Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: July 2012 (page 2 of 3)

UPDATED: One way to help Syria: Donate to Syrian refugees

Update 12/21: Some of the comments from donors below this post are worth reading.  Also, I’ve added UNICEF to the list of organizations at a reader’s recommendation.  Happy holidays, and thank you for giving to Syrians in need.

Recently, a friend from Latin America expressed her difficulty in following along with what’s happening in Syria, and wondered aloud if there was anything at all she could do to help. She, like me, has friends in Syria, but largely feels helpless living in a city without a strong Syrian community, where there are virtually no protests to join, no ways to locally reach out.

One way to help that has a low barrier to entry is by donating or volunteering with organizations working with Syrian refugees. I’ve seen a lot of tweets about different organizations, and while I’m sure all have the right intentions in mind, as someone who donates (small amounts) frequently to a variety of organizations (and also as someone who has worked in fundraising), there are a few things to look out for when selecting an organization. You want to be sure that the organization is registered, and has been vetted independently by Charity Navigator, Guidestar, or similar ranking systems. If I’m considering a regular or somewhat large donation (large for me is $200+, I work for a non-profit too!), I like to look at the public financial records of an organization to see how they spend their money. I’m also put off by organizations that send out a lot of paper (like the ACLU, which I am a donor to but which annoys me with their constant mailings and phone calls) or sells my name to other organizations (ahem, Planned Parenthood).

With that in mind, I’ve put together a short list of organizations that are currently channeling funds into helping Syrian refugees, with comments as to their strengths and weaknesses. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I’m open to more suggestions, but let this be a starting place.  In order of Charity Navigator ranking, top to bottom:

  • Mercy USA is an 501(c)(3) nonprofit* that funds relief work largely in Muslim communities and is considered an Islamic charity, though the organization publicly commits to “no discrimination in aid given, impartial and non-political.”  Mercy gets the Guidestar seal of approval for transparency and gets a 67.95/70 score from Charity Navigator.  Right now, they’re running a Text4Syria campaign that makes it easy for anyone to quickly give $10 (by texting “SYRIA” to 80077), but you can also donate on their website, by phone, or by mail.  Note: Mercy USA receives US government funding.
  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (65.30/70 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly.
  • The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has a special fund for Syrian refugees, with clear indications of what support of different amounts can provide (for example, “$200 can provide blankets for 20 families”).  Donations through that page go through USA for UNHCR, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is ranked 51.17/70 by Charity Navigator.  Part of the reason for their lower ranking is that they spend more than 20% of their funds on fundraising, which usually means a lot of paper (and it’s true: I do receive a lot of mailings from UNHCR generally).  You can review their financials through Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Syrianorphans.org is a new coalition that allows donors to choose between three foundations: The Karam Foundation (which is unranked by both Charity Navigator and GuideStar), the Islamic charity Zakat Foundation (55.29/70 on Charity Navigator), and the Syrian Sunrise Foundation (also unranked).  Right now, given the relatively low ranking of the Zakat Foundation and the lack of ranking for the other two (not to mention the fact that, at the current moment, the website’s donation page is not functioning), Syrianorphans.org isn’t one of the best choices.

Lastly, here are a couple of organizations I’d be a bit wary of:

  • SyriaRelief.com – I have no reason to doubt this organization, but it is brand-new, offers no financial transparency, does not appear to be a registered nonprofit, and has no rankings.  YMMV.
  • Sham Relief Foundation – Again, no way of knowing where your money is going.  Why not give to a known, reputable organization instead?

* Donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofits are tax-deductible for US taxpayers.

On Finality, Loss, Regret

On the way home from Nairobi, on the last leg of my flight–from Newark to San Francisco–I was seated next to a young, excited, but mature young woman who had just returned from a month of traveling in Europe with her father, who was seated on the other side of her but slept the whole flight. I listened to her stories–it sounded like she’d had a great time–and talked about travel, and where I’ve been, but the whole time all I could think about was wishing I’d taken a trip like that with my own father. And now it’s too late.

The finality of a parent’s death doesn’t sink in until much, much later, months after the cards and emails of condolence that you were too raw to respond to at first, but saved in the hopes that you might at some point have the energy to respond. It isn’t until months later, when you realize that you’ll never take that trip you talked about, or discuss that book that hasn’t come out yet that you talked about maybe reading together, that it sinks in: He’s never coming back. It will never be the same again.

You don’t realize, until months later, maybe a year, maybe more, that your life has changed forever. You don’t realize how much you’re personally affected until you can look back and realize what havoc that single act–of passing–has wreaked on your life. Maybe you cried for a few days or a few weeks then went on with your life, thinking that pushing through it is the only way to go. And maybe it was, but then you look back and wish you’d taken advantage of, rather than pushed aside, all of those offers of kindness that you were still too raw, too tenacious even, to accept. And then, months later, you realize you’re finally ready to talk, except no one’s there with a ready ear.

