Beloved CIDI followers, friends and fans, Social Media Card

Valentine’s Day is a perfect occasion to tell you that…well…we love you!

And there is much to love about you, but we’ll count just three ways:

  1. You care about others. You feel other people’s suffering, especially that of vulnerable people, and want to alleviate it. Your focus on other people makes you an enduring hero in most faith communities, in the philanthropic world and likely among your family and friends – the lucky ones who get the best of your love.
  2. You are smart about giving. And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Making the most of your resources to maximize the good you can do. You are talented at this; you do your homework on what’s needed and the best way to satisfy the need. You ask questions, you probe, you apply your mind and your heart to giving smartly.
  3. You put the needs of others before your own. This is advanced placement giving, and not every donor does it. Especially after disasters, many donors feel emboldened by watching TV or reading the newspaper to collect things that may seem like a sensible reaction to a video clip, but do not answer complicated realities on the ground. These donations are satisfying to the donor but rarely answer emergency needs. But you – you go deeper and support people and organizations that work directly in disaster-affected communities. So smart of you, and we love you for it.

Audrey Hepburn once observed that true beauty originates in the soul. This Valentine’s Day, know that you are beautiful to us, that we respect your desire to give, honor your Smart Compassion and admire the good that you continue to do in the world.

Big love to you!

Juanita Rilling

Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in an activity with my fellow CIDI experts in which we looked back on 2015 and recorded our favorite highlights. After that, we looked to the year ahead, imagined all that could be and recorded the most impressive achievements we could envision. Finally, we analyzed past successes and discussed ways in which we could do even better this year, like a bunch of athletes looking for that next PR. It was both humbling and exciting to look at areas where we have succeeded in sharing Smart Compassion ideas and messaging, whether through Diaspora outreach, volunteer training, PSAid campaigning, or through social media, and then dream about tripling our impact in 2016! I dream of Smart Compassion messaging reaching so many people, it enables relief workers all over the world to provide people with exactly what they need when they need it.

While doing this year-in-review exercise, I started thinking about the role visioning has in obtaining goals and dreams. To me, goals and dreams are similar. Goals are more immediate and short term and dreams are more long term. Goals are the expected results to which all of my efforts are directed; dreams are what I imagine a successful end result will be like. Goals give me a framework within which to focus my efforts and eliminate actions that won’t contribute to achieving those goals. I believe developing a clear sense of vision is the key to making dreams a reality.

Envisioning our goals and dreams allow us to see our achievement in perspective. We allow ourselves to peel back the layers of our success and analyze events that were influential in making it a reality. In this process, we identify where we are in the process of achieving our vision. Setting the necessary goals to success requires strategic vision. With activities like crafting a vision board, creating a year-in-review visualization, or even purchasing a new planner in the beginning of the New Year, we can record goals to keep us on track and accountable to our dreams.

When we are working to make a situation better, we can measure our progress by reviewing proven tactics along the way to achieving our goals. For donors who wish to have the greatest impact in the lives of people who suffer, we are happy to offer tips and tactics to maximize the good that donors want to do. Come vision with us!

2016 Goals for Giving

2016 Goals for Giving by CIDI Staff

Written By: Joe Costanzo
Director UK Institute for Migration Research (UK-IMR),

Anyone today with access to modern media has heard a podcast, watched a news story or read an article/blog about migration—even those without access to media have almost certainly heard or shared a personal, migration story.

December 18th, is International Migrants Day when we recognize “the large and increasing number of migrants in the world”. (United Nations @

Rarely a day goes by when stories of migration do not affect our lives. For some, migration is a first-person experience—our own stories of leaving, of change, of struggle, of searching for something better for us, for our families. For many, migration is part of our families’ stories. For some, migration is something we worry about, how it appears to be changing our villages, our cities and our nations. Migration is all of these things and more.

Who is a migrant? What about refugees, are they migrants too?

These may seem like basic questions but they cause confusion and frustration for many, including students and teachers, statisticians, legal scholars and policy makers trying to make sense of the complex world around us. The public conversation about migration has been nearly constant this year when we have witnessed unprecedented levels of human displacement across the globe.

