HOW do you HELP?

1 Dec

Here at RR, we’d decided that Saturday will become “Update Day”.

There’s been a lot of changes here lately. Workloads are increasing, projects are defining themselves and the “old man” is slowly recovering.

(We’re still waiting for the blood to drain from his eyes, as right now he still looks like one of those “Midnight Monster Movie Ghouls.” He finds our horror “amusing”.)

Here’s the haps;

The “old man” recently spent time dealing with the Canadians. During that time, to use his own words, he “seized up”. Work round the clock dealing with “disaster and deeds yet fulfilled”… and eventually something snaps.

It usually starts with chest pains. Gasping and wheezing. Then, you fall down. It was so pronounced that he actually broke the blood vessels in his eyes, filling his eyes with blood.

He’s on the mend and he’ll be back, soon. He’s actually spending a lot of his time in bed working from a laptop on a “hospital bed table”.

While he’s mending, we’re picking up the slack.

We’re getting more and more contact from disaster areas where many others are trying to work their “solution” into the system as well.

Many of you  know that we have an ongoing presence in Haiti (many areas), Japan (Fukushima), New Zealand (Christchurch area), as well as a relief operation assisting families on the East Coast, after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.  This on top of a pretty  impressive pile of ISBU projects targeted at families around the globe…

Each disaster and geographic location defines the “solution”. There is NO “one stop” drop to solve the dilemmas that are faced.

You saw us sending HAY to Colorado families after devastating wildfires endangered their livestock.

We sent HUNDREDS of tons of hay.

Each disaster defines it’s solution.

We thought it might benefit others to talk about HOW you aid, before you actually DO it.

We’re watching another well-placed group navigate this right now.

You have to start at the grass roots community level. If Haiti taught us anything, it was that dealing with multi-level “.coms and .orgs”, tied in closely with government just didn’t work.

The focus quickly turned from humanitarian aid, to “profiting from disaster”.

Many of you that followed along and watched us testify in front of Congress, witnessed the “horrors of humanitarian aid” firsthand and then… watched as we just “did it ourselves using our own resources”.

Many of these groups asked for hefty donations or set up investment trusts to finance these boondoggles, making their managers and companies rich… and their “projects” targets poorer.

When you consider making a donation start by determining how much of each dollar of your gift will actually make it to “the fields and families” that you intend it for.

The Red Cross is profiting in the millions of dollars by soliciting donations for Sandy aid. How much of your Red Cross donation money is making it to those families that need help?

You’ve read about what WE discovered in NJ.

The percentages will make you sick to your stomach. The actual performances? Well… let’s just say we were REALLY disappointed. Want to help others? Give the help to people who are in the field doing the work. First Responders, Volunteer aid groups. Better still, donate goods that can be distributed, or materials that can be USED to help rebuild.

TARGET your aid, by determining what is needed.

HOW do you render aid to families facing devastation and crisis?

You start by asking them what they REALLY need.

For example, many groups showed up in Haiti with highly touted “disaster solutions” that were so foreign to the people who would use them, that those solutions weren’t embraceable.

In fact, in many cases,  those solutions became “parts and pillage”, as projects were stolen, stripped and then repurposed by people who tried to build what they needed, instead of what was “offered”.

(And that was IF the components could make it through “Customs” and the pillaging that occurred there regularly.)

In Africa, we watched projects fall into disrepair due to lacks of maintenance and care.

Greenhouses were dismantled and carted off to by used as glazing in huts and shanties. Wells and pumps were stripped of equipment which was then sold on the black market or worse, just abandoned, preventing the units from providing water.

You have to start with FEEDBACK from the families that you’re trying to aid.

When you do that, you’ll quickly determine how “popular” and embraceable your solution will be.

In South America, there is resistance to “aid oriented housing” due to the fact that you’re asking families to abandon what they have, for the “unknown”. It’s almost “territorial”. Families don’t WANT to leave a plot of ground they’ve staked out and secured to move to a “crafted community” that is meant to bump their standards of living.  Despite your good intentions, they just can’t get their heads around that “progress”.

To leave where they are  means abandoning their stake on that little hunk of dirt. They might then strip your project for building materials to enhance their cardboard or trash-built shelter, but you’re not going to reconstruct their society. It just doesn’t happen that way.

