I believe every charitable giving situation, and especially with this natural disaster, is a personal decision. Therefore, I’m not going to tell you how to best contribute for Philippine Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan relief efforts.
Many of my friends, who trust my opinion and knowledge of the Philippines, have contacted me asking how they can help. The fact that you stopped to ask me, “How can I help…” someone on the other side of the world with whom you have little to no tangible connection (other than we share this planet) is amazing. You trust my judgment and I’m humbled to have earned it.
But this is not a decision I feel good making for you.
I will, however, happily give you some context on a few ways to help the Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan effort. It’s not the complete story, and it’s often contradictory, but it’s the story I know.
International Relief Agencies
They are often the first organizations most will think of when giving to natural disaster relief. The critiques I hear of these agencies is that they have no long-term stake in the communities they purport to help. Sure they have a lock on logistics and have developed relationships with nations that experience natural disasters, but do they just drop off the relief goods and head home to a hero’s welcome? Some are better than others, surely, but I don’t know. There are no absolutes.
How do these large, multinational agencies use the money donated? What percentage is used towards direct support of the people, versus overhead? (And I’m asking this question as a former nonprofit communications professional — my salary depended solely on that overhead!) Salary or not, we all agree the wealth should be leveraged in direct proportion to the degree that it can help the devastated population.
So, let’s give money? The USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information says, “Monetary contributions to established relief agencies are always the most productive public response to disasters.” Tom Murphy of Humanosphere encourages unrestricted financial donation (non-specific) to aid organizations as the best philanthropic method to help victims of natural disasters.
And yet, some individuals who want to help are reluctant to give money. Why?
Consider Philippine history.
The Philippines is a former colony of Western powers, Spain and the United States. As a friend pointed out recently, outside aid can be framed in neo-imperialist and white savior narratives that work toward self-serving ends despite the sheep’s clothes of altruistic, ultimate goals. Friend and writer Kay Ulanday Barrett elaborates on Facebook:
Consider governmental and nongovernmental corruption.
In the case of the Philippines — as many nations — corruption is eating away at the very shreds of trust that the people have in their elected officials. Philippine politics this year especially has stooped to a new horrible low. The Cliff Notes version is that allegedly several Philippine senators worked with a middleman to set up a number of fake nongovermental organizations (NGO or nonprofit organization in US parlance). Allegedly these NGOs were given preferential Presidential treatment and awarded billions of Pesos. Several whistleblowers have come forward to publicly accuse the lynchpin of the organization, Janet Napoles, and she is now standing congressional trial. So if you wonder why I always emphasize DUE DILIGENCE, please reference this paragraph.
In response, President Aquino set up a new website a week after the storm, FAiTH or the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, to trace financial donations. You, as a donor, should have full knowledge and documentation of where your money or donated goods were spent or sent and how it was/they were used to help the people you intended, in the manner you intended. After all, if we expect transparency from our governments, is it a reasonable expectation of the same from any charitable organization or individuals to which/whom we donate?
Faith Based Organizations
Also known as religious organizations, they are also often the people some look to when hope seems bleak. Unlike International Aid Agencies, many churches have parishes and local faith communities established within affected areas. But if you yourself do not follow a religious faith or maybe disagree with some socially conservative stances a church has made (for example, the Roman Catholic church in the Philippines were a vocal opponent in the last election against passage of the Reproductive Health Bill which ensures reproductive health care access and education)… well, this route may (not) work for you. Or you may not care what their political positions are, so long as they can reasonably assure aid gets to where it’s needed.
They’re based in communities already which provide charitable assistance throughout the year in other issues (non-disaster relief) such as anti-poverty, education, anti-hunger, shelter and other humanitarian programs. Unless you’ve been to a country or do research for these orgs, you may not know names such as Gawad Kalinga or TIGRA (Transnational for Grassroots Research & Action) as they don’t have an international focus. What they do have are locally established presence, a specific focus area with a stake in communities’ long term success. They may have political or social agendas or religious affiliations. They may have appropriate websites and tax paperwork filed to accommodate easily donors abroad. They may/not provide documentation.
Some people may wish to seek out organizations that serve historically marginalized populations, for example, indigenous people, the poor, women and children, the LGBTQ community.
