Here is the second part of James’ look at the situation in the Congo, giving us ideas of how we can contribute.
The natural response to my previous post is clearly, “So what now? What can I do?” I’ve been flooded with responses along these lines, ranging from cynicism to bafflement to genuine wanting to get involved. I recognize that part of my message was self-indulgent; I desperately wanted to say something, to tell every person I know. And I’m quite serious when I say that I think one of the greatest moral demands is that of a compassionate, human solidarity, a mourning with those that mourn; one of the greatest moral wrongs is to fail to have an existentially wrenching response and reach out, whether on account of ignorance, numbness or apathy.
But that’s surely not the only moral demand made of us in this sort of situation. Perhaps my favorite scripture in my own religion contains a letter from a father to his son. They are both witness to a genocide wherein rape, torture, and mutilation are being used to further the war, much as it is in the DR Congo. The father tells his son that despite the utter hopelessness of the situation, they are obligated to work to help others, to work without ceasing (Moroni 9:6).
The reality is, there are an infinite number of good causes to support, and our personal resources are always limited. I’ve claimed that this particular case is one of such crisis proportion that it really does demand our immediate action. I’ve no doubt that many of you already have or will research your own ways of being involved—in this and other efforts as well. Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Donate money, however much you’ve got to give. I’ve always liked the story of the woman walking on the beach after an ocean surge that left hundreds of starfish stranded. Knowing they’ll die soon she begins throwing the starfish back into the ocean. Her friend says, “You realize that’s utterly hopeless, it’s impossible to make a difference; there are simply too many of them.” The woman responded by throwing in another starfish and saying, “I just made a difference to that one.” Organizations working in the DR Congo really are limited by their resources. But you can target your donations and every dollar helps.
- Go here, donate $10 or $50 or $1000 to the International Rescue Committee. 90% will go to help those affected in this crisis (10% overhead costs for an organization like this are very reasonable).
- I’m also a big fan of Catholic Relief Services (go here) who have been working in the DR Congo since 1961 (and have only 6% overhead costs on account of private supplementation).
2. A more unique and personal way to donate is provided by Women for Women International, one of the best organizations helping women and children in the Congo. I highly recommend reading information on their website here. You can actually sponsor a woman (or women) who has been a victim of this crisis in the Cono by going here. They will send you information on the woman you sponsor and make possible your correspondence with them. You can personally reach out and connect with and support those affected.
3. Find creative ways to help others donate. Here’s my brainstorm session; I happen to know that many of you are much more creative than me.
- My wife organized a book club of women who sponsored other women through Women for Women International. Each month they would contribute funds when they met and together wrote letters.
- Host a movie party with your friends, show an appropriate film (like Hotel Rwanda), and “charge” an (expensive) admissions fee which you can then donate together.
- Host a fast or a hunger banquet with your local church or even a group of friends and donate the funds you saved by not eating or raised at the banquet (plus whatever else you can spare).
- Have a yard sale or auction in which you sale items for money to donate and also advertise to others about the crises.
- Convince your local church, school, office, or family to jointly sponsor or monthly donate together.
- Write a posting for your blog and include links to donation sites.
- Commit yourself and others to match every luxury purchase (dessert, your morning’s espresso, a night at the theatre, new-but-unnecessary shoes, new-but-unnecessary car, hot tub, etc.) with an equivalent donation.
- Exploit your religious tithe, tsadekah, zakaat, or mandatory atheist/humanist donation by contributing and encouraging others to contribute.
- For Christmas, ask Santa and others to send your “gifts” to the Congo.
4. I think it critical that we all become more aware about the problem ourselves and that we seek to educate others:
- Find out places that host public presentations, talks, speaker panels and the like (universities, churches, community centers, libraries, town halls). Contact them to find out when they’ll be hosting a session on the Congo. When they tell you that they don’t have one scheduled, ask them to please schedule one.
- Do the same sort of thing with your local newspaper, and whatever national newspaper you read. Call and email them, ask them why they’re not covering this crisis, ask them when you can expect them to begin covering it. Write your own editorials or demand the editorial boards to solicit someone qualified to write a piece.
- Use Google. It’s great. You’ll find groups like the Raise Hope for Congo’s speaking tour. You can even go here to apply to have them come visit an event that you organize. Searching the internet you’ll also find lots of other helpful suggestions on how you can take action to support others. There are websites devoted exclusively to this subject.
- Ask those you know. You likely know people who know things about both humanitarian action and political activism. Ask them. If you don’t, brainstorm with your friends; you’ll kill two birds with one stone, making them aware and committing one another to whatever ideas you come up with.
- If you’re a person in a position to host some sort of awareness/educational event yourself, do so.
- Blog or email others about this (some have asked if they can pass on my email to others; of course you can; but it’s probably more effective if you compose your own letter to go to those you know). Tell everyone you know.
5. Contact your politicians:
- Call your national politicians. I’ve been around the interns who sit there and take calls all day. Be nice, but give them a healthy earful. Then ask to speak with someone else in the office who is closer to the politician and give them an earful as well. If you’re in DC go visit their office. You can obviously do the same for local leaders.
- There are a number of petitions you can sign going to President Elect Obama (and others). Again, the internet is very helpful here.
Thank you for allowing me to write you about this. My best wishes in your efforts.