“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”
– The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo





Recent trends highlight the satisfaction of decluttering one’s life; to let go of sentimental attachments to things, and to live more fully with less ‘stuff’. Marie Kondo’s book was a New York Times Best-Seller and flew off the shelves this past summer. Why? A fervent rush to ‘tidy-up’? Not quite. People are recognizing the freedom and joy that comes with owning less. The main take-away from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is to only surround oneself with what brings joy.

But then, what do we do with all of our discarded stuff?

It is satisfying to give someone something they need. I recently went through my closest to give away items I did not need nor use. All it took was a quick call to my local women’s shelter to determine if they had need for my used clothes and jewelry. Subsequently, I drove my donated goods over to the shelter and knew exactly to whom I was giving my in-kind donations. Not only was I paring down but also giving to a good cause.

If I had not called my local women’s shelter and determined their need, I most likely would have dumped my donations in one of those metal boxes in the grocery store parking lot. I would not have known if my things were needed, nor have seen who it was that my donations were going to, or whether all of it was sold as scrap cloth. Too many mysteries and not enough empowerment – I’d rather give locally!

This holiday season, as we seek to help those in need and share the wealth we have been given—let’s consider needs in our own communities. Blankets, winter clothes and food for local shelters that house the homeless in these cold winter months. At the end of the day, we want to give, but its best and most satisfying to donate locally when giving away goods.

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“You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis.”

It is Christmas eve and presents are lined beneath my family’s tree. Do you remember that present from a distant relative last year that you opened, cringed and never used? For me it was Barbie dolls when I was sixteen. I appreciate the thought that my relatives put into gifts but sometimes I receive ones I know I will never use. It led me to ask for cash.

Now raise the stakes exponentially. I’m not talking about holiday gift giving but donations given during times of crisis.

In Ebola-stricken areas, healthcare workers may give more than a cringe upon receiving in-kind donations of canned food or used clothing when they are not needed or when those needs have been met. You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis. Just as I would hate to give a gift I know would be discarded, I would never want to donate goods that would impede a relief effort. Instead, I donate cash.

It’s difficult to anticipate the needs of a relative; it’s even more difficult anticipating the needs of those in a humanitarian crisis. Cash is best.

 

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This year’s Christmas tree! (an image from Margot Morris, Program Assistant for The Center for International Disaster Information)

 

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CIDI’s Barlin Ali and OFDA Asa Piyaka speak to Ahmed Scego, one of the founders of Global Somali Diaspora

People like to say that this is the Age of Connectedness. Yes, we are more connected. But we’ve always been connected—now it is on a much more intimate and expansive level. Humanity has always sought connectedness. We’ve been exchanging ideas for thousands of years; initially through conquest and trade, now exchange occurs through expedient international travel and the Internet. Diaspora groups are a manifestation of this continued connectedness as community boundaries have reshaped and expanded in our modern era.

At USAID Center for International Disaster Information, we hosted the first organized event in our history. On November 13th, “Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations” welcomed a brilliant set of panelists, each engaging diaspora communities in different ways, with robust discussion about diaspora communities’ roles following disaster events. Each panelist touched upon the importance of the connectedness of our world and how diaspora groups are an active expression of this.

USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Asa Piyaka expounded upon the shifting role diaspora communities are playing in disaster relief. Diasporas play such a crucial role during disaster, he explained, because these communities already have ties to the affected region and are typically more tuned-in to what is needed than international relief organizations may be. USAID CIDI’s own Barlin Ali conveyed that diasporas and charities wish to send remittances and donated cash to disaster-affected areas. However, in addition to the power of cash during emergencies, it is crucial to provide education about responsible giving in order to maximize its efficacy and impact.

During a disaster, remittances sent to countries of origin by diaspora communities are often the only stable source of income, stated Safiya Khalid of the Institute of Immigration Research at George Mason. For example, in the 2004 tsunami, Sri Lanka received government and NGO money to provide fishermen with boats; nonetheless, it was remittances that provided the nets with which to fish. Remittances aren’t without associated challenges, including misdirected money. Katherine Gupta of the US Treasury Department outlined avenues in which remittances can be given safely and transparently.

Diaspora groups send remittances and concerned citizens donate to communities stricken by crises because each are affected by the global reverberations during their aftermaths. Professor Terrence Lyons of George Mason University mentioned that “communities are not bounded by territory, they are transnational.” That to be a part of a diaspora community is to be both “simultaneously a Virginian and a Liberian. Those links of affinity, that you have an obligation to this community . . . that is what drives so much of the politics and the donations, and the remittances.”

Our global community is transformed by the immediate communicative and physical connection we all now have. When disaster strikes, it is no longer an isolated incidence as it may have been a hundred years ago; rather, it now impacts the world on a global and a regional level. Diaspora groups are a realization of the expansion of distinctive regional communities. These communities, especially diaspora, are poised better than ever to respond to disaster and reshape our global recovery efforts.

USAID CIDI Staff at "Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations"

USAID CIDI Staff at “Diaspora, Disaster, and Donations”