer programs; for a month or more, please consider our month-long program. If you do live “in town,” please see the local volunteering page for ways of getting involved in Desert Aid and other No More Deaths projects at a local level.

We have extremely limited capacity for those who wish to volunteer outside of our established programs. Requests are considered individually.

What sort of training is provided to new volunteers?

All new volunteers must attend a Desert Aid training before working in the field. This training covers border history and the history of No More Deaths. It also explains our protocols, group agreements, legal and safety issues, and issues of power and privilege. The trainings are generally hosted in Tucson and last a full day.

Volunteers also get an orientation to camp and to the local community context of Arivaca upon arrival. However, most pertinent training is ongoing throughout your volunteer experience, for different skills such as GPS navigation and vehicle checks.

What does a typical day look like in the desert?

Every day is different, depending on what is needed in the field and what volunteers are up for.

The goals of the Desert Aid volunteer program are to staff our base camp in Arivaca, Arizona, which includes a first-aid station, and to maintain water and supply drops on known migrant trails via driving and hiking.

To achieve these goals, Desert Aid volunteers drive to remote areas of the desert on unpaved, rough roads, sometimes spending several hours in the car. Volunteers then hike to water-drop points up to two miles away over steep or rocky terrain, with no shade, carrying water, canned food, blankets, and other items. Over the course of a day, volunteers may hike five to 15 miles total. Depending on ability, volunteers may carry multiple gallon jugs of water (weighing eight pounds each) on each hike — but many people start easy and build up strength over time.

On hikes or at the field clinic at our base camp, volunteers with medical training may provide first aid to people in distress.

Other tasks at base camp include cooking large meals, cleaning and maintaining the grounds, and various small projects.

Each day, you, the volunteers, can expect to either go out on patrol (meaning driving and hiking migrant trails to leave water and provide a humanitarian presence) or “hold it down” at the base camp, doing the tasks mentioned above.

Other possible activities include search-and-rescue or search-and-recovery missions, which may involve hiking over rough terrain.

There may also be a chance to take an additional trip to Ajo, Arizona, where we also have a base of operations. Month-long Desert Aid volunteers can also take time off to be in Tucson to rest and catch up on laundry.

Who will I be volunteering with?

Volunteers in the program will be accompanied by long-term volunteers (“facilitators”), who are familiar with protocols, can lead driving patrols, and often speak Spanish and have medical training. Most facilitators are based in Tucson or Arivaca, and are volunteers (not paid) balancing their No More Deaths time with school, work, family, and other commitments. Facilitators typically come to camp for anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more, depending on their availability. You will work with a rotating cast during your volunteer time.

Our facilitator capacity generally determines how many volunteers we accept and our overall level of activity. When capacity is reduced, we might do fewer patrols or even temporarily close camp. We ask for your flexibility during your volunteer experience as facilitator capacity fluctuates.

The camp also hosts Tucson-, Phoenix-, Flagstaff-, Arivaca-, and Ajo-based “in-town” volunteers, who may come out for shorter stints on a year-round basis depending on their availability.

Occasionally, we host media visits, delegations, allies, and other visitors. Volunteers will be informed of any visits during their stay.

Eligibility

Am I eligible to volunteer?

We invite people of conscience everywhere to join in this effort. Participation requires no special skills or background, although Spanish and medical skills are helpful. We require only a commitment to putting one’s beliefs into practice. If you are willing to tolerate a degree of emotional intensity, stress, and physical discomfort for the sake of something you believe in, and you are physically able to hike mountain trails, carry weight, and tolerate bumpy car rides (under hot sun, most times of the year), we urge you to join us.

Please contact the volunteer coordinator if you have physical limitations and would like to volunteer, as we are often able to make special arrangements. See also Can my preexisting health conditions and/or severe allergies be accommodated?

What if I’m not a US citizen?

No More Deaths welcomes non–US citizens to participate in our volunteer programs, but there are some important things to know.