Journalists, politicians and researchers have been responding daily to a rapidly changing landscape where all forms of migration continue to reach historically higher levels; where public support for humanitarian migration has abruptly shifted towards security concerns; and where long-standing (and assumed stable) policy and philosophical frameworks are in crisis—the European Union’s policy framework on asylum (called the Dublin Regulation) and the principle of free movement within European borders (the Schengen Area) are now being challenged. Here, in the UK, local authorities are responding, attempting to develop strategic plans on how to manage the certainty that change is coming but the uncertainty of what’s to come. This includes the formal resettlement of Syrians and steady claims for asylum from nationals of many other countries, as well as the continued growth in intra-EU migration towards the UK.

International agreements, like the 1951 Refugee Convention – which defines a refugee – and international organizations, like the United Nations, provide legal frameworks and guidance on how to describe and count the many different sorts of people (migrants, refugees, students etc.) who may cross national borders by choice or by force to travel, live, work or settle outside their home countries. The term “migrant” has no universally-accepted definition around the world, but the UN suggests that, in the international context, it refer to “any person who changes his or her country of usual residence” regardless of their motivation or legal circumstance.

Where can I find good, reliable information or learn more about migration?

The ‘simple’ answer could be in three easy steps: In places you likely already know, a few you may not and a few classics!

First, locate the basic terms and numbers: For definitions and other migration-related lingo, check out our migration institute’s new glossary of terms. Even though it might seem daunting at first, for numbers check out the experts at the national statistics offices in your country (like the Census Bureau in the United States, or the Office for National Statistics in the UK). These are excellent first points of contact for getting the big picture.

Second, think critically about what you read on migration. Ask yourself (and, why not the person or organization putting out the information?) where the numbers come from and whether sources you trust use those same numbers.

Third, google it (responsibly). I just googled “migration” from here in the UK. It gave me 170 million responses. I might be a migration researcher but I don’t have the time (or the money) to read all those results! Be more specific, googling “migration research” or “migration statistics” reduces the number of hits by millions. Even more important, the top results are recognizable names and organizations—universities, think tanks and government agencies working specifically on these issues. Adding even more specific terms you’re interested in, like your city, or themes like “jobs”, “impacts” or “asylum” will help again. If you find yourself caught on an academic website—fear not! Sources like and translate academic research into compelling, accessible and timely data and analysis that can be readily used and understood. Too, targeted google searches have the added value of introducing you to new, emerging sources of information.

The importance of an informed discussion on migration could not be more critical given the historic levels of all forms of migration underway worldwide including, and most visibly, the forced (or humanitarian-led) migration of refugees. And, through the determined efforts of many actors in and outside of academia, a hard-fought and important place has been created for evidence-led debate on migration.

For many reasons, the debate over migration will continue to grab headlines. Hopefully this short blog post gives some easy to remember and easy to use tools so you can question (and provide your own answers to) the migration conversation.

Currently the Director of the UK Institute for Migration Research, Dr Costanzo got his start in the migration field in the early 1990s as an intern in the Consular Section of the US Embassy in Paris (State) before working for many years on migration statistics and migration policy for the US Commission on Immigration Reform, US Census Bureau (Commerce) and US Citizenship & Immigration Services (Homeland Security). Joe and the UK Institute for Migration Research are based in Kent, England.




Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to be thankful for all that we have, and to help those who are less fortunate. Here at USAID CIDI, we also think it is a good opportunity to reflect on how we give – today and throughout the year – and what gifts make the most impact.

Our mission at USAID CIDI is to encourage monetary donations to trusted relief organizations on this day and throughout the year to maximize our collective impact, particularly when donating in the wake of a natural or complex emergency. We know from experience that monetary donations to trusted relief organizations enable relief workers on the ground to provide more people with what they need, when they need it.

