Tears filled my eyes Wednesday morning, March 9, reading accounts of now 2 million refugees fleeing Ukraine. My heart aches from the images and stories. War is not an unfamiliar experience for me. Like many children in the last nineteen years who waved goodbye to mothers and dads heading to Iraq or Afghanistan, I did the same as my dad left for a tour in Viet Nam.
As a twelve-year-old, I experienced the sadness and loss of a dad in my life for an entire year. And it was not until March 2003, when, like most Americans, I watched the invasion of Iraq from my living room television, that I felt the fear and panic of war. By day two, I called my dad to hear his voice.
Today I’m searching for a way to help. That’s all, just help. But, giving during a humanitarian crisis is difficult as the needs change quickly depending on the type of disaster and the location.
Should we give now or wait? How can we wait when news reports grow more desperate every day? How will I know if a gift now will get to where help is most needed? Who can I trust? The questions are endless, information overwhelming.
I began working on this blog on Friday, March 4, when the idea of 1 million refugees, even then described as the swiftest exodus of refugees this century, was overwhelming. Now it’s 2 million refugees, described as the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II, and countless victims stranded and trapped, unable to escape Ukraine.
Last week, General Robert Mardini, Director of the International Federation of Red Cross, reported, “The escalating conflict in Ukraine is taking a devastating toll. Casualty figures keep rising, health facilities struggle to cope. We already see long-term disruptions in regular water and electricity supplies. People calling our hotline in Ukraine are desperately in need of food and shelter. To respond to this massive emergency, our teams must be able to operate safely to access those in need.”
Today, phone lines are down, and the Capital city of Kyiv and other cities are being evacuated, even amid the threat of the ceasefire falling apart at any moment. The needs are unimaginable.
How can we give amid a raging war? Where can we give safely?
Tips for Tough Decisions
- Look for US-based agencies, charities and churches working in the location or country that has experienced the crisis. Poland and Ukraine
- Research the charity to ensure the gift you are making will make it into that country. Try to find out how it will be used. Check websites for up-to-date information.
- Recognize that international crises seldom have end dates. The challenges and problems last a long time and make giving later equally important.
Here is a list of organizations I know are working in Poland and Ukraine. You will be able to add others to the list.
- Doctors Without Borders doctors and medical supplies
- Direct Relief humanitarian relief, doctors and nurses
- Mercy Corps emergency cash assistance
- Save the Children immediate aid to families
- International Medical Corps medical, mental health services
- Samaritan’s Purse setting up a field hospital
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
- Razom Emergency Response urgent help for extreme and unforeseen situations in Ukraine, medical supplies, blood, tactical medicine items.
- International Rescue Committee help and support for displaced Ukrainian families with critical aid.
- Global Giving Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund focuses on the most vulnerable, including children.
- Caritas Internationalis humanitarian aid
- Serving Orphans Worldwide (Photo Credit above: Poland/Ukraine border March 2022)
You can stop reading right now and just write a check. Or, what follows is my experience making the hard decisions.
A Real-life Decision Challenge
In 2016 I found myself helping a major donor intent on making a gift to aid the Syrian refugee crisis. We thought we had a great solution – a gift to Caritas Internationalis. But unfortunately, phone calls and emails between the west coast, Tyler, and Rome, Italy, yielded discouraging news. The crisis was so chaotic that even organizations on the ground were struggling to get help where most needed.
The solution was to partner with a well-known, trusted organization with experience coordinating emergency operations worldwide. Yet to donate safely, legally, and for the greatest need proved difficult. We learned even Caritas was struggling to respond.
Still, looking beyond the political turmoil, the donor saw pictures of small children crossing long distances bundled against the cold in search of safety.
After much consideration, the donor made the difficult decision to give a much smaller gift than initially intended. Despite the great need, it wasn’t easy to ensure the help would go where the donor hoped or even provide what was most needed. The chaos of the situation made it difficult for even the most experienced to respond well.
It was difficult to write the email and let Caritas Internationalis know of the donor’s decision, but it was the right thing to do given the information we had learned.
Challenges like this are common when we respond to an international crisis. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods, war – each in their horrific way – kill, maim and destroy families and communities.
Because help is needed, the urge to respond should not be taken lightly. Sometimes help meets everyday needs like food, safe housing, or education. Or, like today, it’s a refugee exodus in Ukraine that’s almost as large as the number of people who fled to Europe during an entire year of the 2015 migration crisis.
Today’s Crisis Need, Tomorrow’s Tremendous Challenge
International crises are not going away; there will be another one tomorrow. There is not enough food, safe water, or beds for children to sleep in every day. So a donation that makes even a tiny difference can have a ripple effect.
If it matters that your gift addresses a specific problem, be prepared to ask questions and do a little research. You will feel better about the gift if you do.
Much of the information you need is at your fingertips; some questions require digging deeper. The bottom line? Give now and plan to give again.
What questions do you ask before making an international gift? What organizations give you confidence your gift will be well used?
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