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DIY Humanitarian Aid for Enthusiastic Beginners
Sending Help

You've read something disturbing in the paper, you want to react beyond sending a cheque to some large organization...

Either you locate a small, efficient NGO or else, you see what you do yourself...

What you can send

The kind of help which is needed is
- financial
- aid in printing a newsletter : computer, printer, roneo equipment (of a kind no longer used in Western Europe but helpful everywhere else
- medical equipment, drugs
- medical magazines for doctors and medical students (especially in the Third World)
- hygiene products, toiletries : sanitary towels, diapers
- educational tools
- cosmetics, especially in war zones.
- toys
- kindergarten equipment
- warm clothing
- new underwear
- baby food

Of course all toiletries and make-up have to be completely new and everything else as good as new. Hospitals in the West, you will find out, tend to change their equipment every ten years, and such unlikely (but much needed) articles as dentists’ chairs or operating tables are often available free of charge to humanitarian organizations who will pay for their packing and transportation.

Check the law

Always check the law about collecting and sending medical drugs and in this particular field, it is best to get the help of a doctor or pharmacist.
Remember to get the paper work done: always fax the organization and tell them that you are sending them a gift for non commercial purposes, because otherwise they may not be able to receive it. They need proof on paper that they are expecting your donation. You should ask them for the wording and guidance.
After the first time, you will see that it gets easier. And it’s really worth it …


Choose very sturdy cartons, line them with plastic if they are going by boat. Then pack them tightly, filling each corner. You cannot afford to waste space in a convoy. Number and label each box carefully and make a careful list of what each box contains. Remember to ask the transporter for guidance, as there may be customs problems that need to be circumvented. Baby milk, for instance may not be imported in some places, however badly needed.


This is the biggest headache. Once you’ve found out that these women are delighted to receive your computer, microscope or ton of sanitary towels, what do you do next ? Of course, they cannot be expected to pay for transport, but there again, you probably may not feel up to investing a sizable sum in an Ontario to Delhi Fed-Ex bill. There are several things you can do. First thing is to find out which large organization such as Oxfam, USAid and the like work in the country you have chosen but have an office in your city. Religious organizations are often present in the Third World and generally very efficient. Next , you ask them whether they can transport the material for you free of charge. If they ask for money, this is where you may have to raise it. Make an event out of it and we will advertise it and become an active partner in your endeavor. So if you plan to hold a dance, garage sale to get that convoy out there, just let us know, we’ll get the message round.
In some cases, especially where air-freight is the only solution, transport may be more expensive than the local market value of what you want to send. So it may be worthwhile to raise money for specific purposes: sponsoring a teacher, a child, buying a video etc.

Check with the Embassy

Of course, if you feel passionate about a cause, you will read up as much as you can. One thing you can do is to hunt down journalists and members of the Diplomatic Corps working in the area. Perhaps you can persuade them to bring (reasonably sized) special equipment you've to send to your correspondent. This is something you can check out.

It is important to check with your embassy in the countries you are hoping to intervene. You can always find addresses, e-mails etc. via your Foreign Office and try and find the name the person responsible for coordinating humanitarian aid within the Embassy. Sometimes, often in fact, they turn out to be really helpful