To share with our readers why we at USAID CIDI feel so passionately about giving monetary donations, we have compiled a series of blogs that share the personal reasons why we give cash. Below, you will find our first posting from our Director Juanita Rilling, who reminds us that BOGO is more than just a holiday shopping perk. Enjoy Juanita’s take below and stay tuned for perspectives from the rest of our team leading up to Giving Tuesday!

 I love a free gift with purchase. My home is a shrine to freebies, from a colorful collection of sample-sized cosmetics to bags of flavored coffee to BOGO pairs of shoes, I love getting extra goodies from a single buy.

This is also why I donate cash to relief organizations. In the hands of experienced, reputable relief organizations, monetary donations save thousands of lives and bring ancillary benefits too. Charitable organizations use cash donations to purchase needed supplies locally, which saves thousands of dollars in transportation costs, leaves no carbon footprint and supports local merchants, which speeds economic recovery. Local purchases also ensure that goods are fresh and familiar to survivors, culturally appropriate and, in the case of equipment, locally supportable. And funding that might have been spent on transportation of goods can be used to support more survivors. Even tiny cash donations combine to achieve these BOGO impacts, in addition to supporting disaster-affected people.

In contrast, material donations are one-dimensional. For example, Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food banks can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost $2 per pound retail. Faced with the choice of feeding a family for $1 or donating a single can valued at $1 – wait – is this even a choice? I’ll give $5 or more because I want my donation to do as much good as possible. Helping more people is the best free gift.



Greetings from CIDI headquarters in Washington, DC!

I am thrilled to be working with the creative, thoughtful team at CIDI, whose work contributes to making a positive difference in the lives of people affected by disasters around the world.
Prior to working with CIDI, I served as Executive Director of the George Mason University Institute for Immigration Research (IIR). I led an academic institution whose mission is to influence the passage of immigration reform in the U.S. by showcasing how immigrants provide vital contributions to the American economy and society of each city, state and the nation as a whole.

As a former refugee from Somalia, I have a deep, personal understanding of the critical role diaspora communities play in humanitarian response. I have witnessed diaspora, through outreach and partnerships, support donors and response agencies in providing essential relief to disaster survivors quickly and effectively. In the past 8 years, I have spearheaded diaspora engagement initiatives in a number of capacities including public-private partnerships and community development.

I am honored to lead another collaboration effort; this time between the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) and the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI). Please join me on Thursday November 12, 9am-12pm, on the George Mason University Arlington Campus for a panel discussion on “The Contribution of Immigrant and Diaspora Communities in U.S. Disaster Response Missions.” Reserve your seat now by RSVP-ing here
I look forward to seeing you at the panel discussion!

Safiya Khalid

When you read about or see video footage after a disaster do you feel overwhelmed? You know you feel compassion and a desire to help but the situation is probably more complicated than what you alone can manage.

There are plenty of things in this world that each of us would like to change. We want to make a difference for good, but the problems can seem so large that we are unsure where to start. As an Online Communications Specialist here at USAID CIDI, I have spent a great deal of time engaging in online conversations about the most effective ways to help communities after disaster strikes. Some of us don’t know what’s needed, some of us don’t know how to reach those in need, and some of us just don’t know where to begin. And the amount of money cited in appeals by aid agencies can provoke a case of sticker shock.

Want to make a difference in the world? Many times, small and simple is the best way to start. When I want to make a difference, I follow these 6 simple tricks to help people who need it:

