How to give and how to help the Caribbean. Nonprofit relief organizations in the Caribbean.
Everybody is aware of the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. Somebody asked me (Hey, PB!) to offer suggestions on resources where relief contributions/donations might be most effective. My deepest apologies for the long delay in my response.
Here are some of the finest, top-rated nonprofit relief organizations. And some of the local resource listings for each Caribbean location.
I understand that for many within the San Francisco Bay Area, priorities might’ve recently changed. The most destructive wildfires in California’s history have brought destruction, death, and upheaval to entire communities and cities, and wine country. My best thoughts go out to all affected.
My #1 wish is to see relief donations go anywhere other than American Red Cross. Of course, this determination is always up to the individual, so it is always your right to decide where to generously donate your money to help.
DirectRelief.org has the #1 rating on Charity Navigator. I do not have personal knowledge or experience with them. But they appear to be one of the finest relief organizations. One can have full confidence that donations to DirectRelief and Americares will be put to great use. Maybe it’s time to learn about better nonprofits than American Red Cross? Yes, please.
Americares, chose where you relief donation goes. I’ve heard great first-hand and second-hand accounts of their work. Health-centric focus and well-run. I believe they often establish long-term programs to assist in recovery, beyond the standard measures of ‘temporary help to permanent problems’ like water, generators, and fuel.
Team Rubicon has a dollar matching program and is concerned enough about resource scarcity to fly their relief workers back to the continental U.S. after every flight. This may seem like poor spending, until one considers dire needs for fuel, water, food, and beds in PR already. Founded by ex-Marines and first responders.
Portlight is the nonprofit organization founded by Weather Underground. Bob Henson and Dr. Jeff Masters maintain the superlative website for weather aficionados, especially the Category 6 blog for hurricanes and storms. This Cat 6 blog post describes some of the how and where one can donate to ongoing hurricane relief efforts. Portlight focuses on inclusive solutions for disaster relief victims, specifically those with disabilities.
Samaritan’s Purse helps in both short-term and long-term recovery efforts. A highly religious/faith-based nonprofit that works relentlessly in communities in crisis. I’ve heard of volunteers and donators having great experiences and reviews of Samaritan’s Purse.
This WaPo article explains a lot. There Once Was A Bridge Here.
And this NYT article about their decimated agriculture.
Undoubtedly, Puerto Rico faces months of life in the dark.
Puerto Rico is in bad shape, there’s no sugar coating things. They were already more than $123 billion dollars in debt by May 2017. That included $74B in bond debt and $49B in unfunded pension obligations. Pensions are the same vehicle that led to Stockton, CA declaring bankruptcy (the second largest municipality in the U.S. to do so, after Detroit). They sold $9B worth of triple-tax-exempt bonds to private investors to raise capital for their utilities. They defaulted on that as well. Their electricity and water supply have been in terrible shape for years. Still are.
I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but in some ways I feel quite familiar with its circumstances. I, too, live in a U.S. commonwealth state – the Northern Mariana Islands. We don’t have a voting member in Congress. No sales tax, no property tax, virtually no federal income tax. Very few manufacturing industries, almost no exports. In short, zero political leverage.
Complete reliance on United States federal funding. So needs – like disaster relief – will certainly be addressed differently than stateside. Then, we must also consider the logistical challenges of supporting an insular, island nation. There are no bridges, no railways to transport supplies and needed equipment. Volunteers cannot simply drive over from a neighboring state. This recovery effort for PR & USVI will take a very, very long time.
And, no. The relief dollars really aren’t any sort of “economic development.” In a best-case scenario, the funding would merely return PR and USVI to the condition they were in before Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed so much. That won’t happen. No place ever receives enough funding, enough help.
For example, Baton Rouge received only 13 cents of each needed dollar to recover after last year’s flooding. Haiti might’ve received less than one penny of every U.S. dollar pledged in support. Don’t give to the American Red Cross, ask where all their money goes and they won’t tell you.