During your time with us, you will be traveling through internal immigration checkpoints where you will be questioned about your citizenship and immigration status by Border Patrol agents. If you are not a US citizen, you should be prepared to present documentation proving you have legal permission to be in the US. If you do not have your documentation, you can be detained, questioned, and possibly arrested by BP agents. You may also have these interactions with BP agents on the trails, on the roads, and at camp, so you should carry your documentation at all times.

Documents needed for non–US citizens
International students Valid visa and passport
Visitors to US Valid visa and passport (if from visa-waiver country, just passport)
Permanent residents   Permanent Resident card and state ID
People with DACA    Employment Approval Document and state or consular ID

You must carry your original documents and keep copies in a safe place (you may want to keep copies in your email account).

For people with discretionary statuses like visas and Permanent Residency, our legal team advises us that there may be consequences to maintaining your status if you encounter legal complications during your involvement with No More Deaths. We do host volunteers with these statuses and have not had legal complications for our volunteers recently, but we encourage you to consider this possibility before coming. Please contact us regarding any questions about documents and legality.

Note: Due to changes in immigration policy under the Trump administration, NMD has changed its policy concerning those with DACA status. Our legal team currently does not advise DACA recipients to come volunteer with NMD, due to the harassment and detention that those with DACA status may face when going through internal immigration checkpoints. Under the current president, new guidelines have been issued for DACA beneficiaries. If a DACA beneficiary is encountered at a checkpoint or in any other context, Border Patrol will do a complete background check to see if that person has ever been arrested. After checking to see if their record is clean (traffic tickets and that level of violations are excluded), they will be released. However, they may be held for some time (up to several hours) at the checkpoint while undergoing a background check. Serious charges or convictions on a DACA beneficiary’s record may result in their work permit being revoked and the initiation of immigration court proceedings.

The above is the current NMD policy concerning those with DACA status, but it may be altered again depending on how DACA might be changed under the Trump administration. If you are a DACA recipient who is interested in volunteering with NMD, be sure to check back on this website or contact the Volunteer Coordinator to see if there have been any changes in this policy.

Can we come as a group to volunteer together?

We have recognized that volunteering as part of a church group, school group, or group of friends often makes it easier for volunteers to prepare for their trip and provides a natural and preexisting support network for challenging work and a good starting place for organizing for migrant justice when volunteers return to their home communities.

However, we do not have the capacity to accommodate groups or even pairs of volunteers all year round, not even groups of two. If you would like to volunteer for No More Deaths as a group, please consider applying for the spring volunteer program or the summer volunteer program.

During the rest of the year (April–May and August–February), we typically cannot accommodate groups due to our capacity limitations. Groups of fewer than four may apply for the month-long program, but please keep in mind that due to the limited number of spaces, we may accept some members of the group and not others.

Can I get college credit and/or community-service hours through volunteering with No More Deaths?

No More Deaths does not have a program that offers college credit, but volunteers are welcome to keep track of their community-service hours and have the volunteer coordinator sign off on them, for school purposes or any other purposes.

How important is speaking Spanish and having medical training?

We appreciate a range of skills and backgrounds in volunteers. Spanish fluency and medical training are high-demand skills, but we also appreciate volunteers who can work on cars, create a loving presence for individuals in distress, help with construction projects, organize our sanitation practices, cook for large groups of people in an outdoor kitchen setting, and just generally be willing to wash dishes and help keep things running.

All volunteers will step up during the at-camp training to take on roles that help our work function smoothly. There will always be long-term volunteers present who speak Spanish and have first-aid training. There is a medical team to support the provision of first aid.

Safety

Will I be safe volunteering for No More Deaths?

Volunteering with No More Deaths is not risk-free. There are physical and emotional risks. The places around the world where humanitarian aid work is done are typically unsafe or at least uncomfortable places. The Arizona–Sonora border region is no exception as it is an increasingly militarized zone. The dangers that this region poses to humanitarian-aid workers are relatively minor in comparison to other global trouble spots. They are also less grave than the dangers that people in migration face. Still, they are very real. (See also Is No More Deaths’s work legal and Have volunteers experienced race-based harassment?)

