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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 5, March 2005

Teachers' tips: Disaster relief

Many schools are fundraising in response to the tsunami in South Asia. In some cases, teachers have organized the efforts, but in many cases, students themselves initiated them. Here are some tips on how to maximize what students learn from those projects:

1. Research the disaster. What caused it? Were there multiple factors (environmental degradation, civil war, lack of infrastructure, etc.)? Could it have been avoided? Could the effects have been lessened? What, if anything, can be done to prevent such a disaster from occurring again? What should you do if this happened where you live? There are always social studies connections to explore. In the case of natural disasters or disease, there are also science connections. Their research will give students some context for making decisions about how best to help.

2. Avoid fundraising scams. Sadly, there have been many fraudulent solicitations for relief funds, especially by e-mail. Encourage students to exercise appropriate skepticism. Identify ways they can check on the authenticity of a charitable organization (through government registration for charitable status and the Better Business Bureau, etc.).

3. Do research on charitable organizations. What percentage of the funds raised go directly to relief efforts, what percentage to administration and advertising? What is the focus of the relief work? Do they have experience in such relief work? Do they have experience in that part of the world? Are they sensitive to, and respectful of, the local cultures and religious beliefs?

4. Avoid unnecessary items. Students often want to personalize their donations by donating clothes, toys, school supplies, hygiene items, blankets, or canned goods. Those may not be the items that are most needed. Even if they are needed, items purchased here may not be culturally appropriate in other parts of the world. Food that violates traditional beliefs goes unused, even by people who are starving. Illustrate this point for younger children by compiling an aid package for them that is culturally foreign.

Most needed items are available locally. Purchasing locally avoids transportation costs and supports the local economy. Sending money may seem impersonal, but it is usually the most helpful thing to do.

5. Help groups rather than individuals. Again, students are often attracted to personalized charitable efforts such as sponsoring a child. Engage them in discussions about how that might affect other children, other families, and the community. Have them brainstorm ways that a community can be helped to become self-supporting again.

6. Think long term. It is relatively easy to identify emergency needs–clean water, shelter, food, medical attention, burying the dead. It is harder to identify and support long-term needs, but they are critical. Engage students in discussions about short-term versus long-term needs. Encourage students who are organizing charitable projects to think and act over the long term. Charitable organizations do emergency work and those that do long-term work differ. Students engaged in long-term efforts may need to direct monies raised to different organizations during a long-term project.

7. Think globally. Have students investigate other areas of the world in need of humanitarian aid. Challenge older students to examine what makes people in Canada respond to one humanitarian crisis over another. Does where the disaster occurs (geographically or culturally close or far) affect our response? Does the cause of a disaster (natural causes, diseases like AIDS, civil or inter-country wars) affect our response?

– Anita Chapman


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