Now, maybe Puerto Rico doesn’t “deserve” any financial assistance? They’re clearly not managing their governance and spending very well. Their poverty rate is more than double the mainland United States. There are plenty of problems worth investing into closer to ‘home’ for you, worthy causes to be sure. My only hope is to provide some information for disaster recovery efforts. The decision is always yours to make.
United for Puerto Rico (in English). Launched as a nonprofit organization and initiative by the Governor’s wife, First Lady Beatriz Rosselló. Usually not where I’d expect the greatest productive return on donations. Those same leaders that lack preparedness are often highly involved in these nonprofits. YMMV.
Hispanic Foundation, 90-cents of each dollar helps the relief. I’m not necessarily a proponent of nearly all donations/funding going to the cause. Nonprofits need to be managed well, and oftentimes that requires paying near market rates for talent. Still, this is no blemish to any nonprofit that can use funds to such productive ends.
Vieques Love is a GoFundMe for the isolated Puerto Rican island of Vieques – with 9,000 residents in dire need. They are cut off from mainland Puerto Rico and mostly overlooked by relief efforts. The small satellite island got destroyed. No working radar, no food, no supplies, and hardly receiving any attention. Here’s a YouTube before-and-after video.
U.S. Virgin Islands:
The U.S. Virgin Islands are a particularly vulnerable territory. As with many communities and countries, they’ve misjudged and mismanaged funds. The government operates a Virgin Islands Insurance Guaranty Fund, specifically for when disaster strikes. But their legislature previously voted to allow its assets held to a minimum of $10 million USD. So, since 2007 they’ve withdrawn nearly $200 million USD to pay for public services and general operations in the USVI. Like Puerto Rico, the USVI will have almost no opportunities for bonds issuance to help their rebuild. With 100,000 residents, the protectorate now owes more than $2 billion to bondholders and creditors.
USVI Recovery is their main info page for resources/donation sites.
Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands was established to get funding and support to where it is most needed in the USVI.
A little side note:
Our current dictator, Trump, has approved 90% of debris removal costs from USVI be absorbed by FEMA. USVI is estimated to have at least 1.3 million cubic yards of debris already. Even a low estimate of 5.2 million cubic yards of debris in Puerto Rico, combined with the USVI… that’s 6.5 million cubic yards of debris to remove. Estimates in Florida, from Hurricane Irma, range from about $15-$28/cu. yd. We’re talking about the surface area – and cubic volume – of 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That’s one square mile. And $100 million dollars to haul it all – someplace else. Probably even much more costly.
An awesome thing to do would be to recycle some of it. As much as possible. Many thoughtful people ask, “What happens to all of the debris? Can’t some of it be repurposed?” Well, yes. But, no. This is an informative article explaining all the issues. Basically, it’s political. Yeah, go figure. And money. Always money.
Dominica: is a small island nation on the Leeward Islands where 95% of all buildings were damaged or destroyed. Their Prime Minister Skerrit reported, “Eden is Broken” in a speech addressed to the United Nations. He is working to fully rebuild using awareness of the threats from climate change. It won’t be easy. Their GDP is just over $500 million USD, but largely based on low-margin goods like bananas, aloe, soap, and other consumer goods. Not much tourism. Their massive service sector of industry will likely feel a big adverse reaction – due to the ‘brain drain’ of talent evacuating. And the lowest minimum wage ($4.05 EC, equiv. to $1.50 USD) among the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Dominica is in need. They won’t have the funding to recover on their own. Their PPP (a common measure of GDP with strength of dollar factored in and divided per capita) is a mere $13,500 USD. They are poor. Here is the current state of Dominica’s relief support.
Barbuda. Fortunately, if one can say this, Barbuda’s destruction comes with a nation mostly based on their larger island of Antigua. Their GDP is about $1.4 billion and Barbuda had only 1,800 residents, all concentrated in one village. So a much smaller number of buildings, lower percentage of overall population. This isn’t to say things will be easy. Their minimum wage equates to $3.04 USD. My measured optimism is in the fact that they may be best-positioned to recover from their disaster. A smaller quantity and percentage of overall structures, Antigua is their main revenue engine and wasn’t nearly as affected, tourism might recover more quickly for them.
