Relief Is Just a Text Away: Text Message Giving in Haiti

January 12th, 2010 will forever be remembered as a horrifying and tragic day in Haiti. On this date, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the country, causing approximately $13.2 billion in damage while leaving over one million Haitians without a home. Worst of all, the catastrophe caused between 250,000 and 300,000 deaths, according to the UN aid mission. Little good can be drawn from an event that wrought such havoc and sadness. This was one practice following the earthquake, however, that could greatly benefit future relief efforts: text message giving. This innovative practice has the potential to forever change humanitarian relief.


In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the Red Cross set up a system where donors could send a text message to donate money for relief victims. By texting HAITI to 90999, individuals gave $10 to the Red Cross, with the opportunity to donate as much as $30 if they so chose. The charges were simply added on to peoples’ monthly phone bills. Continue reading

Seeing Red: Humanitarian Efforts in Syria

Beginning in March 2011, a group of protesters in the southern section of Syria sparked a nationwide opposition movement intent on removing President Bashar Al-Assad from power. The results have been largely tragic, as more than 7,500 people have been killed by Assad’s repressive and brutal regime; opposition fighters, restive towns, and even journalists have been targeted victims of an administration clinging desperately to power. Numerous countries and organizations have condemned Assad and his government, pressuring him to peacefully step down and put an end to violence; unfortunately, Assad has yet to show any signs of complying. Much of the recent Syria coverage has circled around the debate of whether foreign countries should directly intervene or at least provide arms for a severely undermanned opposition force. A separate yet crucial issue does not receive as much press: the humanitarian needs of Syrians embroiled in a war-torn nation.


In a conflict that is so violent and deadly, humanitarian relief is extremely important and integral in saving lives. Leading the charge in this critical area is the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, forming a partnership in an effort to abate the humanitarian crisis in the region. The two work primarily to provide basic needs such as food and water to war ravaged areas, as well as to administer first aid to the injured. The Red Cross and Red Crescent groups have also initiated a series of daring rescue missions in areas of active fighting to rescue civilians and journalists. Continue reading

Internet Petitions: Activism or “Slacktivism”?

Recently, the tragic events in Syria have dominated international attention. Most people watch with horror as Bashar al-Assad brutally represses his people and commits countless human rights abuses. Many members of the opposition have been viciously tortured, generating a self-righteous outrage and a rhetorical call to action. A sentiment common to this issue, however, is helplessness. Other than physically going to Syria, what can a concerned citizen possibly do about the issue of Syrian torture, while being removed from the actual events? Actually, the answer is: quite a lot.


Enter the online petition. A relatively new practice, the concept has its roots in the age-old activity of collecting signatures to call for some kind of action— a tool for the masses to put pressure on those in power. These petitions can range from the serious (for example, a call for the UN to declare crimes against humanity against Syrian torturers) to the less pressing (such as a push for the construction of a local skate park).  Instead of collecting actual John Hancocks, however, an online petition accumulates virtual pledges that serve the same purpose. One simply needs an Internet connection and a clickable mouse in order to support and enact change. Continue reading

In God We Trust? The Pros and Cons of Faith-Based Organizations

In recent years, faith-based aid organizations (FBOs) have been positively thriving. Many of these religiously affiliated groups have benefited from donations and volunteers. For example, the evangelical group World Vision recently reported a near tripling of their budget since 2000, while Catholic Relief Services pulled in $919 million in revenue this past year ($294 million coming from private donations), an agency record. Furthermore, a recent study showed that, based on participation, FBOs are the most popular organizations through which to volunteer. By combining increased funding with an ever-growing pool of human help, there’s no doubt that FBOs have greatly increased their influence and importance. However, some FBOs have also received criticisms regarding their activities. This blog examines the pros and cons of faith-based organizations. Continue reading

A Superhuman Way to Fight Poverty


Through more than 50 years of heroic storytelling, the Justice League has valiantly fought crime and thwarted villains. Created by DC Comics, the set of superheroes has frequently foiled evil plots and routinely saved the planet from ruin (did you know that they once stopped a weapon of mass destruction from hitting Earth, thus averting World War III?). The list of impressive feats extends on and on. One major question remains: Is the Justice League ready for their toughest challenge yet?

As part of a new initiative, the superheroes will make the transition from solving fantasy problems to addressing real world issues in an ambitious effort to fight famine. We Can Be Heroes is a partnership between DC Entertainment and three established aid groups working to address the severe hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. The three partners (Mercy Corps, The International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children) were chosen by DC Entertainment based on their prior track records of success in Africa. The initiative will feature the Justice League as part of an extensive advertising campaign, using the popular superheroes as a promotional tool to encourage fans to give to a worthy cause. As an added bonus, DC Entertainment has promised to match all funds donated, as well as give 50 percent of all proceeds made from merchandise


Unlike many humanitarian relief efforts that simply focus on short-term relief, We Can Be Heroes plans to concentrate on long-term solutions that will stop famines from happening in the future. The use of the Justice League isn’t just a ploy to attract comic book fans either—the superheroes can appeal to all people because of their greater symbolism. The campaign urges donors to be heroes themselves, translating the good that the superheroes represent to the real world good of helping to abolish famine. As Daniel Dean, a regional manager for a branch of DC Comics aptly states:

 “See, to me this isn’t about ‘I like the Justice League, therefore I will help a 6-year-old girl not starve to death.’ It’s a case of believing in everything people like Superman and the Justice League are supposed to represent, and standing ready and waiting to help so that when an opportunity like this comes along we can jump at the chance.”

Continue reading

Giving Aid an X-Ray

As evidenced by its extremely low GDP per capita and high poverty rate, Rwanda is a poor nation. The country has hence received a substantial amount of foreign aid from a variety of sources. Though still impoverished, Rwanda has actually managed these resources quite well, somewhat recovering from a devastating civil war that only ended about 15 years ago. On the surface, Rwanda looks like a success story and a model for other underdeveloped nations to follow. If looked at closely, however, it is immediately apparent that things could be much better.

Though Rwanda has a decent infrastructure of receiving and disbursing aid, the information that the country collects varies greatly, depending on the agency receiving it. Numerous government agencies are involved in the aid process, and at least six of them receive different sets of data. Additionally, the different information is rarely shared between groups. This wild variance of facts and statistics often leads to differing plans of actions from the agencies, and the lack of transparency and commonality between the data causes confusion and frustration. Continue reading

What (and Who) Took Down Polio in India?

Flash back two years or so, to 2009. Polio had largely been eradicated globally, with only a few countries still experiencing the debilitating disease. Unfortunately, India was one of those unlucky countries. With 741 reported cases of polio in 2009 alone, India had the regrettable distinction of having the most cases of any country and,  overall, more than half of the world’s polio infections. The nation struggled to find more effective and reliable ways to combat polio and prevent it from taking a further hold.


Now fast forward to the present. A few days ago, India happily announced that it has had no new cases of polio for the 2011 year, an incredible improvement from the high levels that existed just two years before. These results were almost entirely due to a vast and ambitious effort that sent 2.3 million vaccinators around the country to give 900 million doses of the polio vaccine that prevents the disease. An obvious question comes to mind: how was such a large and complex mission possible, and ultimately successful? Continue reading