Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Charity Wednesday - Thoughts on Giving to Japan

Where should you send your donations to help Japan?  My radical idea:  nowhere.  At least, not yet.  And I urge caution in giving to organizations that are fundraising on behalf of relief efforts.

The situation in Japan is unfortunately still unfolding.  The New York Times reports that the Japanese Army is handling the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami well and in an efficient manner. Japan is only accepting very specific offers of aid, such and search and rescue dogs.  While there is great need, the Japanese are capably addressing their country's tragedy themselves. 

So, please, be wary of appeals from organizations that are asking for your donations to relief efforts right now.  The truth is, outside of the Japanese Red Cross - not the American Red Cross, mind you - there are very few aid groups currently working on relief efforts. 

As a highly developed, industrialized country, Japan - unlike Haiti - is not a recipient of ongoing relief work.  Most international aid groups do not have the type of networks to efficiently funnel aid in Japan that they do in developing countries.  If you read the fine print in appeals from these organizations, you will see that they do not really know what they will do with your donations to aid the Japanese.  Here's an example from BBB Accredited Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is working with Caritas International and others to find pathways to bring aid to the many thousands stricken by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northern Japan.
"The people of Japan who have suffered this tragedy are our brothers and sisters," Sean Callahan, vice president of overseas operations said. "Though it is too early to know the exact details of how we will help, we know that it is our mission to aid them in this time of need. As our mission is to serve the world's most poor and vulnerable people, CRS does not normally have a program in Japan. But, just as we did after the Kobe Earthquake in 1995, we will find appropriate partners for the expression of generosity by Catholics in the United States and others of goodwill."
"CRS has determined there was minimal damage from the tsunami in countries where we have programs - such as the Philippines and Indonesia," said Callahan. "Our focus now is on the people of Japan."
Caritas Japan has indicated that for now it will not be involved in immediate relief work, a huge operation run by the Japanese Army, but will focus on long-term recovery. In a statement, Caritas Japan noted that the damage is not only physical but also psychological. "We will accompany people who lost their beloved, who lost everything and may stay at temporary shelter, and who have no one to rely on," the statement said.
The president of Caritas Japan, Bishop Isao Kikuchi SVD says, "We have received so many emails from all continents, filled with words of compassion and prayer. We are very grateful for this solidarity. We believe that aid activity is needed, but prayer is also important in such a situation."
Similarly, BBB Accredited Oxfam America lists the following statement on its website: 

All over the world, Oxfam is responding to disasters, rushing clean water and other resources to survivors. But we are carrying out no such effort in Japan. Why?

Unlike many countries around the world, Japan has had both the means and the will to invest seriously in disaster preparedness and response. The government can deliver large amounts of aid as quickly as the conditions on the ground permit, calling for specific outside resources (such as more search-and-rescue teams) as needed. So far, Oxfam’s particular expertise in emergencies – including delivering water and sanitation facilities - has not been required.

But in every humanitarian emergency, there are those who struggle to get access to the help they need. Oxfam Japan is channeling funds to local organizations that aim to fill some of the gaps in aid - providing a hotline for non-Japanese speakers like migrant workers, for example, and assisting nursing mothers. Oxfam America is accepting funds to support their efforts.

My family is using the tragedy in Japan, and the spurt of generosity it inspires, to donate to the unrestricted funds of an international relief charity so that they may use our donation wherever and however they see fit.  What happened - what is still happening - in Japan is horrible. But people all over the world are in dire need every day.  If our donation is not needed to help the Japanese, we can honor them by supporting relief work elsewhere.

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