As a donor to Food for the Hungry’s disaster work, you may picture FH sending people in khaki vests to the middle of nowhere. And yes, at times, that’s true. But the reality is, it takes much more than a few staff flying from the U.S. to help a community recover after a disaster. Our disaster responses require a network of worldwide partners — including our donors.
Here’s why FH works this way:
1. Our Disaster Work Is Relational.
At times I’ve told people, “FH works in partnerships because it’s less expensive,” and yes, that’s true. We can cost-share and avoid duplications of effort. We collaborate to make sure that only one agency is working in a particular zone, or we partner with someone who can meet needs FH is unable to fulfill.
But there’s a deeper reason to partner. God wired you and me to be in relationships where we support, uphold, and sharpen each other. Working relationally is FH’s second corporate value, only behind “We Follow Jesus.”
In any given disaster, the team responding could include:
- Our own staff, on the ground, in the countries where we work. That’s happening right now in Mozambique, where Cyclones Idai and Kenneth devastated some of our work zones. With just a few exceptions, our 160 staff in Mozambique are Mozambican. They know their own country far better than any other relief teams coming in.
- Local organizations, founded and run by people from the country.
- The local government.
- Funding partners like other foreign governments and United Nations agencies.
- Churches here in the U.S. and in country, providing funding and expertise on the community.
- Other like-minded organizations, like our fellow members of the Integral Alliance, a worldwide Christian humanitarian response consortium.
This is what the front end of a disaster distribution looks like. When floods have smashed all the wooden tables to smithereens, the hood of a car is all you’ve got for a desk.
2. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
I like this African proverb because as someone who’s worked on FH’s disasters for over 20 years, I’ve seen first hand that it’s true. At first, partnerships slow you down. Disaster response takes a global community. Which means, I often have meetings with colleagues in New Zealand who are 19 hours ahead of me. That takes some planning (and a working alarm clock)!
But having partners also allows you to go the distance. When one partner’s strength flags, the other can pick up. When one partner’s resources give out, the other can step in. To give a practical example, many disaster grants, from governments like the United States and Great Britain, only provide a few months’ help. The purpose of the grants is to get people through the initial weeks after the disaster. But rebuilding will take years. Working in partnership means FH has more avenues to find funds and staff to finish the rebuilding. There have been more instances than I can count, where we watched the clock tick down to the end of a disaster grant. And amazingly, God always provides a partner who comes through at the last minute with the resources to allow us to continue.
Can you spot the benefits of partnerships hidden in this picture? 1) Blue buckets donated by a partner relief agency 2) Personal and feminine hygiene kits donated by UNICEF 3) A happy face provided by amazing local staff and community leaders who helped pull off the distribution.
3. Disaster Work Requires Diversity and Buy-in.
- How do you know who is truly needy, in the midst of the chaos after a disaster?
- How do you know which local partners are trustworthy?
- Where do you find the best place to buy plastic tarps, water jerry cans, and metal roofing?
- How can you convince local leaders to trust you to help them?
With partners from a wide variety of backgrounds and places, FH can tackle these hard questions and find solutions. Local leaders who know their communities help us identify the neediest families. Church leaders can steer us to merchants and government officials who are honest. Hiring local staff, who speak the language and know the culture intimately, helps us understand the complex society where we’re working. And local partners help us forge trust that’s so vital for any long-term work. It’s true–everyone works better together.
You — Yes, You — Are a Vital Partner
Don’t discount your own worth in our disaster work. When disaster strikes, we need all the help we can get. Did you know it’s much more cost effective to buy supplies we need locally, than to ship in donated food and relief goods? Additionally, when we buy local, it helps jump-start the battered economy. Buying local is our first choice. Your financial partnership with FH, even if it’s only $5, helps us get money where it’s needed most!
Sharing our posts about disaster on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is also extremely helpful to us. The more people who know about the need, the more people can pray, make donations, and directly impact the number of people we are able to help.
And being a committed prayer partner helps. You can check our social media and web site for updates on disasters and pray about the people who need help. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had barriers that seemed to magically disappear in disasters…which we Christians, of course, know is all the Lord’s doing. Even the briefest prayer reaches God’s ears, and help us help those who need it most.
More articles you may be interested in:
5 Reasons Why Refugee Children Need Vaccines
God’s Story: God’s Character Matters
Finding Beauty Amidst the Devastation