Please listen to us – it is better to donate money rather than goods.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

The media attention on the invasion of Ukraine has brought about global support both for refugees fleeing the country, and those who are still in Ukraine in need of support.

In the last decade as a humanitarian worker, I have responded to emergencies across the globe on behalf of Jewish and Israeli NGOs. I have often stayed in countries to support long term and resilient rebuilding with local communities. It has always been a point of pride for me when the Jewish community is recognised for this international development work by the country we are supporting.

In the humanitarian community, we have learnt to deliver aid efficiently, with local private sector partners, with government partners, and most importantly by listening to our beneficiaries and the communities we are supporting.

On a trip to Guatemala in 2018 leading a mission for IsraAID a few days after the eruption of the Fuego Volcano, I visited emergency shelters for Guatemalan refugees who had fled the devastation of the volcanic eruption. Families were torn apart. Villages were completely covered by ash and their surviving citizens were in temporary shelters relying on aid to survive.

The outpouring of national and international goodwill after the Fuego eruption was remarkable. Donations flooded to the shelters in Escuintla where the refugees were staying.

In the chaos of an emergency, it is vital that there is coordination between communities, government and agencies trying to help. We must talk constantly with each other and with our local partners to deliver appropriate aid in a timely, ethical, and efficient way.

For the first few weeks in Guatemala there was limited coordination. The temporary shelters were completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and the masses of donations of goods. These donations sat in bin bags in the corner of a room, waiting to be sorted. Six months later, most of those donations were in landfill, unused and wasted.

As a humanitarian worker, I know that there must be extensive needs assessments and discussions with clients and communities to understand what their priorities are. It could be food, clean water, temporary shelters, psychological support, or a variety of other services and needs.

Many of us feel that we are privileged in our lives and feel moved to support when an emergency happens.

However, have we thought carefully about the donations that we are collecting in our synagogues and communities?

Have we spoken to refugees in shelters and asked them what they would like?

Have we collected products that are up to international regulations and standards?

Have we thought about the financial and carbon costs of transporting our donations from the UK across the world?

Have we thought about how we measure the impact of these donations to adapt when we realise the goods are not relevant for the context?

Have we thought about what is needed in 6 months’ time, in a year, in 5 years, when the media attention has left people in those emergency contexts to fend for themselves?

These questions form the basis of all impactful and effective humanitarian aid.

I have often seen the bin bags full of donations sitting in warehouses months or even years after an emergency without people and resources to sort through clothes and goods.

Items that were so passionately and generously donated are not going to where they are needed, and sometimes are even flooding the local market, exploiting local economies.

Please listen to us when we say it is better to donate money rather than goods.

Your monetary donations allow us to also think about the long-term solutions, to pay psychologists who are experts in emergency trauma to support long term mental wellbeing, to help communities rebuild and recover and to deliver only the aid that is needed, not the aid that is unsolicited and inappropriate for the context.

Even more importantly, we deliver this aid in partnership with refugees and communities in need and with dignity and respect, centring their voices and enabling the most impact.

Please help us do our work effectively and efficiently by donating funds, not goods.

About the Author
Hannah Gaventa is the Portfolio Manager for the UK Government Skills for Prosperity Programme, an £80m FCDO funded programme targeting education and skills development to reduce poverty and generate employment opportunities in nine middle income countries. She is on World Jewish Relief's Programme Allocation Board and has supported Jewish charities with strategic impact developing Theories of Change.