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Effective Relief for Typhoon Victims

Everytime there's a typhoon, I always hurry to make donations. It's a way of paying forward as we received a lot of help when we ourselves had to "Escape from Floodwaters" (as I put it in my first blog) during Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) just a few years ago.

An article by an international relief worker suggests that it is better to send money than used goods to victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The article was directed towards Americans. Certainly, for anyone who lives in a foreign country further from the Philippines than China this is the most sensible option. Consider the cost and time shipping takes, after all. And then consider that most goods that the residents of Tacloban and other afflicted areas need are available much more cheaply in the Philippines. You can get a shirt, shorts, or a pair of flip-flops for adults for less than two dollars each around here. A kilo of rice is about a dollar, a can of sardines about thirty cents, a liter of water about a dollar. A donation of ten dollars can give one person a complete outfit and feed him for a day.

Having received relief goods, I am also aware of the problems of proper sorting and dissemination. I make it a point, therefore, to classify my relief goods and label them (babies, toddlers 2-5, etc.). I especially try to give a lot of kids' stuff because I realized from experience how few things for young children get donated. The packages of relief goods brought to our house contained items for men, women and only rarely children. The one child-sized item we received was a t-shirt in an eight-year-old size, and my daughter was a skinny 16-month-old. We didn't really need them, in any case, as our clothes were nearly all unaffected by the flooding. Except for our soaked and mud-caked shoes. We did not, however receive shoes.

We took a few items that struck our fancy (an Elmo shirt in a teenage size, for instance, which fit me at the time and would amuse my daughter) then left the rest at the village gate for other, more badly affected residents--adding items from our own closets. I'm really not comfortable wearing used clothes unless they're from people I know and like. I didn't mind too much in this case because the donations were from teachers and parents at my husband's school, some of whom I know. I can't really explain the reason for my uneasiness; I guess it's kind of a feeling of intimacy at wearing clothes someone else used. If I at least know they're from nice people I feel better about it. We appreciated the thought, but mostly what we got wasn't what we needed.

I think the packers of relief goods did their best. But certainly it is a problem outfitting people you don't know or even if you know them haven't seen in years, like OFW's relatives; far better to send them money to get their own stuff. This helps local retailers and as well as giving the victims who shop a boost of self-esteem at a time when they need it. I remember the pleasure I took in buying replacements for my damaged kitchen equipment following the flood. Being able to choose your own brand-new stuff gives you a lift--retail therapy can do one good and this is one occasion it's appropriate to encourage it. I remember being able to choose books from Bookmooch made me feel better, even if I couldn't find some of the lost ones I grieved for. With difficulty in travel in the Yolanda-affected areas, most likely relief workers will do the purchasing or local businesses that pledged to help will provide them. Still, there's more thrill in getting new stuff and news photos suggest that the relief workers at least help the people find the right size.

Filipinos are too gracious and practical to leave used clothes by the side of the road, like people from some countries the article writer mentioned. If we won't use the stuff, we'll find someone else who will, or sell it. But given the difficulties, I'd say it's best not to send used clothes. Medicines, also, since their purchase should be left to professionals. Food is okay. Money is better.

Of course you'd probably tell me to put my money where my mouth is, but unfortunately, I don't have much to spare. So far the only monetary assistance I've been able to do is convert my measly number of cell phone points into a donation of less than a dollar. Given that Christmas is approaching, the relatively penniless can easily raise money with sales, however. So I'm contributing items to a sale of my organization, Kuting, on November 30, 8-5 at the Raya School gym beside Adarna House (publisher of my children's book). I'll be signing books too. If you're in Manila, hope to see you there.