Asian Diaspora in the U.S. Responding in Times of Disaster

In the past several months, Asia has had more than its share of natural disasters. Coverage on the disasters by the media and informal blog sites have provided on the ground details and cries for assistance. Foundations, organizations, associations, corporations, and even for-profit philanthropic advisory groups have created greater awareness on how to support relief and reconstruction efforts. In particular, I am amazed at the response from the diaspora community in the U.S. and the growing movement to collaboratively raise funds for relief and reconstruction efforts or to exchange information and share best practices. From these successes, I wonder how we can encourage and support more collaborative networks and research on this new role of community philanthropy.

Bangladesh cyclone: global diaspora response

In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr struck the southwestern coast of Bangladesh triggering a 5-metre (15 foot) storm surge. Flooding and high winds killed nearly 4,500 people and destroyed at least 1.5 million homes, causing millions of dollars of damage to livestock and crops. Over 7 million people were affected by this tragedy.

In response, twelve organizations in the U.S., Canada and London, led by Drishtipat, a U.S. based diaspora non-profit organization, came together to form the United Bangladesh Appeal (UBA) to raise funds for the Sidr Victims’ Compensation Fund. UBA is an internet based umbrella organization that was created to unite the numerous Bangladeshi groups under a common goal in times of crisis or need. The group has successful raised over $300,000 to support the victims of the cyclone.

Burma cyclone: matching funds to encourage charitable support

In May this year, Cyclone Nargis broke levies, flooded farm roads, shattered bamboo huts and destroyed crops along the coast of Burma. The disaster claimed nearly 140,000 lives and thousands of villagers are still struggling to find food and rebuild their homes. According to reports, more than 40% of fishing boats and 70% of fishing gear were destroyed and more than 360,000 children will not be able to go to elementary school because 2,000 schools were damaged. Due to the complex regulations in the U.S. of sending funds to Burma and the intensity of the Burmese government’s initial resistance to aid, relief efforts are still in preliminary stages.

The members of the Charitable Alliance of Burmese Americans (CABA) and the B.K. Kee Foundation are originally from Burma, and they have close relationships to the people and groups in the affected area. The B.K. Kee Foundation is a private, family foundation whose mission is to provide humanitarian aid, primarily in health and education, to all people of Burma. Shortly after the disaster, the Foundation generously announced that it will match donations to CABA for relief efforts up to a maximum amount of $100,000. Members of CABA successfully met the $100,000 challenge and B.K. Kee Foundation made a separate grant of $100,000 to IDE Myanmar for assisting farmers with planting rice.