Frequently Asked Questions about Desert Aid

Below are our most frequently asked questions. Please check to see if your question has been answered before contacting the volunteer coordinator.

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Volunteering

Can I come visit camp?

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 about our work in the interest of sharing it with your own communities or media outlets, please contact our media coordinator  (please give at least 3 weeks notice), who may be able to organize a site visit to some of the other places where we work in Southern Arizona.

How can I volunteer with No More Deaths?
Please see main volunteer page. If you live out of town (not in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Ajo or Arivaca) and wish to volunteer for less than a month, please consider our Summer and Spring Break programs, or, for a month or more, please consider our month-long Desert Aid program, which takes place the rest of the year. If you live in town (Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Ajo or Arivaca), please click here for ways of getting involved in Desert Aid and in other No More Deaths program.

We have extremely limited capacity for those who wish to volunteer outside of the above programs, and those are only considered on a case-by-case basis. Please consider this when making a request for volunteering outside of the established programs.

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 are a full day.

Volunteers also get an in-camp orientation and Arivaca local community context orientations 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 is 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 distances of less than two miles over steep or rocky terrain with no shade to water drop points, carrying water, canned food, blankets, and other items. Over the course of a day, volunteers may hike 5 to 15 miles total over several water drops. Depending on ability, volunteers may carry 8lb water gallons on each hike– but many people start easy and build up strength over time.

On hikes or at the base camp field clinic, volunteers with medical training may provide first aid to people in distress. At base camp, tasks include cooking large meals, cleaning and maintaining camp, various small projects, and for those with medical training and language skills, care for patients.

Other activities may include participating in a search and rescue or search and recovery mission, which includes hiking over rough terrain. 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, where you cook, clean, and provide medical care to any patients that need care, in addition to any other tasks that may come up.

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 and 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 drive patrols, and often speak Spanish and have medical training. Most facilitators are based in Tucson or Arivaca, and are unpaid volunteers balancing their time with No More Deaths alongside school, work, family, and other commitments. Facilitators typically come to camp for anywhere from 2-3 days to a week or more depending on their availability, and you will work with a rotating cast during your volunteer time.

Our facilitator capacity generally determines how many volunteers we accept, and at times when capacity is reduced, may mean leading fewer patrols and/or temporarily closing camp, so we ask for your flexibility during your volunteer experience as facilitator capacity fluctuates.

We also host 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 to camp. 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 physically able to hike mountain trails, carry weight, and tolerate bumpy car rides (under the hot sun during most times of year), we urge you to join us.

Please contact the Volunteer Coordinator (volunteer@nomoredeaths.org) if you have physical limitations and would like to volunteer, as we are often able to make special arrangements. See also: Can my pre-existing 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 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 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 CBP agents. You may also have these interactions with CBP 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 DACA, 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 this happen to date, but we encourage you to consider this possibility before coming. Please contact us regarding any questions about documents and legality.

Note: The above is the current NMD policy concerning those with DACA status, but it may be altered depending on how DACA might be changed under the Trump administration. Be sure to check this website before you volunteer to see if there have been any changes in this policy.

Can I bring a group to volunteer together?

We have recognized that volunteering with a group of friends or colleagues can enable volunteers to prepare collectively for their trip, provides a natural and pre-existing support network for challenging works, and often creates a good starting place for taking next steps in organizing for migrant justice when volunteers return to their home communities.

However, we do not always have the capacity to accommodate groups or even pairs of volunteers year-round. If you would like to volunteer for No More Deaths as a part of church, school, or friend group, please consider coming during the Spring Volunteer Program  or the Summer Volunteer Program, during which we can encourage groups of no more than 4 to apply.

During the rest of the year (April-May and August-February), we typically cannot accommodate groups due to our capacity restrictions. Groups of fewer than four may apply, but please keep in mind that groups will be considered alongside other applicants for a limited number of spaces and we may not be able to accept all in the group.

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 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 the most common 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 lend a hand at keeping 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 who speak Spanish and have first aid training present, and 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 in terms of 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 questions: Is No More Deaths’s work legal and Have volunteers experienced race-based harassment in the past?)

In terms of emotional risks, our work can be very stressful. We meet people who have suffered and are suffering greatly, and are often caught in limbo during 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 this environment before you apply to join us.

In terms of physical risks, the desert poses many risks including animals, insects, cactus spines, dehydration and heat exhaustion, many of which can be mediated 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 to seek help quickly in the case of 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 in the past?

Unfortunately, yes. Racism and its effects exist everywhere in this country, and 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 Latina/Latino/Latinx, or perceived to be, have encountered targeted harassment and profiling from CBP 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 who have harassed volunteers.

We recognize that as much as we work to support our volunteers and minimize risks wherever and however possible, we are working in the context of systemic and violent racism, especially particular to this region, and you should consider potential risks you may face. Ask the volunteer coordinator if you have further 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 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 the volunteer programs require considerable amounts of financial and human resources to support. No More Deaths is an almost entirely grassroots-funded organization, with the majority of individual donors being those who have had a direct experience in the desert.

Fees from those in the volunteer programs in particular (whether the summer, spring break or month-long programs) represent a significant percentage of the budget. Volunteering with No More Deaths represents a significant commitment to our cause, and we request the fees, and the financial resources or community fundraising capacity that it represents, as a part of that commitment.

The recommended fee amounts specifically pertain to our desert aid fundraising needs. The retainer is the portion asked to be submitted along with the application in order to hold your place in the applicant pool.

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

We strongly encourage using grassroots and community fundraising to raise your volunteer fee. By inviting your community to support your participation in the program, volunteers raise awareness of border issues and create a stronger support network for themselves 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, university grants for students, and other ideas. 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 will be 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 5 or more volunteers who participate in our Spring or Summer Volunteer Programs to provide their own transportation to the field. Normally, this means renting or borrowing a 4WD, 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 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. This is done on a case by case basis, and a valid driver’s license and training by a facilitator is 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, immediately after, and on breaks from the field during their volunteer commitment. 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 these items and we will try to accommodate it! In the desert, volunteers will sleep outdoors in a camping environment. All volunteers should come with their own bedding (i.e., sleeping bag and ground pad) and tent.

What’s the weather like?

The weather depends on 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, May, June, July and August tend to be very hot. Heavy monsoon rains begin in mid-July and last through early fall; during monsoon, there can be rapid temperature changes 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?

While 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, 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, gluten free, and/or 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 on your volunteer application and inform those at camp about your needs upon arrival.

Can my pre-existing health conditions and/or severe allergies be accommodated?

Yes, but we need your help in full disclosure and full preparation for how to respond to any potential issues in a remote area in case of emergency. Please disclose any severe allergy or pre-existing health condition that may affect your time in the desert in your volunteer application. Because we are often in remote areas, it is important that we know in advance how to accommodate any issues that may require evacuation to a medical facility.

If your health condition would affect your ability to hike while bearing weight, you will still be able to go out to camp and volunteer, you just won’t participate in going out on 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, journalling, etc. However, it is critically important that patient privacy is maintained, so that we can provide good 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 names or other individually identifying information. Report back about your own experiences, not those of others or about NMD as an organization. See: What are the best ways to support NMD 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 share and “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 US.

Bringing home your experiences could mean connecting with migrant justice issues and organizing in your community; presenting on the effects of border militarization to your school, church, or community group; connecting with visitation programs for immigrants in detention in your state; writing an article for a local paper or online about your experiences; organizing a sock/backpack/sneakers drive for our base camp; hosting a benefit party; sharing your stories on social media; or whatever form you imagine.

For any media (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.

Be sure to share about how you “took it home” with us 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.