According to their local newspaper, Barbuda is specifically requesting relief donations go to American Red Cross. They warn of scams by those trying to capitalize on the situation, so do not donate to GoFundMe or similar fundraising campaigns. Now, any who know me know I’m no fan of the American Red Cross. My hope is charitable contributions go to better causes. Red Cross helps the least of all. I’ve already provided a link above, supporting my position. Here’s one more. ARC makes me sick. But hey, YMMV.
GDP is a country’s Gross Domestic Product, basically all income and funding available.
PPP is a common index of Purchasing Power Parity – using GDP and dollar strength, divided by population (per capita).
#1: $129,700 PPP for Qatar
[for context: a first-year employee in Silicon Valley averages $105,000. In San Francisco, $105,300 now qualifies a family of four as ‘low-income’ for subsidized Section 8 housing vouchers]
#6: $85,700 Bermuda
#17: $58,100 Hong Kong
#18: $57,300 USA
#34: $43,800 Cayman Islands
#39: $42,300 British Virgin Islands
#46: $37,700 Puerto Rico
#52: $36,100 Virgin Islands
#63: $29,100 Turks and Caicos Islands
#74: $24,100 Antigua and Barbuda
[note: $13,500 is downtown Fresno, CA zip code 93721 per capita income]
#107: $13,300 Northern Mariana Islands –> uh-oh, another U.S. commonwealth territory (yup, where I happen to live. Where I willfully moved to. To try to help)
#118: $11,400 Dominica
$7,938 <—— this is me. On welfare.
My personal message (please feel free to ignore this portion).
I’m trying to help the world, make some sort of difference. In whatever ways I can. And I think I am still capable of quite a lot. But I cannot even have a chance. I’ve dedicated my entire life to this cause. Willingly moving to one of America’s most impoverished cities – Fresno, CA. To try to do meaningful work. To do something impactful. Can’t. Couldn’t. Didn’t.
So I contacted nearly 100 leaders in Baton Rouge after their flooding. Nothing doing. Not one response. So then I abandoned all of my belongings and spent my own money… Savings that are impossibly difficult to come by when living 30% below the poverty line…
To move to the Northern Mariana Islands. The CNMI. Quite literally, one of the poorest communities on sovereign U.S. soil. Probably worse than El Paso or Camden or East St. Louis or Detroit. To try to help their recovery efforts after Typhoon Soudelor – the most powerful storm in all of 2015. Again, hasn’t gone as planned. Hasn’t gone well. Believe me when I say I’ve seen the worst of people, how lacking leadership is everywhere.
This isn’t about me. My point is only to further describe what lengths I’m committed to – to achieve my goal. To be able to do meaningful work. To help a community in need. To serve the most impoverished, the most at-risk. When I state that I’m willing and ready to move anywhere in the world to do so, I mean it. I can’t help Saipan and the CNMI. They don’t want help, aren’t looking for anything. Perfectly content with all its own forms of ineptitude. I live in conditions of extreme hardship and suffering that I know I will never have an opportunity to explain.
I’m trying to help. I cannot without anybody paying attention or wanting it. A conversation is all I’ve asked, that’s a start.
My hope is to find a way to move to the Caribbean. To find just one leader, one community. Where I can work. Help. Contribute. They probably have to be as desperate as I am. But they also have to be willing. Open-minded. Instead of hearing, “You don’t know Fresno.” Or, mockingly, “Ha ha ha, that’s just Saipan. Welcome to Saipan.” I wish once, just once… I could hear, “Great. We could use all the help we can get.”
If anybody knows of a contact in the Caribbean… Or a nonprofit relief organization to work through. Or wishes to help me get there. Or wants to share an idea on anything. Please feel free to be in touch. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to reach out to leaders and communities. Keep trying to move forward. Keep hoping. Thank you for taking time to read this. Cheers.
NOTE: This post is also available as a formatted PDF HERE.