  1. Plug into groups that share your interests: Chances are you aren’t the only one driven to help others. Nonprofit coalitions, like InterAction, track development and aid all over the world. InterAction’s members explore common dilemmas and seek solutions, building solidarity.
  2. Send cash to a trusted organization: Are you looking to connect with grassroots projects around the world? Log on and pick your interest! GlobalGiving can connect you with organizations working to educate children, feed the hungry, preserve our environment, build houses, train people in new skills, or do hundreds of other amazing things.
  3. Pictures and Videos Galore!: PSAid is our annual contest, open to the public, that attracts creative Public Service Announcements that encourage Americans to practice Smart Compassion when helping people affected by emergencies. Pick one that speaks to you and help spread the message!
  4. “Connect Before you Collect!”: One of my favorite CIDI phrases promoted by our director, Juanita Rilling, it’s easy to recite and even easier to remember. The next time you‘re participating in a canned food, coat or toy drive, just simply ask, “Have we connected with an organization who’s in need of these items to make sure they’re really needed?”
  5. Volunteer locally: Are you interested in volunteering your skills to help rebuild strong, resilient communities but don’t have any experience? No worries! With organizations like National VOAD, you can work with nonprofit organizations and volunteer your services in all phases of a disaster.
  6. Spread the word, Cash is Best: You can help after disasters by sharing within your community, schools, etc. about needs-based assistance and how Smart Compassion does the most good for the most people quickly! Use our Toolkit for Giving to convey the best way for your community to support international disaster relief.

Smart Compassion is all about making a difference by ensuring that your donation that has a positive impact on survivors and their communities – materially, economically and environmentally. For more information about making a difference in the most effective way, read more about USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information and be a force for good.

Happy International Mother Earth Day! No longer a day that evokes images traditional hippies at the first celebration in 1970, it is now a globally coordinated day celebrating support for environmental protection in more than 192 countries. This has meant wide scale efforts to curb deforestation in Brazil, address desertification in China, and build global responsibility around CO2 emissions.

. These charitable and humanitarian instincts among Earth Day activists are not unlike what we at CIDI find in those wishing to alleviate suffering in the wake of natural disasters. We are inundated with calls, email, and other inquiries about how concerned Americans can help disaster-affected people. Many times, compassionate people turn to their own pantries and closets, packing clothes and household items with a heart full of hope that a disaster survivor will happily open the box on the other end. While well-intended, collections that are not coordinated with a relief organization only infrequently reach beneficiaries. Many remain in the US because transportation costs and other fees are prohibitively expensive. Others are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are culturally inappropriate. We at CIDI work to turn donor good intentions into Smart Compassion.

Part of Smart Compassion is understanding that monetary donations to credible relief organizations are the most effective and efficient way to help disaster survivors. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure uniquely. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to people’s evolving needs as they migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Our Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island, illustrates the costs to donors of sending unsolicited donations: A donor purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Western Samoa. Transportation costs and other fees will total $273.43 to send a teddy bear! The same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, giving 27,343 people 2 liters of clean drinking water each.

Incidentally, Smart Compassion also supports environmental protection. The above estimate only takes into account the cost in money; it considers neither the CO2 emissions from transportation overseas nor the electricity used to stabilize the temperature in storage. It also does not address environment impacts that unsolicited donations can have on communities: boxes of inappropriate donations including food or medicine delivered past their expiration dates often have to be disposed of through bulldozing or burning, both negatively impacting the environment. The sheer bulk of clothing donations are so burdensome, costly to manage, and harmful to the environment in recipient countries that over 34 countries have banned by law the importation of used clothing.

Smart Compassion involves being aware of the unintended consequences of giving, and choosing to make a donation that has a positive impact on disaster survivors and their communities, whether economically or environmentally. Monetary contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what survivors need when they need it. They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that beneficiaries receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate. More benefits to more people at lower cost and while protecting Mother Earth – done!

For more information on effective donations, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.

When we talk about international disasters, many of us think first of natural disasters like earthquakes, typhoons and wildfires. This makes perfect sense; in the last month alone, the world has experienced the devastating effects of disasters including the Yunnan Province earthquake in China, Super Typhoon Rasmassun in the Philippines and severe mudslides in Western India. However, as the current situation in Northern Iraq reminds us, complex humanitarian emergencies require relief from the international community just as natural disasters do. What aid efforts are underway in Northern Iraq and what can YOU do to help?

There are currently tens of thousands of internally displaced people in Northern Iraq following the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) assault on Mount Sinjar and its surrounding areas. Since January alone, an estimated 1.4 million people have been evacuated from their homes due to violence. The more recent surge between August 3rd and 8th has caused as many as 200,000 to flee the affected areas. In response to this humanitarian need, USAID has deployed response experts to key locations and has provided airdrops of NGO-supplied food and water to communities trapped by ISIL.

