Living on Tanna Island, Vanuatu during the response to Cyclone Pam, I observed a lot of excellent disaster work done by skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated people. However, not everything that was done was helpful. There were instances when, in the mad scramble for a slice of the response pie, some organizations ignored local knowledge, the work of others and even the National Disaster Management Office. Subsequently, some who sought to ‘help these people,’ inadvertently discouraged replanting, self-reliance and future preparedness as well as using resources inefficiently.
As images of Fiji emerge and are beamed around the world, people will rightly want to help and wonder with whom their money will be best spent. Here is my 10cents-worth on the subject…
I should stress that I am only an observer not an expert, and that these thoughts are based on rural Vanuatu, not Fiji.
1) Give to organisations that are already working in Fiji – check if they have an established office and have a record of successful projects there. These organizations already know the situation, can assess change brought about by the disaster and are in the best position to respond. Other organizations may also have expertise to offer, but it will be best used supporting those who are already on the ground.
2) Give to organisations that are already employing local staff. The make-or-break point here seemed to be whether an organization had local staff and whether the globe-trotting experts listened to them. These people had the necessary language skills and could assess and interpret information given to organizations. Again, check out what an organization has done in Fiji in the past – who were the staff?
3) Give to organisations that have expatriate staff who are already working in the country. Expat workers have a role too, however people who already have experience working in Fiji will have the ‘heads-up’ over those who don’t.
4) Give to organisations that are working closely with the government. This shouldn’t need to be said, but, well … it does. This would be very difficult to gauge from the outside, but again, check the form guide. What were their past projects? How did they fit into the Fijian government’s policies?
5) This last comment is for Christian givers.
If your aim is to get practical support to people efficiently, it doesn’t matter if the organization is Christian or not. Christian organizations did not perform better than non-Christian (or no longer very Christian) ones here on Tanna – and were not stronger on the above four points. Preaching the gospel while giving aid was not successful and was perhaps confusing at times.
If however you want to spend your money rebuilding a specific Christian work, then give your money to that work. Church buildings, Bible colleges, Christian schools, etc. might be off the radar of mainstream relief work.