It’s been 225 days since I lost him and in some ways I feel more raw now than I did that night when, surrounded by mostly strangers and a few friends at a professional dinner in British Columbia, I saw the two missed calls from my mother and I knew, left the room, cried on a friend’s shoulder, smoked a solitary cigarette, then composed myself and went back to the table. It was a month before I had to delete his number from my phone because some mornings, out of habit, I would dial it thinking I might blabber on about my week while walking to work like I had done for years. It was two months before I stopped instinctively buying him gifts each time I traveled (always a little box of some kind). It’s been eight months and each time I visit a new destination I still think of how, with childlike wonder, he would ask what each place was like.

I’ve tried to write about it. I have several unpublished blog posts, usually written under some level of intoxication and thank goodness I have the wherewithal not to consider publishing until morning. It’s when I’m drunk that I’m most easily triggered into tears over the smallest things: a song from childhood sung badly at karaoke, the death of a coworker’s dog.

And I have talked: with the friend who was there the night I got the call. With my mother, listening to voicemails she’s saved. In Haarlem, as I walked the same streets we’d walked six years earlier. On the boardwalk in Copacobana with the sun shining brightly on my face, a caipirinha in my hand. On a long-distance phone call from a hotel room in Madrid to a mobile phone in Japan. Every time I think I’ve talked enough, I realize, though…it’s never enough. There will never be enough words to explain how deep a loss this is.

I got a tattoo a few weeks ago for him. Ironic, really, since he never liked my tattoos, or tattooing in general. It took me awhile to think of what would mean the most; I thought of trying to design something combining a guitar and a sailboat, two of his favorite things, but in the end I went with a philosophy I’ve held since I was sixteen, something I’d tried so hard to impart on him in his final, sad years. Je ne regrette rien, “I have no regrets.” It means more now than it ever did then, as I spent hours talking to him on the phone, in the car, while we drove, about the things he wished he’d done or hadn’t done. His secrets are ours, I wouldn’t dare share them, but suffice it to say he left this world with regrets. I don’t ever want to, cannot ever do the same.

If there is one thing he saw me as most, it was a writer. And it is in his memory that I will carry on that honor. And if there’s one thing he wished for me most, it was a life without regrets. All I can do is strive for that.

Reflections on the GV Summit 2012

I started writing from Kampala, Uganda, where Rebekah Heacock and I took a much-needed post-Summit respite. For both of us–and for many others–this was our third Global Voices summit, our third time getting together with this amazing group of human beings that has organically formed over the years from a small community of bloggers to an enormous and powerful network of bloggers, translators, journalists, filmmakers, and others passionate about storytelling. Because that’s what we are: storytellers.

Over the past five years since I joined Global Voices, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of these individuals all over the world. Not just at previous Summits in Budapest and Santiago but in their homes, at conferences all over the world, and at various parties…I’ve even hosted a few on my own couch. They have become some of my closest friends, colleagues, allies, and travel buddies.

But five years in, things have changed for me. I no longer write passionately and more than weekly for Global Voices. I’ve moved out of the region, and have stopped following blogs. Yes, I’m on the board of the organization now and so constantly involved, but I lack the connection that I used to have to the blogosphere…which is beginning to lack cohesion anyhow as people move on to Twitter and Facebook.

Still, that put me in a unique position this time around. Seen as a person of authority (ha!) by many newcomers, I was constantly stopped and asked for directions to this or that session, or for help in finding someone for a reimbursement or an aspirin. And as such (and also, in doing my job as volunteer rep to the board), I was able to ask each person I encountered what they thought of the Summit.

The reaction was so overwhelmingly positive. And it put a smile on my face and in my heart each time to hear these newcomers say how lucky they feel to be a part of it, or how special the community is.

There were gripes, sure, especially from some of the old hats who felt that GV has changed, become less radical, or is moving too close to the mainstream…but it is important to note that those gripers are still engaged, are still working to make Global Voices what they want it to be. That is, indeed, what’s so special about this phenomenon, this network: it is truly community-owned.

Lots of others have blogged about the sessions, outcomes, and discussions that took place at the Summit, so rather than attempt to sum it all up, I encourage you to read those.

Just as with each previous Summit I attended, I left this one feeling invigorated and newly excited about my work with GV. Though I may not be as active an author as I once was, I so value the friendships, the network, and the trust that this community gives me, and can only hope that I give as much in return.

Cheers, Global Voices! Nearly eight years in, you’re looking better than ever.

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