Helping Refugees: Advice From One Poor Person to Another

While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across Neil Gaiman’s post about his poem, “What They Took with Them,” which promotes standing with the refugees. This jarring and moving poem can be found –>here<– , as read aloud by Neil Gaiman, along with Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Capaldi, Stanley Tucci, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kit Harington, Douglas Booth, and Jesse Eisenberg, as part of the #WithRefugees campaign, hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Refugee Agency.

As I listened to Neil Gaiman’s poetry spoken through his own mouth and through the mouths of so many actors I respect, I began to think about the refugees, their plight, and what I would do in their place. Having recently moved, I’ve become profoundly aware of the belongings I store, the ones I use, and the ones I keep with me for no other reason than to keep them. Yes, these are merely things, but they are the things I’ve carefully wrapped, packaged, and dragged with me from move to move throughout my adult life. The thought of being forced out of my home in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, with little else than my life and, hopefully, my family, scares me to the core.

Please do not misunderstand me.

Logically, I know I do not need all of the belongings I carry with me. That said, if having pared down and downsized three times in the past three years has taught me anything, it’s that the things we carry are the same things we use to keep connected to our past and to our identity. Even though I am still me without these things I have lost or left behind, I feel disjointed in the here and now, because the handful of broken pieces I have should fit together, but, more often than not, the pieces refuse to come together.

This must be how the refugees feel all the time, I imagine.

In time you can rebuild yourself, but the self you build is new. The shadows of your past haunt you like ghosts or half-forgotten dreams, and they influence how you rebuild the new you. The physical things you lose or leave behind were your connection with who you once were, and without them you are left always grasping for that part of you that was once here but will never be now.

What Can a Poor Person like Me Do to Help?

26f99cfWhen I see celebrities promoting awareness and encouraging citizens to act, I commend them for being good examples to the rest of us, but a part of me struggles and feels unable to help. I live paycheck-to-paycheck. My family and I are barely getting by, and we are currently seeking better employment options to improve our situation. Even when we do improve our situation, it may only be by so much, making any financial contribution we could offer to charities minimal at best.

I know of the analogy that even if everyone gave only a dollar, those dollars would add up to lots of funding, but to whom do I trust my dollar?

There are many organizations that do help social causes, like the refugees, but a large number of these “non-profit” organizations only deliver a percentage of my dollar to the people they claim to be helping. The rest of my donation goes to pay for the organization to keep itself running. While I agree that the people working in the organizations should receive compensation for their efforts, and I know it takes an infrastructure to solve world problems, I still feel uncertain of who to trust. After all, when you have so little free capital to give away, you want to make sure you’re giving it to someone who will do the most good.

Since I do have so little free capital, I figure that the next best thing I can do is to provide you with some insight about who provides the most help, so that even a poor person like me can reach out to do the most good somewhere else.

For this post, I’m only going to look at organizations helping the refugees worldwide. If I miss any organization, please feel free to add them in the comments.

Which Charities Do the Most Good?

general_rectangleCharity Navigator  is a non-profit organization that reviews different charities and verifies each organization’s level of transparency and legitimacy. It also gathers data to prove how much of the money goes out to the causes each charity supports. You can go to their site and look up any charity for a full free report.

Below I have included a list of the charities that help refugees. Some of these charities focus exclusively on refugees, but other charities may have a wider area of focus. This list also indicates the percentage of donations that go directly to the refugees and supporting programs, according to Charity Navigator records published in June 2016.

United States Fund for UNICEF = 90.3%
International Rescue Committee = 91.9%
Catholic Relief Services = 92.7%
Hias  = 87.8%
Islamic Relief USA  = 87.2%
USA for UNHCR = 54.8%
Oxfam = 77.8%
Save the Children  = 90.2%
Refugees International = 80.7%
Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe = 76.6%
American Refugee Committee = 90.1%
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition = 83.2%

Things to Consider Before you Give Money

If you can donate money, there are a few factors you should consider. As Tara Siegel Bernard explains in her article, “How to Help in a Global Refugee Crisis” , providing money for a refugee’s immediate necessities is good, but it doesn’t solve the overall problem. Refugees need help with relocating, education, training, and rebuilding. Finding organizations that have programs geared for these purposes will make whatever money you can donate go a little further.

Siegel Bernard also recommends being selective when you choose any charitable organization. In terms of refugees, if you want to do the most good, you need to choose organizations that are situated in places where refugees are in the most need. For instance, if you choose an organization that has offices here in the states, but has no one on the ground in countries that are overrun with refugees, you have to wonder how much good that organization will do. Therefore, you want to choose organizations that can accomplish their goals and provide direct help to the people in need.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

bigstock-computer-crime-fraud-scam-33085697Sadly, there are horrible people in this world who would lie to you simply so they can pocket your money. Many organizations have a list of recommendations to help you steer clear of any scandals. For example, UNICEF warns against organizations who ask for funds sent by Western Union. They also state to be wary of emails claiming that funds are needed to help charity employees get back home, to pay for medical bills, or for third-party companies supposedly arranging travel accommodations for charity workers. In addition, UNICEF points out that fraudulent charities may try to trick you by promising a commission, a reward, or something else in exchange for your donation.

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy,  as run at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a significant amount of education materials about the entire philanthropic process, including a discussion on how to create greater social change through identifying which philanthropic causes are best situated to produce the highest level of change. The organization also participates in researching charities, and it produces reports that help people determine which organizations to support. The Center for High Impact Philanthropy also makes the following recommendations on how to avoid being scammed:

  • Do some rudimentary research online to see if a charity is legit
  • Make use of organizations that provide free and unbiased reviews of non-profit organizations
  • Before you donate money, see if you can volunteer your time as a way to get involved and make sure the organization is real
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