A cry heard oceans away

How to make sure your donations to South Asia end up in the right hands

December’s unprecedented earthquake and resulting tsunami has devastated much of South East Asia. Donations of money and supplies are desperately needed – but to whom should a conscientious queer donate?

Some of the governments of that region are sketchy when it comes to human rights. Which organizations will ensure that the aid is given where it is needed the most, and in the most effective way possible?

“It is significant that the effects were worst felt in Aceh and North Sumatra,” says a Canadian who travels in diplomatic circles and who has followed human rights policy. “This part of the country has for a long time had a difficult if not conflictual relationship with the central government in Jakarta…. Since May 2003, international organizations and foreign journalists were not allowed in Aceh, but on 28 December, the Indonesian government lifted this restriction, because it was clear that the extent of the disaster demanded assistance from the outside world. It was a remarkable sight to see on the TV scenes of US Forces bringing aid directly to people in Aceh.”

Some human rights watchers fear that many activists were killed during the disaster. For example, the women’s prison in Banda Aceh was very close to the water and presumably all of the inmates were killed. Many of these people were political prisoners. It is estimated that 200 local journalists are gone. One of the most important environmental activists from the region was also killed.

Many human rights watchers suggest making donations to grassroots groups as they are much closer to the people and therefore may have a better capacity to respond. In Indonesia, there are two reputable solidarity groups collecting funds for Acehnese groups including ETAN in the US (East Timor Alert Network) at Etan.org and Tapol (long-established group working in Indonesia and East Timor) at Tapol.gn.apc.org.

Most international aid organizations are collecting donations for the relief effort. A few are recognized as being more progressive on human rights issues and therefore more likely to also be queer friendly.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is providing medical support and services in several countries affected by the tsunami. They are also taking applications for short-term overseas crisis volunteers for those who would like to assist more directly.

Donations can be made through Msf.ca or by calling (416) 964-0619. Donations of more than $10 will receive a charitable tax receipt.

Another group doing work is Oxfam Canada at Oxfam.ca.

UNICEF is featuring a fundraiser called Canada Kids Earthquake Challenge. Inspired by Toronto’s eight-year-old Bilaal Rajan, who has set a personal fundraising goal of $10,000, the project hopes to encourage children to raise $100 each in donations with a collective goal of $1 million. More information is at Unicef.ca/kids/indianocean.


The Canadian government is matching donations made by the general public dollar-for-dollar until Tue, Jan 11.

Closer to home, there’s a tsunami fundraising event on Thu, Jan 13 at Supermarket (206 Augusta Ave) and The Embassy (223 Augusta Ave) by DJs Who Care, including Denise Benson, DJ Nav, Dalia, DJ Amita and many others. It starts at 9pm with admission set at $10 to $50 sliding scale. For more information, e-mail info@lalforest.com.

The AsianXpress at Five (5 St Joseph St) on Sat, Jan 22 will also be a benefit.

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