As far as emotional risks go, our work can be very stressful. We meet people who have suffered and are suffering greatly and who are often caught in limbo in a situation with grave consequences for their lives and the lives of their families. The potential for vicarious trauma is high. We ask that you carefully consider your mental and physical capacity to work in such an environment before you apply to join us.

As far as physical risks go, the desert poses many dangers to health, including animals, insects, cactus spines, dehydration and heat exhaustion. Many of these dangers can be avoided by following the advice of those facilitating your volunteer experience. We take certain precautions to mitigate risk while in the field. While on patrols, we take cell phones, satellite phones, GPS, maps and other tools to prevent us from getting lost and enable us to seek help quickly in an emergency. Each patrol brings a first-aid kit and truck supplies in case of a breakdown, and typically each patrol includes a volunteer trained in first aid and able to speak Spanish.

Have volunteers experienced race-based harassment?

Unfortunately, yes. Racism and its effects exist everywhere in this country, and they are amplified on the border. One of the effects of intense border militarization that we encounter on a daily basis is racial profiling. NMD volunteers who are Latinx, or perceived to be, have encountered targeted harassment and profiling from law-enforcement agents and others in the field. We regularly encounter Border Patrol agents at checkpoints and on patrol, sometimes in cars and sometimes on foot in remote places.

We recognize that although we work to support our volunteers and minimize risks wherever and however possible, we are working in the context of systemic and violent racism. You should consider the personal risks you may face. Ask the volunteer coordinator if you have questions or concerns.

Within the organization, we set out group agreements to respect all volunteers and work with each other in the spirit of service and direct communication. We do not tolerate harassment within our work, and we are committed to immediate conflict resolution when issues arise.

Volunteer fees

Why does No More Deaths request fees from its volunteers?

Providing year-round humanitarian aid is a costly project, and it takes considerable financial resources to support the volunteer programs. No More Deaths is a grassroots-funded organization, with a majority of donations coming from individual people of conscience.

Fees from the summer, spring, and month-long volunteer programs represent a significant percentage of the budget. The recommended fee amounts are determined based on our expenses.

Volunteering with No More Deaths represents a significant commitment to our cause, and we request the fees as a part of that commitment. Volunteers draw on their community’s fundraising capacity and/or their private financial resources to muster the fees.

What if I can’t afford the requested volunteer fees?

We strongly encourage using grassroots and community fundraising to raise your volunteer fee, even if you can afford to pay them out of pocket. By inviting your community to support your participation in the program, you raise awareness of border issues and build a stronger support network for yourself and for No More Deaths. Some of the creative ways that volunteers have raised funds to cover their volunteer fees include dinner parties, crowdfunders, letter-writing campaigns, presentations to school/church communities, and requesting funds from their university. We are happy to share presentation and outreach resources to support these efforts.

When the volunteer fee is prohibitive and fundraising is not possible, we work with applicants on fee reductions. No one is turned away for lack of funds.

Logistics

Do I need my own vehicle to participate?

No. We have vehicles to transport volunteers to the desert from Tucson, and to go out on patrol and do water drops. However, we cannot provide transportation around Tucson for volunteers. This means that we generally do not provide airport and/or bus station pickups, or transportation when volunteers are in Tucson on breaks. The volunteer coordinator can provide information on public-transportation options, and sometimes, a bike is available.

Whenever possible, we ask groups of five or more volunteers who participate in our spring and summer volunteer programs to provide their own transportation to the field. Normally, this means renting or borrowing a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle, such as a pickup truck or SUV.

Will I be expected to drive?

Volunteers who are comfortable with it may be asked to drive No More Deaths vehicles or personal vehicles from Tucson to Arivaca on the highway. Volunteers who stay for several weeks may be trained to drive our trucks on back roads, depending on our needs and the skills of volunteers. A valid driver’s license and training by a facilitator are required.

Is there somewhere I can store my car (or other stuff) while I’m in the desert?

Generally, yes, just let the volunteer coordinator know and they’ll arrange it.

Will I be in the field for the entire time I’m in the program?

