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Don’t just give; give well

January 15, 2010

If you’re new, read Part 1 first.

After sending the email below, I stumbled across a very similar post over at Good Intentions are Not Enough, so you can check that out too.

this isn’t the promised follow-up email–that’s still a few days away. rather, this is an addendum to yesterday: less-helpful disaster responses.  i was pretty committed to only offering positive advice, but i’ve gotten enough emails from folks asking about the issues below that a p.s. seemed worthwhile.

i know many of you are engaged in discussions with your community about coordinated responses; wanted you to have these points at your fingertips as you influence that process.

1. sending food or clothes is less helpful than sending money.

here’s the rule of thumb for ALL phases of disaster recovery: if the item in question is something that CAN be purchased nearby (in this case, in Haiti or the DR), then the cost of shipping it and the logistics of getting it distributed equitably and efficiently aren’t worth it (plus, buying local will help small businesses get back on their feet).  the only things that should be shipped are things that CANNOT be accessed from the disaster location (generators, surgical equipment, heavy machinery to remove rubble, etc.)

RIGHT NOW: large organizations and governments–who have the capacity to deliver literally TONS of food, water, tents, etc.–are the best route for those items.

however, if you feel really committed to food: focus on pop-tops and ready-to-eat foods.  if folks don’t have access to food, chances are they don’t have access to a can-opener or cooking fuel.

if you are absolutely committed to clothes: do a little research on haiti’s climate and think about what folks will actually need (underwear, t-shirts, and socks–not bathing suits and fancy dresses)

2. respond to specific needs from folks on the ground.

folks here might be willing to donate all kinds of stuff, but if it isn’t needed by someone managing operations there and integrated into their response plan, then it just muddles what is, essentially, a incredibly complex logistical effort.

3. if you don’t have concrete skills to offer, please do not try to go to haiti right now.

later on, in phase two, relatively unskilled people who are willing to follow directions and work hard will be really helpful.  right now, doctors (especially orthopedic surgeons–if you know any willing to go, please put them in touch with me!), nurses, folks who are fluent in creole, and logistics specialists (yes, that’s a real job category) are what is needed.  the rest of us should stay out of the way.  folks with expertise in disease outbreaks should be on stand-by–you’re up next.

4. finally, it’s ok to ask folks to be thoughtful about their response.

it’s ok to say, “i know donating X would be easy to get folks excited about and we already have a catchy slogan to match, but intentionally raising money now for X organization that will be involved in the long-term rebuilding effort is probably a more sustainable response and will complement some of the more crisis-oriented relief that many folks are engaged in.”

don’t just give, give well, and push other folks to do the same.

Jonas

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