Since we’d all like to help affected Iraqi families in these tragic circumstances, it’s important to remember that unsolicited material donations can clog supply chains and slow the speed of delivery of critical supplies. Instead, donors can more effectively channel their generosity by sending monetary donations to reputable organizations that are working in Iraq. Cash donations enable aid workers to immediately purchase relief items that are fresh and familiar to disaster-affected people, which can be a huge comfort to those who miss their homes. For this reason among many others, giving cash is a pillar of Smart Compassion.

If you’re looking to make a monetary donation to support relief in Northern Iraq, find a list of trusted and experienced organizations helping on-the-ground here: InterAction, Global Giving, orRelief Web. For all your disaster donations needs in one place, download the Smart Compassion Toolkit.


Following the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, I was sent back to Thailand. I’d been a Peace Corps volunteer there in the late ’90’s and can both speak and read Thai. My assignment was to work in a government district office (like a county but also includes all the towns and cities) to try help coordinate all the aid flooding into the area – often called “The Second Tsunami.”

It was the Wild West all over again. During my four years in Thailand, I saw the best and the worst of aid. I saw houses built on land without titles, once the charity went home the government was left to figure out whether the owner could evict in one case the people were kicked out of their new houses when the landlord fought it in court. I heard the frustration when one charity just finished constructing toilets for a school just before another charity tore them down so they could build a larger school instead. I saw boats sink during the handing over ceremony. I saw one village with 34 charities competing to lead projects while another similarly sized village just 10 kilometers received only the barest assistance. I saw failed livelihood projects where the people were left with products they could not sell. I saw project evaluations ignored when the powers that be didn’t like the findings. And the list goes on and on.

The people in the temporary camps felt pretty helpless to find the assistance they needed. The nonprofits did a poor job of keeping them informed and if they lived in a hard to reach area, far fewer nonprofits came by to check on them.

It was just crazy. So I started to investigate how to solve this problem. Obviously, the first solution was to set some decent standards. T

The end of Ramadan means a celebrate for all those who do and do not celebrate. Our CIDI team is enjoying samosas made by our Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator, Barlin Ali. Samosas are savory pastries filled with meat, potatoes, or chicken that can be found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. You can find Barlin’s recipe in her cookbook: Somali Cuisine.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and samosas-

CIDI Family

Eid Muborak


Did you know that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), comprising 189 National Societies, is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, providing assistance before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people?

In order to help the American Red Cross and the IFRC with this mission, the Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) is an international resource center that develops knowledge, innovation and best practices related to disaster preparedness that will inform the future operations of the IFRC and National Societies as well as any disaster preparedness practitioner in their key areas of interest worldwide.

In this context, the GDPC helps safeguard communities from feature disasters through three main areas: Research, Learning and Dialogue by engaging strategic partners in key research opportunities; Technology through introducing mobile apps for preparedness and early warning messaging in new markets and exploring the potential of electronic games and other technology opportunities; and Innovation and Scale by identifying model preparedness programs and investing in their expansion to maximize impact around the world. To make all this happen, the team is relying on partnerships with the private sector, universities and the expertise of Red Cross staff and volunteers who can help take model programs to scale and provide technical assistance to partners adopting the program in their country.

Some of the accomplishments of the Center include workshops, trainings and research that enhance disaster preparedness capacities at community, local and national levels. Additionally, the Center is working in a First Aid and Hazard preparedness apps program, designed to provide efficient and cost-effective access to mobile applications to better inform millions of people about what to do before, during and after an emergency. The app program is rapidly expanding and will include up to 100 Red Cross partners. The First Aid and the Hazard preparedness apps can be downloaded from the app store of your home country. Moreover, supported by Disney, the GDPC successfully piloted with the Vietnam Red Cross the ‘Pillowcase Project’, a school-based disaster preparedness program. This project involves the creation of an interactive, child-friendly brochure that equips students with information about what to do before, during and after an emergency. The program was conducted in 25 schools across two provinces and reached a total of 3,953 students. The pilot is expected to expand with the British Red Cross and Peruvian Red Cross.

