Yep, you read it right. In response to the recent devastation wreaked by Cyclone Pam, one forward-thinking group – Proserpine Whitsunday Uniting Church in Qld – have found the ultimate solution. You guessed it: Lip Balm.
Ok, so for the uninitiated out there (mostly the blokes), lip balm is like a lipstick but not really. It’s not about colour, it’s about lip softness and protection from the weathering and dryness that often results from harsh environmental elements. For the record, lip balm is a unisex personal care item.
Anyway, how is it that a strident Development Worker is linking lip balm to humanitarian relief responses? You’re waiting for the punchline, aren’t you? For the witty critique that ultimately discredits this thinking with a development-worker righteousness reserved for those of us “in the know” – you know, the ones in the “Aid Worker” t-shirts. And of course, those who know me well would expect nothing less. Well, let me disappoint you, because I’m not going to do that. Actually I’m in support of this group!
When a devastating event such as Cyclone Pam happens, people are moved and want to respond to help those experiencing the full brunt of the devastation. We look naturally to what “we” know, what we think of as being the most tangible ways to help. And let’s face it, most of us haven’t lived through a catastrophic natural disaster and even fewer have lived in the context of a developing country, so we have very little scope to go on when looking for ways to respond.
Sure, there are the messages from those pesky development agencies that say, “send us money – that’s the best, most effective way to respond”. But really, there has to be more than that, right? Something more personal, concrete, tangible? Giving money seems so impersonal.
As the Relief and Development Unit at UnitingWorld (one of those pesky development agencies) we get lots of phone calls from individuals and communities with these very motivations who are collecting items to ship to the devastated area, or who want to go and volunteer, who feel that they need to do more than give money.
But here’s the thing – and there really is no way of getting around this – giving money is the best response.
It may not feel that way to us, but it will help those in the most need in the way THEY need it, not the way WE want to give it. The reason it feels uncomfortable or distant might well be because it takes us out of the centre and out of decision-making control and releases that place and that power to those with the best knowledge and experience to make the most appropriate response decisions – those who are living through it.
And to help think through some of this here are just a couple of real considerations:
- Sending “helpful stuff” can clog up ports and customs, incur a cost to the recipients and get in the way of the most essential items getting through, items such as water, shelter and food organised by experienced and resourced humanitarian agencies. And when we send stuff, what is sent is usually decided by us. It’s often what we’re willing to sacrifice or even ready to “throw out”. It is often not appropriate or needed in the context or at that time and ends up adding to the vast amount of waste that accumulates to be disposed of in the disaster zone. For example, our partners in Vanuatu informed us that a group in Australia had sent a crate load of “undies” to Vanuatu as part of the initial disaster response, which they found a bit weird! Having just returned from Vanuatu, I can reassure you that there are enough undies to go around.
- On the other side of that coin, buying resources locally can help to jump start the economy, help get businesses back up and running, people back into jobs, life back on track. And this can’t be under-estimated in the economic, physical and emotional recovery of people and communities in the wake of such a disaster. When I was there last week, the first cruise ship of tourists arrived in Port Vila and the sense of excitement was visible, not so much for the tourists themselves, but for that feeling of normality, that things were going to be alright.
Ok, so I know I said I wasn’t going to get all development-hoity-toity but these are perspectives and learning that needs to be shared widely, so that those of us compelled to act when something like “Pam” happens can do so in an informed and effective way.
So having said all that, how then can I support the idea of “Lip Balm for Vanuatu”, you ask. Well, firstly, and most importantly, they’re not sending the lip balm to Vanuatu! I mean, sure who wouldn’t want soft, supple lips after a natural disaster, but maybe it’s not their top priority!
But this group makes lip balm, it’s what they do. And I must say they’re pretty good – I have mine with me. Personally I like the chocolate but there’s also strawberry, vanilla… a whole heap of “flavours”. This group has made the latest batch as”Vanuatu Lip Balm”, a fundraiser for the relief effort. They are doing what they do -making lip balm and selling them to raise funds to donate. And right there they have stumbled on it: their “more than money” response. A response where they are doing their thing, working hard to make a difference – but in a way that will be most effective for the ones who need it most.
So I ask, what is your thing? Is it donating money? Log on to our website and do your best. We thank you and our partners thank you, because you personally are making a difference. Or maybe you have things of value that you would donate? Sell them and raise funds to donate! We thank you and our partners thank you! Or maybe like Adamstown Uniting Church you bake? (Their Christmas Puddings are amazing – just saying!) Bake up a storm and donate the proceeds! We thank you and our partners thank you!
Last week I was in Vanuatu meeting with our Partners the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and we sat together in their meeting room which has been converted into their disaster relief command centre. It’s pretty impressive. They gave me a message and asked me to share with you all.
“Thank you! Thank you for your support and your prayers. It has provided the encouragement and at times the strength to be able to continue knowing that we are not doing this alone. We also want to reassure everyone that we are taking care of the precious funding that is being donated, it is enabling us to support our people to recover and it is making a difference.” Jonathon (PCV Education Director and Disaster Response Chairman.)
And from what I have just seen and experienced I say to you: please don’t fight that motivation to respond and don’t be disillusioned by the sometimes seemingly unhelpful response from us pesky development agencies when we decline to support a suggested response activity. Know that you can make a difference: by donating you personally can help those most affected and it will be the best value for money your hard earned donation could make for people whose lives have been torn apart. And together we thank you.
You can still donate to our Emergency Relief Pacific Appeal in response to Cyclone Pam right here To support Leadership efforts among Pacific Churches grappling with the impact of Climate Change long term, please go here. For creative fundraising ideas for various projects you could adapt, go here.