Through the wonders of the Internet, private individuals can also directly set up Pay Pal accounts and fundraising microsites (like through GoFundMe). I know of a few friends whose families are each giving aid packages through their Philippines-based family members living near or in affected areas. And still others are setting up accounts to donate directly to affected families. Giving in this way largely relies on trust in individuals and families than in systems, institutions, documentation and accountability. Which might appeal to some. Again, DUE DILIGENCE.
They are often a great way to get involved. Nothing shows solidarity like coming to an event. Find local events by asking the local Philippine consulate, Filipino-owned businesses, Filipino interest organizations and faith communities. Search Events on Facebook. Here are a few examples:
Balikbayan Boxes sending drives.
If you have more spare material resources to give than money, this may be an option. Filipinos in the diaspora send balikbayan boxes back to their home countries, as do other immigrant groups, to support their families throughout the year and/or to give presents on special occasions.
Meanwhile, some do not agree with shipping donated goods from long distances because of the greater carbon footprint created which may contribute to climate change and thereby the possibility of stronger typhoons in vulnerable countries. The typhoon and its aftermath coincided with the United Nations’ climate change summit, where the Philippine delegate, Yeb Sano, made a plea to his cohorts to end the stalemate.
Regardless of your faith (or absence of), this tragedy has emotionally affected the millions of Filipinos throughout the globe. Standing with us in our hours of great despair can immensely help healing.
Made your decision yet on where to donate? Here’s a few more tips.
How to perform due diligence in charitable giving
- Ask questions. Are they still accepting cash and goods donations? How will the money be used? Which goods donations are most needed (and which goods are you not accepting at this time)? How will the relief goods be shipped? Who will handle relief good distributions on the ground?
- Request documentation. This establishes legitimacy and a paper trail. Can I get a receipt? Where’s your current 501-c-3 filed (documents to establish nonprofit status)? Are these and your audit papers on your website? How do you communicate with donors? If you’re giving to an individual or a family, they probably won’t have these, but you might still want to ask for pictures, a blog site address, and updates in the future.
- Do research. What’s the organization’s Guidestar and/or Charity Navigator rating? What other relief efforts have they been a part of in the past year, either in the Philippines or in other countries? Have any friends had experience with the charity?
- Ask for follow-ups in communicating where the money was used and how the organization’s overall effort in relief has gone.
To conclude, better understanding the potential consequences, risk and local/international contexts can only better match your values and intentions of your donation with the people and organizations benefiting from your generosity.
Maraming, maraming salamat po. Thank you very, very much.
One. Lists of organizations participating in relief efforts are on Philippines-based social news network Rappler, and two more lists compiled by Charity Navigator and Guidestar. Though it has been two weeks since the storm hit, still much of the rebuilding is ahead, with some estimates saying that Leyte will not have full electrical access for about three months.
“That said, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud remind the public that there is a potential for disaster fraud in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Suspected fraudulent activity pertaining to relief efforts associated with Typhoon Haiyan should be reported to the 24-hour toll-free NCDF hotline at 866-720-5721,” reports the Angry Asian Man blog on November 15.
Three. While many Filipinos on social media praised the CNN journalist, not everyone did. Here’s one critique by Geraldine Uy Wong in her Open Letter to Anderson Cooper. One excerpt:
These are only a few of the major points – not to justify, but rather to rationalize and logically explain why things happened as they did. To put things into their proper perspective. If America, which was hit by Hurricane Katrina, a far tamer weather disturbance in comparison to Supertyphoon Yolanda, struggled as well for several days and weeks to cope with the disaster, with then Pres. Bush earning the ire of your countrymen, how in the world could we expect that the Philippines, a much poorer country with very meager resources compared to the massive resources of a superpower country like yours, be able to miraculously stand up on its feet just a few days after this magnitude of a disaster?
Four. Of course, much ire of the Filipino community fall squarely on the shoulders of Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who, it is alleged, withheld aid from Leyte, the provincial stronghold of the Romualdez family (that’s the maiden name of Imelda Marcos, the deposed wife of leader Ferdinand who was responsible for the assassination of President Benigno Aquino’s father, the late Senator Benigno Senior). Filmmaker Peque Gallaga speaks out against the Aquino administration.
