Thursday, May 14, 2015

Donating to Nepal-What You Need to Know



It is always sad when nature creates destruction anywhere, but when it's a country like Nepal it is even more tragic. Everyone wants to help and it truly warms my heart to think that so many Westerners have such compassion. Especially New Zealanders and people from other earthquake prone countries want to help. I understand New Zealand is still to recover from their disastrous earthquakes, and yet the compassion they have for Nepal is so outstanding. 

However, and this is a big however, we do not want the money to be used in a counterproductive way, or be misused by the social worker keeping the money. Either of these cause many Westerners to throw up their hands and not do anything to help. At this time in Nepal, in light of the recent tragic events it is even more important that the money be used properly and in a timely fashion.

Birbhadur and his mother, Laxmi showing me their new blankets. They were very grateful.

I've lived here for over 4 years and have had many opportunities to work with social organizations. As much as I've wanted to help I've not been able to connect with what I'd assess to be an effective organization. I've had people come to volunteer at orphanages and brought warm clothing for the children. These same volunteers who paid from $5 a day to $500 a month tell me the children continue to wear old, dirty clothing and the new clothes just get put somewhere. I've seen such clothing go to the social worker's home village to his/her own relatives. I have some appreciation in this because you can find people in need all over Nepal; I'm sure the social worker has relatives in genuine need. I know, it still isn't right.

Speaking of 'orphans' in Nepal, most children living in orphanages have 2 living parents. They are poor, so they are sent to the Kathmandu Valley to get an education. Imagine living in a village of 20 homes with the closest school being a 2 hour walk through the forest. That is the reality. So, to support an orphanage like that is up to a person's own abilities and conscience. I've written about volunteering in orphanages, as you can see by my previous posts.

Now we come to a time for Nepal when we really need help, literally everyone. 90% of the homes have either collapsed completely or need repairs. Even my guest house has cracked walls, but I do not need money from donations for my own home. My landlord needs to make the repairs. Also, I'm an expat and would not think to take money that could go to a Nepali family. 

But the question remains, how do you know the money will be used to help Nepal rebuild-not make a new trekking agency or guest house? I have a strong suspicion that many guest houses and trekking agencies will be established from donations of well-meaning Westerners. And many poor Nepali families will remain living out in the cold for a lot longer than reasonably expected. Monsoon is almost here and when it rains it can create rivers within a few minutes. Now that the earthquakes have shaken things up, it seems logical to expect even more landslides this year. These people will never be able to rebuild on their own, except to take the old brick and re-stack it into a new building. Then it will surely fall in the next earthquake. 

There really doesn't seem to be a magic bullet to assure your money will be spent properly and effectively. I offer a few suggestions below that I've thought of myself. No one seems to be doing anything but bitching about the funds not being used right. 

Other governments are also providing help. The US provided two Osprey helicopters, one of which fell killing 6 Americans and 2 Nepali. The Chinese government has provided many lovely tents that can keep the animals away and provide some privacy. 

Many governments from Europe have been sending medical teams and supplies and so much more. The world is truly grieving for Nepal-and opening their wallets. It's like the world's heart is beating just for Nepal; I am so grateful because I love Nepal so much. From what I understand, the Red Cross has also provided tents. I haven't seen any of these tents, but I have seen countless tarps that people sleep under. Our little tent is right next to this one at the top of the hill.


The government has decided to intersect as many donations as possible to the government relief fund. This will insure the social workers do not abuse the funds, but the Nepali are not confident that the government will. Already we've seen one family take 10 tarps for themselves due to knowing the person who was handing them out. Rather than using them for sleeping under, I'm pretty sure they will use them for harvesting. That's why there were already so many tarps-even before the NGOs came with tarps.

So, what to do? 'Ke garne?' as they say in Nepali. 

1. Make sure the person you are providing money to has a good, clear plan as to how to use the money. What kind of transparency will they have? What is the contingency plan if someone else solves the problem or it's discovered that another plan of action would be better?

2. Make sure the person has some integrity; do not just give to someone on a crowd funding site.

3. Do not send money to a foreign bank account. Always use third party funding.

4. Use people from your own country. That way you can get some accountability via the Attorney General or a consumer 'watchdog' agency.

5. Ask questions about how the money will be used. 'If this, then what?'

6. Follow-up to see how the money has been spent. 

7. If you are sending money to an agency that has already been doing social work look at the way they used the money in the past. How much is used for management? More than 10% is probably too much. 

8. Use your Paypal or credit card rather than bank transfer. If it's fraud you might be able to get a refund (but do not count on it).

9. Consider donating to a non-profit/NGO and ask them to donate it to an agency in Nepal. That way you get the tax credit and get to do some good. Just make sure how much will actually be sent to Nepal.

10. If you belong to a church, fraternal or civil organization consider having the group do a garage sale/silent auction or some other fundraiser for Nepal. If someone can bring the funds and distribute them it would be even better.

A newspaper article in the Kantipur Newspaper, Kathmandu, today was about a village in the hardest hit region. The spokesperson made a good point, "We don't need rice and aluminum." Then he went on to illustrate what would satisfy their needs. In his case, he wants to be relocated to a less hazardous area. They have been experiencing more than their share of hardship. Just last year there was a landslide that took out a large village and hydro-power plant. My point here is that it's important to let the local people tell what they need; it's best not to patronize them. In some places the people have sold the donated rice for roxie, the local brew. When we sat out on the hill with the people right after the first earthquake Yana applied some sore muscle cream on the older women and I cannot think of anything that could have made them happier. 

Another article warned that the Village Development Committee in each village is politically motivated and tend to distribute supplies only to those in their party and close relatives. In this village someone brought tarps for only 100; there were more than 300 homeless families. The men here sent them back to get tarps for everyone. However, everyone talks about one man who took 10 tarps for himself. Plastic tarps are used for harvesting, so he surely took them for that reason. 
 
The women still draw water from the community tap.

There were several families that did not get aluminum sheets to make a better shelter so we brought more aluminum and a couple more wheel barrows for the village clean-up.

Actually, this blog post was inspired by a Western friend married to a Nepali. Right away, even before the lights came back on after the first earthquake they had a crowd funding project up online. A week or so later the young woman came by and I asked her how the project was coming. "We already have over $5,000," she replied. "That's great, what are you doing with the money?" I asked. "Oh, we're not really sure yet. Maybe we'll do some temporary housing." I wanted to ask her one more question, but kept my mouth shut. 'How do you plan to extract the money from your husband's pocket?'