Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How Can I Help the Refugees?

A friend has written to me, saying they know a Kikuyu graduate student here in USA, and are aware the family is suffering in Kenya, having fled their home in Western Kenya due to post-election violence: What can I do?

Here are some thoughts on how F/friends might help those in need in Kenya.

First, read some of the news on the right sidebar, using the links to international news services and the newsletters from people working and living "on the ground" in Kenya. Look at some of the links for "Contribute" (these are Friends organizations that will likely get involved in providing relief or supporting Quaker churches in Kenya that are sheltering and providing relief to the IDPs, internally displaced people). The Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, along with the UN World Food Programme, have been mentioned in the news as acting early to bring assistance to the IDPs or refugees.

Normally, during our service in Kenya, we discouraged personal gifts to individuals or particular families. Such gifts often feed cycles of dependency, create unrealistic expectations, and encourage future requests for help that may be impossible to satisfy. The typical American family may have some limited funds available for charity, but the needs in Kenya in any typical extended family are enormous. Gifts to individuals, in addition to encouraging dependency, can also create jealousy by neighbors and other relatives. Such gifts can also encourage dishonesty and corruption on the personal or individual level. However, these are extraordinary times, and over a quarter million families are in need!

In any case, when you give (whether to individuals or to an organization) keep in mind some general guidelines:

  • Please think carefully about how you are going to give, the impact it will have, and your plans to give further if you are approached. First, do no harm, as much as possible.
  • Please communicate clearly with the recipient about your expectations and even record them in writing, giving them a copy and keeping one for yourself (this is culturally acceptable in Kenya even if it feels uncomfortable to Americans). Specify your intention for the gift after discussing the needs with the recipient, specify when it will be given, and how much will be given. If it's a pledge, specify when the giving will begin and end, and the amount at each interval. This will enable the family to plan, and it will discourage a cascade of requests for further assistance.
  • Please require accountability--receipts, reports, photos, letters--something to serve as a record or documentation that the funds were used for the intended purpose. This discourages corruption and dishonesty, and likewise encourages integrity and honesty.
Some more ideas and thoughts, which I shared with the friend who asked for input on how to help:

Sorry to hear about the Kikuyu friend--it is indeed a very frightening time for that family and so many others. We're so concerned, as it sound like Kenya is re-segregating itself. And the problem is that so many Kikuyu (like your friend's family) were born in other regions, and have no land or place or property in their traditional "ancestral" lands (ie, the place their people-group outnumbered others at the end of colonialism!)... So they are fleeing their homes with what they can carry to go to a very uncertain future, to places they will no doubt be an unwelcome burden, to be viewed as intruders, and to have to "start over" in so many ways--socially, economically, emotionally... These few days have been shocking and very upsetting for the majority of Kenyans. We're very, very sad and we're worried it will set back not only families, but the whole nation of Kenya, by decades--economically, socially, politically.

As for how to help: I am reluctant to recommend giving to just one family--the need is enormous, and it will not go away soon. For every family like your friend's there are literally a quarter million others! Families that are displaced will need ongoing support and assistance for years to come, if they have left everything behind at a moment's notice!

So I would say, if you are going to give, give generously and in a way that will actually sustain that family for some time.

If you are prepared to become "sponsors" of this family for a longer period, then I think that would be the most reasonable way to give.

In fact, a small amount of regular income for "operating expenses" for a specified time--such a pledge might be very valuable, encouraging, and hopeful to them. (eg, "We expect that you will seek ways to support your family; and to "boost" you, we can give you $50, four times a year, for two years, for any immediate needs like housing, food, medical care, or clothing").

Or you could offer to make a one-time "capital" gift for a particular purpose, which would enable them to demonstrate that they used it for the purpose intended. Some funds to begin generating income might be helpful.

(eg, Did they already have a skill, like tailoring, carpentry, or auto mechanics, and did they lose the equipment when they had to flee Eldoret? Or did they run a small shop and need some capital to get started, purchase some goods to sell?) They would be able to show you a photo of what they purchased. It's not uncommon to request a budget for such an "income-generating project" and a report on how the funds were used, how much income they actually generated later (eg, after 6 months or a year).

School fees are always a desperate need (often pushing Kenyan families beyond their subsistence income, and they find it's out of reach).

Do they have a child in secondary school, whom you could sponsor? If they are now displaced, they will have no means to pay those fees.

For any of these needs, a gift of about $100-250 would be a good start. School fees can run $300-500, depending on the school, but providing half would be a great gift! Fees can sometimes be paid directly to the school, by a wire to the school's bank account in Kenya. In any case, a receipt should be requested from the school (these can be fabricated by dishonest souls, but more likely they will produce the receipt).

Whatever you decide to give to an individual or particular family--whether for "operating" or "capital" expenses--it's very important to specify (in writing) the offer of assistance you are making (the amount, interval of time, and purpose), in order to limit future requests.

This practice of drawing up an informal "contract" is very common in Kenya, and not offensive, and it will enable you both to return to the agreement when future needs arise beyond the agreement (and they surely will). If many Kenyan families were surviving on a dollar a day before this crisis, and now many families have absolutely nothing, to have any prospect of even a small amount of income or assistance while they "find their feet"--this might be just enough to help them look to tomorrow and begin to rebuild their lives...

Take into account that some funds will be "lost" in the fees for wiring by Western Union or by bank (these vary, I think it's typical to be a percentage. For FUM bank wires, I think it was a flat $40 fee per wire, but for larger, organizational sums. I haven't investigated the price for wiring smaller amounts by WU, but you could call and check). Figure that fee into the gift you agree to make (as you decide how much to give), because you want to be clear about what the relatives in Kenya will actually receive after the transfer fees are cleared.

Normally I recommend giving to known organizations rather than individuals, because this is a way to be "fair" and to feel confident that your funds will help those in need, and to avoid creating an expectation that future gifts will be available.

(ie, Giving to sound organizations that undergo audits discourages corruption at the local/individual level) There is the possibility of giving to the church-based organization that will provide relief to the refugees and IDPs within Kenya. I'm sure the Anglican church has such a body (for the Catholics, it's something like Catholic Relief Services here).

I imagine Friends United Meeting will try to send some relief funds and/or food aid funds to the Yearly Meetings that are providing shelter and food to refugees (there are many Kikuyu families seeking refuge in Friends churches), so you could send a gift to FUM for that purpose (write on the memo line what your gift is intended for). Or you could contribute to the Kenyan Red Cross via the International Red Cross--their resources are surely strapped. Or MSF/Doctors Without Borders, specifying that you'd like to fund their relief efforts in Kenya, for the post-election violence.

Those are some ideas. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about them. Blessings on you for caring and for wanting to share your resources to help others!

Mary Kay

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