It depends on the length of your volunteer stay. Volunteers working with us for a week can expect to be in the field all week after the training. Volunteers who work with us for a month or more can expect to take regular breaks in Tucson to rest and recuperate. No More Deaths provides housing for these volunteers in Tucson; however, you may need to cover your own food costs.

Is housing provided?

We provide short-term housing for out-of-town volunteers immediately before and immediately after their volunteer commitment, as well as on breaks from the field. We do not provide long-term housing or housing beyond the volunteer period.

What do I need to bring?

See our packing list!

Please let us know if you aren’t able to bring any of the items listed and we will try to accommodate you. In the desert, volunteers sleep outdoors in a camping environment.

What’s the weather like?

The weather varies with the season. Please look up the weather and climate in Arivaca, Arizona, where our base camp is, to see what it will be like while you are here.

The Sonoran Desert is very sunny most of the year. April through August tends to be very hot. Heavy monsoon rains begin in mid-July and last through early fall; during monsoon, there can be rapid temperature drops and electrical storms. During the late fall and winter, it may be below freezing at night. Please pack accordingly.

Can I use my cell phone at the base camp?

Though reception varies by provider, volunteers should not expect to have cell-phone coverage at our base camp in Arivaca. Major cell companies have signal in the town of Arivaca, which volunteers pass through every day or two. There is a landline at camp, which is primarily used to coordinate camp functions but can be used by volunteers for short calls. While out on patrol, cell service is intermittent, but can often be found at high points. We carry satellite phones when we will be in very remote areas.

Can dietary restrictions be accommodated?

Most of the food we eat at camp is vegetarian. We accommodate volunteers who are vegan or gluten-free or who have common food allergies or follow halal or kosher diets. For other dietary restrictions, volunteers may need to bring their own food. Please let us know about your diet on your volunteer application and inform those at camp about it upon arrival.

Can my preexisting health conditions and/or severe allergies be accommodated?

Yes, but we need your help. Please disclose on your volunteer application any preexisting health condition or severe allergy that may affect your time in the desert.
Because we are often in remote areas, it is important that we be prepared to respond to any health emergency, including but not limited to those that require medical evacuation. This is why full disclosure is essential.

If your health condition prevents you from hiking while bearing weight, you will still be able to come to camp and volunteer, you just won’t participate in patrols.

Is there electricity at camp?

Besides the landline, camp is “off the grid.” There are solar panels that power some lights and a fridge. On cloudy or stormy days, camp may not have electricity.

Taking it home

How can I document my time with No More Deaths?

We encourage volunteers to document their experiences through photos and journaling. However, it is critically important that patient privacy be maintained. We are providing care to undocumented individuals in dire and often life-threatening situations. Volunteers are not permitted to take photographs of migrants receiving aid, and may not disclose their names or other individually identifying information. We also discourage you from telling their stories for them, even if you do so without identifying them.
Share your own experiences, not those of others. See also What are the best ways to support No More Deaths’s work before or after volunteering with Desert Aid?

What are the best ways to support No More Deaths’s work before or after volunteering with Desert Aid?

We encourage volunteers coming from outside Arizona to “bring home” their experiences on the border. While it may be more visible in the areas where NMD works, the border is everywhere and affects people living in all parts of the United States.

Bringing home your experiences could mean connecting with migrant-justice issues and organizing in your community; presenting on the effects of border militarization at your school or church or in a community group; connecting with programs that visit immigrants in detention in your state; writing an article for a local paper about your experiences; organizing a sock/backpack/shoe drive for our base camp; hosting a benefit party; or sharing your stories on social media.

For any media work (including social media), No More Deaths expects volunteers to speak from their own experiences and represent their individual backgrounds and motivations. Volunteers should not speak on behalf of No More Deaths to the press. This role is limited to designated NMD media liaisons. (See also How can I document my time with No More Deaths?)

Be sure to tell us how you “took it home” so we can share it with the broader NMD community!

For more information

If your question wasn’t answered by any of the above, please contact our volunteer coordinator.

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