US expat volunteers provide worldwide warden services to Americans in trouble

Published:  16 Feb at 6 PM
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In these days of international travel all over the world, there’s a considerable risk of being unable to cope alone should disaster strike.

The freedom to travel is one of the most noticeable developments of the past 50 years or so, spurred by cheap flights and an increasing curiosity about unfamiliar lands. Travellers on business or pleasure whose parents had considered a trip to the nearest big city an adventure now jet away to places said parents might never have heard of. Most love their journeys, a few just keep travelling, but more than a few are caught by medical emergencies, local violence or natural disasters such as typhoons, earthquakes and suchlike.

In emergencies, travellers and expats unable to speak the local language and unfamiliar with local services are truly alone, with most having no idea where to go for help. However, US citizens have one distinct advantage, as the US State Department’s consular services programme offers a system involving knowledgeable resident expats acting as wardens to help those in dire straits. It’s a voluntary role, involving participants who can speak the local language and work with local medical, legal and police departments in order to help fellow Americans.

Working in diverse locations such as Columbia and Cambodia, the volunteers do thier best to deal with everything from translations, stolen cash and passports, assault cases, incarceration due to misunderstanding or breaking foreign laws, sudden illness or accidents and political unrest. The programme’s been running since the 1930’s, and was started in order to disseminate critical information to expat residents in the run-up to WWII. At that time it was little more than an essential ‘phone tree’ with many branches, but today’s tech innovations allow volunteers to focus on Americans in trouble across the world, whatever the cause.

Many volunteers are in full-time employment, but are also fluent in the local language and understand local culture and habits. Some are retired and others have local businesses. Whatever their lifestyles, they all share a charitable wish to help those in trouble. They’re found in every world country which hosts a US State Department presence, and are especially important in areas where there’s no consular office. To access the service, US tourists and expats first need to contact the local US Embassy which will then notify a warden that assistance is needed. The warden census map includes Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Honduras, Lebanon, Chad, Colombia, Togo and many other countries across the world including Benin and Sudan.
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