Friday, October 02, 2009

COMMENT: Good intentions are no substitute for expertise ...

A group of organisations in Australia and New Zealand were sending a delegation to the Pacific islands-nation of Samoa to conduct an inter-faith ecological program. Since then, parts of Samoa have been struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami which has killed perhaps over 100 people and flattened entire villages.

Here is an excerpt from their promotional Facebook page for the original Samoa adventure.

Interfaith With a Difference
A 5-Day MIZAAN Ecology Rihla to the South Pacific!

Join Imam Afroz Ali in this unique experience of good fun and good deed all in one! Be one of only 20 people for a 5-day journey to the beautiful Pacific Islands of Western Samoa and participate in a unique Ecology initiative of Al-Ghazzali Centre.

This Rihla will open your hearts to many realities; from environmental degradation and its effect on Pacific islanders, simplicity of living as opposed to our consumer-extremism, to why acting on the principles of your faith is the best guidance for humanity. Be part of a unique journey that does not stop in Samoa.

Now that group is still going but for different reasons. Here is an excerpt from a new promotional Facebook page.

1000 for 1000 Survivor Kit
Emergency Relief Support for Samoa ...

Al-Ghazzali Centre is responding to the post-Tsunami Disaster Relief Work in the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, by packaging emergency Survivor Food Packs specifically designed for:

• Essentials packed for 1 family per week*
• Food and water packed for 3 times a day for the family
• 1000 Australians helping 1000 Samoans with 2 weeks!

Imam Afroz Ali of al-Ghazzali Centre (Australia) and sidi Aarif Rasheed of Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust (RMDT, New Zealand) are taking a delegation of 10 people to the island of Upolu from Friday 2nd October – Tuesday 6th October for humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground in Samoa. This delegation initially had planned to visit Samoa to undertake ecological regeneration work as an interfaith initiative, where Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would assist Christian villages to regenerate mangroves marine habitat which is part of the major Pacific Stream- a program supported by the United Nations Development Program. Due to the latest natural disaster in Samoa, the objectives have been re-focussed to humanitarian efforts despite the difficult circumstances the delegation is sure to experience upon arrival ...

This emergency relief work needs your full support. To source, pack and dispatch the Survivor Food Kits to Samoa by ship within approximately 10 days is significantly costly exercise. With sponsorships, much of shipping logistical is already covered. Your financial donations will be most important in sourcing the food and the essentials. 1000 Australians can easily assist 1000 Samoans for as little AU$90 per family. 1 Australian family donating $90 supporting 1 Samoan family in distress.

Your donation is needed immediately- make it happen!

In Australia, donate your AU$90 to:

Al-Ghazzali Centre
BSB: 032024
Acc: 401251
Ref: Samoa

It sounds like a great initiative. A bunch of people carrying aid packets that will keep people nourished for around a month. Delivering these packets in Samoa where the aid is most needed.

But then this delegation consists of the same people who were part of a camping trip which would conduct an inter-faith ecological project. One would think that the skills required to conduct an ecological project are quite different to those involved in surveying a natural disaster zone and determining how best to deliver aid.

I wonder whether any members of the delegation have experience in disaster relief. I also wonder whether they will liaise with existing aid agencies such as the Red Cross and Caritas who are already on the ground. And I wonder why people should donate to the Al-Ghazzali Centre to carry out such a project using inexperienced personnel when the same money could be given to more experienced aid organisations. Further, how many extra resources will be taken up by members of this delegation staying at the disaster zone, and for what net benefit to survivors?

Good intentions in disaster relief and aid are great but they are no substitute for experience and professionalism. Still, we wish the delegation well in their endeavours.

UPDATE I: I notice that some persons leaving comments here are suggesting that the Samoa trip is just a publicity stunt. There are a number of reasons to reject this suggestion:

a. The delegation were going to Samoa anyway and their trip was not triggered by the natural disasters there.

b. The organisations' publicity is limited, as far as I can see, to Facebook and perhaps some e-mails.

c. The organisations involved could have generated much more media publicity for this trip had they wished to.

d. In terms of Muslim community goodwill, there would have been more incentive for the organisations to travel to Padang and other parts of Sumatra which have been afflicted by earthquakes.

I have little reason to doubt the sincerity of the people involved, even if I doubt their good sense.

UPDATE II: If this report from a Samoan newspaper is any indication, the group is working with and under the direction of local people.

UPDATE III: Donations in New Zealand can be made to ...

Name: Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust Inc.
Number: 12 3043 0365388 00
Charities Commission Reference: RAS22987
CONTACT: Subaie Ishaque - 021 0628 156

I'm not sure which bank the RMDT deals with. I'm also not sure who is collecting aid in Australia or whether they are legally authorised to do so. Perhaps someone could ring Muslim Aid Australia and find out.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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