Your housing solution must apply to regional and cultural definitions, or it will be rejected outright.

We helped a group build ISBU based homes for families using 40′ boxes. The project failed miserably as people waited long enough for the “providers ” to move on, and then they stripped out the boxes, leaving the metal carcasses abandoned, to repurpose the materials in smaller, mud and mortar shelters that they were more familiar with. The boxes? They gradually cut them up and harvested the metals for other projects and fortification.

Don’t get us started on “tool control”. You might as well drop tools out of airplanes. In many areas, you’ll need armed guards to protect tool caches, unless you want to arrive at your project and face empty tool lockers and black marketeers looking for quick profits.

We’ve personally provided 20′ ISBUs FILLED with tools for relief projects, only to learn that the contents were stolen by “customs authorities” or pilfered and sold by people in the field, who knew that those tools represented more money than many of their families made in years. It was far easier to just steal the tools and sell them than it was to “work for progress”.

There ARE ways to “build into” these areas. But you need to insure that your solution is targeted at the occupants of those shelters you’re going to build. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, or try to force your solution down their throats.

We ARE just sick to death of those groups that show up and then preach their dogma because the locals just don’t know any better;

“We have to save them from themselves…”

We’ve actually heard this… sadly, more than once.

Honor the local cultures and traditions.

Unless you do that, unless you incorporate that into your project, you’re going to be a pariah…

Many governments in South America and Africa have money for “family housing” available.

Brazil is a good example;

The Brazilian government set aside money allowing qualified builders to build over 2 Million 42 square meter homes for poor families. However, to work in this endeavor, you’ll need start up capital, the ability to TRAIN local workers to build the required skill levels… and then you’ll need real access to materials to build with.

Sounds easy enough, right? NO. It’s a minefield.

IF you can navigate the perils, the Brazilian Government will pay you for the homes… at the end of your project. Then, THEY will  determine who gets them and how the housing is used.

We’ve seen workers who toiled for months in projects (aiming to get access to the homes they were building to house their own families) put out on the “curb” at the end of the projects. We’ve seen the housing sold off to local “developers” who then completely re-organized the projects for “profit”, and we’ve even seen these housing projects deeded over to companies to use as industrial housing in sweetheart deals that made local politician and authorities rich at the expense of poor families.

Did I mention the bribe system that always pops up as you toil to define your projects within local and governmental building codes?

If you can navigate all that (put on your body armor and eat your Wheaties first…) you need to build real solutions.

It’s not just “beyond American borders” that this happens.

The “old man’s” wife is a Native American. We’re talking “reservation” Native American. Many of us (two of us on “The Corten Crew” are Native Americans as well), including the old man have spent YEARS on the reservations trying to assist them in building safe, affordable housing.

Why is this necessary?

I’ll answer a question with a question.

Have you seen the “Government Solution” to housing on Native American Indian Reservations?

The US Government does indeed “provide” cheap housing for Native Americans. It’s usually tendered in the form of cheaply constructed modular trailers that are totally worthless when you take into consideration the climate that they were designed for.

Every single year, Native Americans freeze to death in these hovels, because they lack sufficient insulation and heating systems.

The victims are predominantly children and the aged.

The solution to this dilemma is readily available and even affordable. It’s just not “profitable” to the government contractors that build into these programs.

It sickens us. Truly.

Ambition and the desire to help others is a great thing, but it’s just a part of the recipe. You need to add heaping handfuls of local knowledge, research and then careful planning and design, guided by realistic resources and local skillsets.

Involve the locals. Their input will weigh heavily if  you are to succeed. And then understand if they aren’t interested in your “$300 house” solution. While noteworthy and valuable, it’s real value is going to be determined by the people that USE it.

We’ll keep you posted on the “old man’s” health and what’s happening here at RR. In the meantime, help a neighbor. Help someone you don’t know. Buy a toy and drop it into a “Toys for Tots” box. Donate warm clothing to your local thrift store.

It’s the Holidays. Give in to the disease. 🙂

Ho, ho, ho…

:The Corten Crew

One Response to “HOW do you HELP?”

  1. John Umland December 3, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I wish every kind hearted soul would read this post before giving money away. so true. seen it myself in Haiti.
    Tell the old man to pace himself. God invented the Sabbath for a reason.
    God is love

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