Tsunami Donor Expectations Are Unrealistic, Says Baptist Leader

A brother and sister pose for a picture where their home stood in Telwatta, Sri Lanka, before the tsunami destroyed it.
American and European donors often have unrealistic expectations about the rapid expenditure of their tsunami-related contributions, say those engaged in relief work and seeking a responsible use of funds.

"Our donors are expecting that they give money on Monday and a house will be built by Friday," said Frederick V. George, pastor of London's East Barnet Baptist Church, who has been in Sri Lanka leading disaster-relief efforts.


"It's not going to happen quickly," he said.


"People must be realistic about relief," said George, noting that rehabilitation and development work will go on for years.


Raised in Sri Lanka, George was a member as a young person of Cinnamon Gardens Baptist Church located in the nation's capital. He went to the United Kingdom in 1964 to attend Spurgeon's College. He has served his current church for 36 years and was president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 1998-99.


George told Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, that he planned to draw up a two-to-three-year strategy plan.


However, he noted that "We have to be open to constant revision. The situation is fairly fluid."


Meeting at the Sri Lankan Baptist Sangamaya (Union) headquarters in Colombo, George said, "We need to phase in projects."


Kingsley Perera, general secretary of the Sri Lankan Baptist Sangamaya (Union), agreed.


"We have to go slow," he said. "We have to work in partnership with Buddhists."


George said that while people needed to get back into employment, "it's not as glamorous as building a thousand houses."


Hunger-relief organizations have learned over the past 25 years that private and public donors are more responsive to media-covered crisis than to long-term development work. Donations fall sharply after the media turn their attention to other stories, even though the needs remain constant for years.


Despite the unrealistic expectations of donors, George said financial contributions are still the best way to provide aid.


He discouraged contributions of clothing. "I've seen so many piles of clothing that no one wants to touch," he said.


Similar concerns about the responsible use of aid were repeated in Chennai, India.


At the offices of the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief, Kennedy Dhanabalan, manager for technical services, reported that EFICOR had built 526 temporary shelters in Kolachel, located at the southern most tip of India.


He said that evangelicals were doing relief work with Catholics at St. Mary's school and starting to provide rehabilitation aid through projects that helped people regain their livelihoods.


Although five fiberglass boats had been given and more were ordered, Kennedy said that the fishermen needed wooden boats because of the rough sea in that area.


Montacute told Kennedy that BWA would support livelihood projects related to fishing. That is in addition to the $10,000 that BWA wired EFICOR within a few days of the disaster for immediate relief work.


Returning to the hotel in a vehicle given for two months to EFICOR by General Motors, Montacute said that BWA "wanted to entrust, empower and enable people like Kennedy."


BWA also works with Churches Auxiliary for Social Action, an Indian-based ecumenical relief and development organization whose membership includes Protestant, Orthodox and Baptist churches.


Sheila Jones, CASA's project offer, referred to the first 45 days as the "crisis period," in which funds were immediately made available to churches.


"Food was cooked, infant food was prepared and food packets were distributed," she said.


Jones, an Indian, said that 100,000 people had been given assistance, pointing out that both upper and lower classes lost everything.


School children had lost their books and bicycles, she said.


A poster in her office showed pictures of tsunami victims, with a caption "Relief to Relive," illustrating the need to shift from relief to rehabilitation.


Like EFICOR, CASA was beginning to enable people to recover their livelihoods.


CASA was also providing trauma counseling and psychological intervention, said Jones, including an animated video for children who were afraid to go to school.


She said that it was "better to have local people" than outsiders distributing relief and rehabilitation aid. Americans and Europeans, she said, "came to see, and they are now gone."


Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com.


Also see:

Baptists and Buddhists Work Together in Sri Lanka

Hungarian Baptist Aid Contributes 'Presence' in Tsunami Relief

Sri Lankan Village Begins Recovery From Tsunami

Works Louder Than Words for BWAid Director

Tsunami Disaster Need Increases, Responses Often Flawed

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