As a contribution to strengthen the capacities for disaster preparedness practitioners GDPC launched The website is a worldwide network that allows collaboration among humanitarian and international development practitioners and shares resources and experiences on disaster preparedness and related issues. The site features topic, hazard and country profile pages in 18 languages, a cross-language search tool and growing array of +600 resource materials. The GDPC is encouraging community practitioners to share good practices, solutions and lessons directly from the field through ‘Share Your Stories’ on Experiences from the field are not always easily captured by traditional or quantitative methods, but through story-telling, others can learn and envision new ways of working in similar disaster preparedness contexts.


Please contact [email protected] with any comments or questions about the GDPC, or visit for more information.GDPC Logo Centered Final CMYK (for print jpeg file)


We at USAID CIDI can’t decide if the summer heat is causing us to see mirages or if we are living in a dream. Beginning back in 2009, we admired and followed the Good Intentions are Not Enough blog. But like a mirage, the blog disappeared in 2012, much to our chagrin.


The Good Intents blog enjoyed a cult following since its creation in 2009 as it engaged in frank dialogue about international humanitarian programs, including the impact of donations on relief and development projects. A stated goal was to provide information to donors so that their contributions “match their good intentions.”  The blog featured input from experienced humanitarian practitioners who describe the unintended impacts that unsolicited material donations can have on disaster relief and related programs.


The blog was the brainchild of Saundra Schimmelpfennig, a veteran of more than 20 years in local and international aid and development. Ms. Schimmelpfennig was the founding director of The Charity Rater, the founding director of the Disaster Tracking Recovery Assistance Center, and a contributor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. After three years of compelling dialogue, the blog closed in December of 2012.

The dreamy part? We are thrilled to announce that USAID CIDI will post selections from the blog here, keeping intact the archived posts and comments that focus on donations. We will release the blogs in chronological order, starting with Saudra’s first two dozen offerings on Tuesday, July 29th.  After each initial posting, the content will be added to a permanent library on our website.

In starting her website and the blog, Saundra stated, “Good intentions are not enough for aid to be successful. If aid is done poorly it can hurt the very people it is supposed to help.” Accurate information and sound practices are also crucial to smart aid.

USAID CIDI’s mission is to provide donors with information that facilitates their desire to help disaster-affected people. Our aim in posting Good Intents’ donations-centric blog content is to offer more useful information about the impacts of donations from experienced humanitarian experts.  Readers are advised that views expressed on Good Intents may not necessarily reflect the views of USAID CIDI. Also, reference in Good Intents content to any specific commercial products, process, service, manufacturer, or company does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by USAID CIDI.


The Good Intents blog closed in December of 2012 but many of the observations remain timely and have been true in recent emergency responses. We believe that this resource continues to be valuable for prospective donors and for students of humanitarian relief.  Tune in Tuesday, July 29th at 3:30 PM EST for the first two dozen posts, including:

  • Beggars can’t be choosers, but are they really beggars?
  • Mosquito nets, condoms, and recycling
  • Good intentions are not enough
  • If aid were like McDonald’s

If this is a dream, we hope we don’t wake up before next Tuesday!

In the aftermath of the hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel (September 2013) thousands of families in Mexico lost their houses, possessions and even their loved ones.  According to Relief Web: “218 000 people were directly affected by storms Ingrid and Manuel, 139 people died, 53 are still missing, and 52 430 people are in shelters. A total of 26 000 houses were affected, 3 850 of them being severely damaged. An estimated 534 000 hectares of crops were damaged and 100 000 cattle lost. Estimates for economic losses go from $5 700 million to $7 500 million.” In the face of this disaster, I had the privilege to coordinate the humanitarian aid a Mexican civil society organization named Cinco Panes y Dos Peces A.C. collected to alleviate the loss of hundreds of indigenous families in the municipality of Cochoapa el Grande in the highlands of Guerrero.

