As you’ve heard by now, our beloved Volcán de Fuego let out a big eruption on Sunday, June 3rd. This was the largest eruption in many decades, some say in even 100 years. While we usually love seeing lava in the clear sky, or seeing the smokes after a little Fuego burp, this time was very different. The colossal eruption created pyroclastic flows, a mixture of hot gas and volcanic rock and ash. These flows travel at extreme speeds and engulf everything on their path down from the volcano.
There have been more eruptions, evacuations, injuries, crowded shelters. The death toll is currently at 75 people, with 200 more still missing. Over 3000 people are in shelters.
Photo by friend Cesar Barrios, a volunteer firefighter.
Let me first say that all of our artisan partners are well. Many have suffered ash falling from the sky, which is challenging to clean because of the way it turns into a cement-like substance when mixed with water. But they are not in immediate danger.
And the response by the people in Guatemala has been incredible. Many shelters are stuffed with donations (while the harder-to-reach shelters still need more goods). People are coming together to help in any way they can – cooking at home, donating food/clothes/blankets, volunteering at shelters, volunteer firefighters working in the affected areas for search and rescue.
For those of us not in Guatemala at the moment (myself included), helping out is a little bit more complicated. That’s because established emergency aid organizations like the Guatemalan Red Cross don’t always have a way to accept international donations online easily. Guatemala is considered high-risk for PayPal, which is why the Red Cross there can only accept international transfers straight into their bank accounts. This is cumbersome for people making small donations, or for those unfamiliar with this process.
That’s why there are so many Gofundme campaigns out there right now. I’m counting over 25 such campaigns with a simple search, and of course there are many other platforms for such fundraisers. I’ve been watching a few critically because I’m afraid these platforms don’t require much accountability or even transparency. The situation in Guatemala is devastating, and there is clear need. But to know exactly where your money goes, to know who you can trust with your money (and thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more), is trickier.
So here are two concrete recommendations for you:
1. SERES has been working for years in youth education for locally-minded sustainable development in the now-affected area. What I’ve always admired about them is their community-centric approach, giving ownership of the future to the youth. Their website is not yet updated with the volcano eruption info because they’ve been busy on the ground. Here’s a word from their founder, Corrina Grace:
On the afternoon of Sunday June 3rd, the Volcán de Fuego – located just a few kms away from the site of the SERES Center – erupted spewing a fast moving mixture of gas and volcanic material. Most of the community of Los Lotes was buried, and the surrounding towns of El Rodeo, La Reina and others are evacuated.
As always, SERES is on the front lines providing long term support to our young people and their families. Today is no different. Half of our team piled into the pickup – loaded down much needed medical supplies, water and food – and made our way to El Rodeo. The rest got on the phones and social media, trying to locate the 100+ youth that are part of our network in the area. They were our first priority.
On the road to El Rodeo the despair and destruction in our path was overwhelming. After a day of scrambling, I hate to say that we are still trying to find some of our amazing young people. We’ve also confirmed that some of them didn’t make it out.
You can donate directly on their website to their general fund, as their donations are currently being used for most urgent needs like supplies, food, and medicine for those affected. The benefit to donating there is that it doesn’t take long for them to receive the funds (unlike Gofundme).
2. For crowdfunding, I recommend this campaign started by a respected non-profit, Vamos Adelante, that has been working in the affected area for over 20 years. Please note that Gofundme funds take 25 days to be released. But what I like about this project is that they have longer term goals in mind, since they have an established relationship with the people there. I trust them to know the needs of the people, the same people they have been working with for so long. There will be much to do after the most urgent situation is over, to help the victims rebuild their lives.
When looking at other crowdfunding campaigns, please research the person who started it. Does this person have experience in emergency aid, community development, or have an established relationship with the affected communities? It’s unfortunately not unusual for fraud to arise even in catastrophic situations. Even if people have the best intentions, they might not necessarily know how to distribute the funds efficiently or even effectively.
It’s so encouraging to see how people from all over the world are supporting Guatemala right now. Thank you. The country is in crisis mode and there are more risks due to the volcanic activity, like landslides, mudslides, or more eruptions. Guatemala will be needing our help for a while. So please, take a moment to make sure that your donations are going towards the most credible fundraisers.
Questions? Comments? Please write below. I’d love to hear from you.