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By Hannah Lobb (Intern at Timebanks USA)

Times of crisis tend to bring communities together and force neighbors to work towards a common goal. This is seen time and again in the recovery efforts following natural disasters, as there is no doubt that many hands make a seemingly impossible task much less daunting.

In these times of complete devastation, when the world seems uncertain and hundreds of lives have been flipped upside down, communities with established TimeBanks seem to flourish.

It is because of these disasters that time bankers can really demonstrate the skills that they have learnt from being part of the TimeBank as a whole.

Independent exchanges may result in the learning of a specific skill such as fund raising or knitting, but the giver and receiver in the exchange, also unknowingly learn a host of other important tools at the same time.

These tools include problem solving, creativity and flexibility, and come about as a result of people looking out for their neighbors, being imaginative, and doing whatever it takes to help someone in need.

The earthquake near Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, brought out the best in the nearby Lyttleton TimeBank Community. It showed how the web of social connections in Lyttleton, and skills learnt through the TimeBank, were incredibly helpful in dealing with the earthquake.

Time bankers were able to identify the people in their community in need of help and had an established communication system to make sure that these people would get what they need.

Time bankers improvised in the situation they were given and provided help in ways that outside organizations could not. They provided aid to whomever they could, regardless of membership in the TimeBank, including housing one elderly couple that had no family in the area for six weeks.

This success in Lyttelton and display of community trust, suggests that TimeBanking communities should be established elsewhere, and particularly in areas prone to natural disasters.

We cannot predict when a disaster will strike, but we can build communities in advance that are ready to deal with crises and recover from them.

TimeBanking promotes the idea of a community committed to helping one another. The day-to-day function of a TimeBank sees neighbors identifying their own skills and then passing them on to another community member who is in need of them.

Learning these skills certainly improves the life of an individual receiver, but experience shows us that it is not these skills that prove most important in times of crisis.

TimeBanking inadvertently teaches members a number of skills through transactions, which makes for a competent community when it comes to natural disasters.

TimeBanking tends to attract members from socially excluded groups, such as the elderly, and others who are looking for company and social interaction. This means that the membership of a TimeBanks is generally diverse across the community.

When a disaster strikes, one immediate problem is how to best contact the people in the community. One can then see how a TimeBank membership database would be useful in this circumstance, as the members already have an established means of communicating with each other.

In addition to creating a strong social network, TimeBanking is also a grass-roots organization that only works through the cooperation of its members. There is no hierarchy in a TimeBank, so members are forced to learn to take on leadership roles and adapt their own skills to help wherever needed.

This sense of community responsibility and creativity is especially important during a natural disaster. Of course these events cannot be planned for, so having the ability to adapt certain processes and skills in order to fit the situation is incredibly important.

TimeBankers have shown us that they possess these skills. Working together and partnering with outside organizations is also important in a recovery effort, and TimeBanks are set up perfectly for this, having an adaptable and imaginative group of people willing to fit in and help where they can.

One of the issues the Lyttleton TimeBank coordinator struggled with in the aftermath of the earthquake was being recognized in the eyes of the outside recovery organizations.

Once the TimeBank had proved its value to organizations such as the Fire Department, ambulance service and the city council, timebank members were able to start using their resources and mobilizing the relief effort.

It would therefore be useful for TimeBanks to set up partnerships and plans with outside organizations in advance of a disaster occurring. If a TimeBank has access to the resources of their partner organizations before a disaster hits, then the issues in Lyttleton can be avoided and TimeBank members can jump right into doing what they do best, helping those around them.

TimeBanks have the invaluable resource of knowing the ins and outs of their own community. The members know each other, which residents will need help, and how they can help in their own ways.

Outside relief organizations that come into a community immediately following a disaster, could never know these things. Ideally TimeBanks should establish plans and partnerships with organizations that have their own resources and methods, in order to act most efficiently in their given community.

NOLA Timebank in New Orleans has recently taken on this task and joined forces with an organization called Evacuteer, which is committed to making sure everyone gets evacuated when a disaster strikes and no one gets left behind.

If your timebank is doing something similar, we would love to hear from you and find out all about it!