Aid is Power. Who Do You Want to Empower?
Posted on: Tuesday, February 2, 2010
In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe like the earthquake in Haiti, you’re focused on one question: How can I help? It’s the right question, but the answer isn’t always what it seems. Many people assume that donating to a large relief agency is the surest way to help meet the overwhelming need. People trust a name-brand; and in fact, these organizations do have a critical role to play, especially where government doesn’t or can’t assume full responsibility for disaster relief.
The problem is that most big relief operations are designed to swoop into a crisis, deliver services and leave. And when they do leave, people are no more knowledgeable, self-reliant or resilient than they were before. Your first priority in a crisis is to help save lives. In Haiti, and other places where people face frequent disasters, it’s critical to help save lives in a way that builds community capacity to respond to the next disaster and ultimately, move toward real development.
Here’s how you can help.
Support organizations that reinforce—rather than replicate—the activities of existing community groups. Too often, big international agencies temporarily set up shop and inadvertently undermine local organizations by attracting their best staff, driving up rents and ultimately weakening the very organizations that communities need for long-term recovery.
Support organizations that understand the role that women play in disasters. Women are commonly portrayed as passive victims. In reality, they are critical first-responders. Relief efforts should also recognize that women are the primary care-givers of those who are most at-risk in a disaster and supply women with resources to meet the needs of children, the sick, the disabled and others in their care.
Support organizations that involve people who are impacted by the crisis in relief efforts. The “victims” may not have the resources to address the disaster, but they know first-hand what they need to recover and rebuild. Relief operations designed to include local people to play leadership roles, set priorities and make decisions are the ones that leave skills and resources in the hands of community members.
Support organizations that talk about root causes of vulnerability in a crisis. Haiti’s earthquake is a natural disaster, but there’s nothing natural about families living in shacks without disaster plans or government services. Understanding what makes people vulnerable is the first step in building resiliency.
Support organizations with a history of work in the country. Having local roots, speaking the language and being culturally sensitive go a long way towards getting things done in a crisis.
Support organizations that will stay in the country after the news teams and big agencies leave. Long-term projects keep people thinking about the future, helping to ensure that aid is delivered in a way that builds lasting solutions.
Support organizations that are funded largely by people like you. Government-supported agencies are often beholden to government policy, not accountable to their members or, more importantly, to the communities where they work. Haiti needs relief efforts that are going to strengthen Haiti itself, not efforts that pride themselves on funneling most of their money back to US corporations.
Support small organizations. It may seem that a large-scale crisis requires a large-scale response. But many big aid operations are bureaucratic, slow and inefficient. Often, the best response to tremendous, urgent need is to replicate successful small-scale models of aid delivery rather than try to get a giant operation moving quickly.
Support organizations with a human rights perspective. These groups recognize that the provision of water, housing, sanitation and healthcare after disaster is the fulfillment of every person's basic rights. Organizations that view Haitians as rights-holders, not victims, will be more effective at supporting Haitians as they strive to rebuild a society based on human rights for all.
Support organizations that you want to see strengthened. When you donate, you’re boosting the capacity of the organization you’ve given to, even if that’s not your motivation for giving. Remember, aid is power. So the next time you give, ask yourself: who do you want to empower?
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Policy and Communications Director. A version of this op-ed was distributed by the National Women's Editorial Forum.
Archives"Press Room" Home May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kaitlyn Soligan, Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE Makes News
Stoking Fire: Addressing the Specific Needs of Female Syrian Refugees (RH Reality Check, May 17, 2013)
An Open Letter to the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala (Common Dreams, May 15, 2013)
Mothers Fight Back (RH Reality Check, May 9, 2013)
How Not to End the War in Syria (Common Dreams, May 9, 2013)
Conditions in Jordan Syrian refugee camp are worse for women (Women's News Network, April 19, 2013)