Responding to disasters and communities in crisis is not a static process. As the world changes, the impact of pandemics, climate change, hurricanes, flooding, war, and drought are compounded and ongoing. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything and made it much more difficult to provide effective support. Simply sending bulk materials from Canada to address yesterday’s crises is no longer economically feasible, nor does it address many of today’s problems.
How do we adapt? The answer lies in the motto that Disaster Aid International chose in 2018: “Rebuilding Communities… together.”
In 2020, as the pandemic ramped up, Disaster Aid Canada (DAC) found that donations for International projects were dropping. The world was turning inward. We made the decision to focus on disaster recovery in regions where we had local partners.
When Rotary Clubs came to us with concerns about the growing famine in the Mayan villages in Guatemala, we knew we had partners with local knowledge and existing support networks on the ground. This crisis did not even make the news in Canada. Still, by leveraging our Rotary Connections and the DAC database, we were able to raise around $16,000.00 to provide food, PPE, and medical support in remote communities. We had readymade teams on the ground, including experienced Rotarians and the Women’s Directives in the villages. They provided the selection of the most severely impacted people and the targeted distribution of materials and food.
When the massive explosion hit Beirut, it made world headlines, and the disaster quickly found governments and aid organisations promising multi-millions of dollars in support. We chose to support our Disaster aid International partners and Rotary Clubs in Beirut by partnering with the Rotary Club of Woodstock-Oxford in Woodstock. They had the Rotary connections on the ground and were able to leverage Rotary Clubs and Districts to send containers of medical equipment to the ravaged hospitals. Disaster Aid Canada raised and sent $4,000 to help with the effort.
What was becoming clear was that by partnering with Rotary Clubs on the ground, we were able to drill down and pinpoint community needs and make incredibly effective use of our donors’ money. A new model of support was evolving.
When the Hurricanes, flooding, and landslides impacted Central America, we made a conscious effort to implement what we had learned. We immediately set up a general fund for victims of the disasters in the area. We contacted Rotary Clubs in Honduras and Guatemala and asked them how we could best address the situation. We chose to look at short term and long-term objectives. Four of the Clubs responded, and we agreed to provide $1,000 US to each for PPE, food, and a present for the children and then work on longer-term projects.
The Rotary Club of Comayagua was the first to get back to us with a project that would have long-term impact and was sustainable. The Village of La Mata in the mountains near Comayagua had lost their water system during the storms and flooding. RC Comayagua and the Rotary Club of Comox had worked together 12 years previously on this water system, so the Clubs were aware of the situation in the Village. Fernando Martinez of RC Comayagua took a team to the Village to assess the need and discuss the project with the community. They worked together to develop a plan and then presented the concept to us. DAC sent him a project funding application, and Fernando returned a detailed plan with resource usage, estimated labour hours, cost breakdowns, benefits to the communities, and project schedule. The estimated cost was close to $15,000 Canadian. DAC approved the project and connected with potential partners, including the original sponsoring Rotary Club of Comox, Rotaract Comox, RC Victoria Harbourside, RC Woodstock-Oxford, and Disaster Aid Australia. We were able to raise the funds within a couple of weeks, and the work was able to start and was completed within a couple of months. This project has become a case study of Rotarian/Community collaboration.
DAC next applied the principles to a nutritional supplement program in Guatemala where we partnered with RC Vista Hermosa Satellite Uwara, Mayan Families, the local Women’s Directives, and RCs Ladysmith and Chemainus in Canada. To date, we have purchased two tons of nutritional supplements at wholesale pricing and are using our trusted channels to ensure that the supplements go where they are most needed. We also supported RC Woodstock Oxford with a donation for Oxygen Concentrators for India.
While we were making changes to our outbound programs, we rigorously evaluated our own organisation. Media focus on mega-disasters tends to draw much of the donations away from areas of far more critical need. Platforms for crowdfunding often detoured money from professional organisations into the hands of inexperienced amateurs. How could we do more with less? How could we compete in the new reality and serve the people in the most need?
Since 2019 DAC has dramatically reduced its overheads, and the change in materials delivery has reduced the need for warehousing, again reducing the costs. In 2021 Disaster Aid Canada decided to work towards a more volunteer-centric organisation. DAC wants to be able to put 100% of the money received from donations for projects towards the projects themselves.
The concept of rebuilding communities has ignited a fresh passion in me personally. I continue to support DAC and have also become more involved in finding ways to address the problems faced by poor and disadvantaged communities in Honduras and Guatemala. This winter, I will spend several weeks working with Rotarians in Central America in the areas we have supported and empowered. I recently completed the Global Grant Management training and will be supporting our Rotary partners in developing Global Grants for more long-term projects in Central America.
Disaster Aid Canada has been through a lot in the last couple of years. The pandemic forced us to adapt or wither away. Donations for international projects fell sharply in 2020 and have not yet recovered, but we have been able to do more, much more by leveraging the power of Rotary and building strong relationships. We adapted and continue to make a difference to so many people who need our support. When Rotarians work together, we can move mountains, when we collaborate, we change lives.
If you are interested in supporting Disaster Aid Canada with either financial support or volunteering, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.