Five. Satirist Stephen Colbert challenged Colbert Nation to raise more than $100,000 towards Typhoon Haiyan relief, which is more than the financial contribution given by China. Did they do it? Yeah, in less than a day. Do yourself a favor and watch the video.
Six. Other resources:
- Quarterbacking the Philippines Relief Effort (Opinion, Wall Street Journal)
- Haiyan Relief: UN Instructs U.S. Marines to Keep Relief Goods Away from Philippine Officials (International Business Times, Australia)
- Saved by the Mangroves? A Philippine town dodges Haiyan’s storm surge (Public Radio International).
Postscript, Quid Pro Quo. Here’s how I have felt best for myself to contribute. I’m open to your questions posed via the comments below or contact me privately.
My friend Carly Oishi asked me a few months ago to read at her and collaborator Melinda’s monthly live literature event series on dating, sex and relationships called Solo in the Second City. Usually they ask folks to donate a little something towards Chicago Women’s Health Shelter, but knowing my ties to the Filipino community, Carly and Melinda offered that we pass the hat toward disaster relief in the Philippines. The kind souls at Beauty Bar that night donated $81, which I donated to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).
Meanwhile, earlier in the week, I’d been fielding calls from producers at WBEZ, for whom I used to freelance and still contribute content to sister station, Vocalo. They wanted to find locally based Filipinos and Fil-Ams to tell their and their families’ stories and comment about the typhoon relief. I connected them with my own contacts — leaders of various Filipino community organizations, each of whom were doing something to assist relief.
At the same time, a local group of Filipino Americans were mobilizing a donation drop-off at the Rizal Center on Irving Park Road. They set up a Facebook group called Help For Haiyan – Chicago. They told potential donors, volunteers and the media that the donated goods were secured passage on a cargo plane that was leaving for the Philippines in 48 hours. Donations were being accepted at the Rizal Center on Irving Park Road, an organization which already had nonprofit 501c3 status.
I asked my best friend, who is in management at the outdoors retailer Cabela’s, if they could manage a donation or discount on goods. They’d already used up their charity allocation for the year, but 31 sleeping bags were on clearance and they offered an additional discount. We snapped those up with the financial donation of another friend. Since I was sick and yet wanting the sleeping bags to make the cargo plane, I coordinated through the Facebook group with two Pinays (that’s slang for Filipina if you were wondering) who volunteered to pick up the bags from Cabela’s and drop them off at another Pinay’s home in Schaumburg, who was going to drive them and other donated goods to the Rizal Center in the city.
Generosity from the community was amazing — pictures and videos shared on the Facebook group, stories from friends who donated and volunteered. It was heartwarming to see so many sharing with our kababayans in need and embodying the bayanihan spirit (neighbors helping neighbors, people helping people).
Then I noticed the deadlines for the last drop-off kept changing to a day later, then two days later. I wondered what happened to the plane. Were the organizers able to change the flight plan in response to people’s overwhelming generosity? I didn’t know. But it was cool to see the outpouring of kindness continue from Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. Later, it was clear to me that there was no plane coming, or that the plane that was referenced was not coming for some reason. I wanted to know what happened.
This weekend a few of the organizers from Help from Haiyan – Chicago shared their story with me. They are a small group of concerned and well-meaning Filipinos — individuals, not an organization. Some were friends, some knew each other prior, some did not. Initially, Apple Umali heard from another friend that a cargo plane, from a private contractor would be willing to take a few boxes (300) of donated goods along with their trip already scheduled to deliver heavy construction vehicles to the Philippines. That number of donated goods soon swelled to 4000, valued at an estimated $3 million. Unfortunately that cargo plane never came. Organizers decided to send several of the shipping containers full of donated goods by ground and sea transport. Others remain in storage at a warehouse near O’hare Airport as the organizers still work towards securing passage to the Philippines via cargo plane for the goods with the State of Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn’s office and other legislators, and the US Department of Defense. Finally, some goods were donated to the relief efforts in Washington, Illinois, and other downstate towns that were devastated by tornadoes on November 17.