Walking the Amber Fort in India.....with a side-kick!
He was only four feet tall. Ok, maybe three and a half. Dressed in a dirt-stained blue shirt and blue shorts, he was ambitious. His eyes had spotted us across the courtyard of the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India and he ran over.
With his head tilted to the left, arm extended, he asked: “A dollar? Please, a dollar?”
We (my travel buddy and I) ignored him.
Does that sound harsh? Yes, Robyn, of course it does. Here was a little boy who will never have as much as you do begging for something as little as $1.
You’re right about the boy, but he was also part of a system that creates gangs out of families and businesses out of infants in India.
Indians we met regularly informed us that we shouldn’t give any money to the kids on the street or the sad-looking women pressing their faces against our car. They warned us it just kept kids out of school and reinforced begging as a way of living.
Persistence pays off: our little follower found money in his insistence.
It’s not easy, though, when you see babies carrying babies and they’re all dressed in rags, which brings us to this week’s Rock Fever Column – donating.
A better way to support a community to which you may or may not travel? Kiva.
Key…what? Tip one on donating: Kiva (www.kiva.org) a San Francisco-based organization that connects online donors with small business owners (by small I mean a peanut-butter maker with a one-room hut in Uganda) in five continents i.e. direct, micro-financing. Kiva works with local partners who approve loan applications, take photos of the applicant and the request is then posted online. These requests are not large (some need only $275 to expand their businesses), but would mean a world to supporting their families and communities. For example a carpenter in Uganda needs $1,100 to expand his business. He also supports about 20 family members after the parents died of AIDS. A direct loan to him means he may even be able to employ those family members and sustain a business that will continue to support the family. Better than my $1, no?
Sure, Robyn, but what about getting the money back? It’s only a loan. Well Kiva boasts a 98.63% repayment rate.
Helping long-term goals directly via Kiva, however, doesn’t make it any easier to know what to do when faced with an immediate and intense crisis.
Example? The tragedy of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The images of lives washing away and earth shaking the country’s core are heart-wrenching and strike at the cords of humanity much like the dirty children caught in the poverty of India.
Your first instinct (I hope)? How do I help? But again the business (because that is what is has to be) of tragedy is not an easy one for the casual giver.
So tip two is visit the charity watchdog, American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org). They monitor American Charities via the amount of money that they put into their programs and how little money they spend to fundraise. They have also listed 15 American charities that are considered the best practicing in Japan and the pacific region. These include (as a little sneak peek) the American Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and Save the Children.
But, as the watchdog says, tip three is: don’t rush into your donations. Unlike some places that have experienced serious devastation (the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 comes to mind), Japan is an industrialized country that has emergency plans in place. Their government and military will take care of many of the immediate problems.
Pictures of the Tsunami and Earthquake that struck Japan on March 11.
And so will tip four which is: the United States Government and the United Nations’ will be providing added support as well. Each of these organizations have money and supplies I, at least, do not have on-hand.
So make sure your donation goes to the most effective organization, which is tip five and what the International Rescue Committee (IRC) (www.rescue.org) recommends. The IRC will be partnering with local, Japanese organizations to give financial support, because as the organization states: “Our emergency team members are on standby to respond and fill in gaps as needed,” says Gillian Dunn, the IRC’s director of emergency response programs. “In the meantime, we are starting direct assistance to Japanese aid groups with better access to communities in need and survivors who have been evacuated.”
Which brings us to tip six and immediate giving versus long-term. In Japan people’s lives have been destroyed. Look at Haiti? We are more than one year on and there is still a lot to be done. These countries will need giving and support for years to come in rebuilding their lives.
So tip seven is to organize your charitable giving BEFORE you give emergency or not. Are you concerned with human rights? Do you want to give towards charities that provide disaster relief? Or perhaps your concern is with organizations that provide long-term support in a community (i.e. teaching, building homes, etc..) Allocate and then make sure you research the best charities in the area of concern. It will help when an emergency does arrive, as well. You will know which organization you feel best donating too.
But are monetary donations the best way? Well that’s a tricky one and our tip eight. A cheque is generally a better way to donate to an area of devastation. Why? Well as Bermuda’s own Red Cross (who is donating to their compatriot organization Japan’s Red Cross) explains on their website: cash donations allow the charities to buy locally or at least regionally, which helps support the disaster-struck area, but also means supplies arrive faster. Not to mention it will be cheaper to ship supplies from South Korea to Japan (for example) than Bermuda to Japan and they can purchase exactly what they need.
Hats and scarves for the coast of Sri Lanka?
Plus it saves mess-ups such as winter scarves, hats and gloves being shipped to Sri Lanka (as in the tsunami 2004). Not really helpful in a tropical climate.
Of course if you’re going to donate money, the best bet is to tip nine: donate directly to a charity. Sure you could get text messages from phone companies to donate to an event/disaster/charity, and I’m sure they mean well, but they are also putting a barrier between your money and your charity. Go to your charity’s website and donate directly.
And tip ten is for those who want to give-up their jobs, homes, lives to go to these disaster areas to help, I understand. It’s painful to watch people thousands of miles away suffering. Unfortunately, the best person to attend to a natural disaster is that person with special training i.e. a medic, engineer, etc… A writer? Not so helpful. Sure I can raise awareness, but there is little I can do to build your house again. That said, following the initial emergency there will be a need for rebuilding and if you coordinate with expert organizations on the ground with how you might help, you may soon find yourself flying into Haiti, Japan, Sri Lanka.
The key is coordination! Coordination for money and coordination of your physical presence. Chaos is never good and it will not be better in a country devastated by tragedy nor will it help if you’re supporting a system that sends small children to follow foreigners.
Unfortunately, I caved. Our three foot guide through the Amber Fort earned his keep after he followed us for 5km into the hills behind the fort. At least he earned it.
And next week? Well you earned it: how to dress when traveling!