Given the scope of this disaster that affected families who lost everything, 53 tons of food and clothing were delivered in two relief missions. The challenges that accompanied the delivery of the goods included an 18 hour trip through damaged roads, cliffs, severe weather conditions and a landslide that left us stuck for three hours. Because the roads were too tight for the trailers to pass, the trailers coming with aid had to be parked miles away. Therefore, we had to coordinate efforts with the local people of the benefited communities to mobilize the aid with pick-up vans. It took two and a half days to mobilize 18 tons of aid from one town to the benefited region. Having the transportation to deliver the goods was not enough, though. To ensure the aid delivery and access to an area struck by disaster where roads most likely will be damaged, it is necessary to consider ahead what can go wrong on the delivery process and have proper route planning, mapping, weather forecasting and proper packing of the goods to avoid contact with rain or dirt.

Once the goods reached the benefited community new challenges arose. When a disaster strikes not all families are equally affected; therefore, when delivering humanitarian aid to a community, there is an important question the team will have to consider beforehand in regard of how the aid will be allocated. Within the same community there may be families that just lost their crops while others may have lost their households, cattle, crops and even a family member. Does this mean that you distribute the aid proportionally to the loss of each family? From my experience, you most likely will have to distribute the aid equally to avoid creating dispute, confrontation and envy inside of the community. Furthermore, when aid is handed to the community, people are eager and anxious to receive their goods. This means you have to make the process as agile and fast and possible.

A third challenge I witnessed while delivering goods is the unsolicited donations that take up time to sort and space since they are not culturally welcomed by the people in the communities. Although people donate with the best intentions to help, some of the inadequate donations for the inhabitants of Cochoapa el Grande included: canned tuna and canned vegetables, instant soups, floor detergent and women’s clothing. Because locals are not used to canned products such as vegetables and tuna, they used the juice of the cans and trashed the rest. Additionally, the floors of their houses are made of flattened soil so floor detergent was not necessary and not all the women’s clothing could be used since woman in this Mixteco indigenous region wear their typical beautiful handmade dresses. If not donating cash for people to consume their local products and reactivating the local economy, people should consider to make a donation that is useful and culturally appropriate for the local people and review the regular diet of the affected region or community where the aid is going to be deployed.

After a week of staying with the local population delivering the aid, we learned new valuable lessons.  One month later we had the opportunity to deploy a second mission with 35 tons of food and goods for the affected communities in the Mixteco region of Cochoapa el Grande, classified in 2006 by the UN as the poorest municipality in Mexico.

Arroyo Prieto photo for CIDI


To read more about this you can visit (in Spanish):

I Was Here

Image credit to the UN.


As we approach World Humanitarian day, one thing comes to mind. Every year on August 19, we honor people who work in humanitarian projects around the world. These true humanitarians make many personal sacrifices in order to provide assistance to others. And  their work is often risky – even life threatening.  August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, established in honor of Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 20 members of his staff who died tragically in a car bombing on August 19, 2003.

Humanitarian professionals work in a variety of sectors. Some focus on water and sanitation initiatives. Others are trained for search and rescue, shelter, livelihood restoration, nutrition and rapid response following natural disasters. They work across multiple sectors around the globe, but one doesn’t need a plane ticket to be a humanitarian.

To be a humanitarian requires two basic things. First is a concern for the welfare of all people. The second is a classic humanitarian concept dating back to the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm. A way to insure against doing harm is to ensure your help is wanted and required, to avoid the possibility of causing harm despite your best intentions.  You may know from the experience of giving or receiving a gift that bombed- good intentions do not always guarantee good outcomes.

There are so many ways to connect with and help others! Want to give to a worthy cause? Donate cash to a responsible organization working in a sector you believe in. If you have only have material goods to give, that’s okay. You can donate them locally, or sell them and donate the proceeds. Take an idea from our “55 Ways to Repurpose a Material Donation”. Once you’ve decided to help others without causing harm, you’re bound to be a humanitarian in your hood.

For more ideas on how to be humanitarian in your hood, stay tuned for tips in future blogs.