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Jesuit priest calls for more communication between donors and recipients

How to put a human face on humanitarian aid

Fr Yom (left) distributes aid to tribal people in Vietnam Fr Yom (left) distributes aid to tribal people in Vietnam
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • December 14, 2012
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There is a sustainability problem with modern humanitarian aid, says Father Lorenzo Yom Yong-sop. The director of the Joy of Sharing Foundation, a Jesuit-run agency, believes the key to more effective assistance is for agencies to communicate more frequently and openly with beneficiaries.

Aid agencies need to tell “stories with human values,” he says. Interactive communication between donors and beneficiaries provides mutual support and allows both sides to see the good work being accomplished and draw inspiration and joy from the work being done, he adds.

And it further motivates continued support for the marginalized communities being served by such aid.

Fr Yom has for several years worked to build networks across Asia to assess how to serve them.

At the age of 51 he traveled to Myanmar as a missioner and set up an educational institute to teach English, computer and vocational skills to young people.

“At that time, I thought education was the best way to help them stand on their own feet,” Fr Yom said.

But the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, during which at least 138,000 people died, caused him to shift his focus to “the poorest of the poor.”

The situation in the days after the cyclone struck was “really terrible.” Aid materials were inefficiently delivered, when they were delivered at all.

“Medical supplies were delivered to people who needed food,” he said, because aid agencies were not communicating about what local people really needed most.

So Fr Yom began building his network with the help of priests, religious and resident laypeople who best understood the needs of the communities in which they lived.

One such network in Cambodia helped him determine that a rehabilitation center for disabled people was in need of sewing machines in 2010.

He reached out to donors in South Korea to explain the situation.

He informed the donors why the center needed the machines and how the funds would be used. The machines were duly delivered, and Fr Yom then urged donors to further support the center by importing the clothes made there.

Lydia Park Young-sun, a Korean donor, said the Joy of Sharing Foundation keeps her well informed about how her money is being spent and who benefits from it.

“It really fills me with joy and motivates me to continue supporting the projects,” she said.

The Joy of Sharing Foundation has 750 donors who regularly support marginalized people in eight Asian countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam.

Foundation official Jeong Jang-ho says it has provided hundreds of millions of won (about US$1 million) in aid since 2010.

“The Korean Church’s overseas aid is not enough,” Fr Yom said, because five million local Catholics on average donate only “about two US dollars” per person for foreign aid.

Stella Koh Jung-hyun of Caritas Korea said the Korean Church donated 43 billion won to 18 Asian countries between 2006 and 2010.

Fr Yom said most of the local Church’s overseas aid comes in the form of one-off donations, particularly in the wake of deadly natural disasters.

He suggested that local aid agencies provide donors with follow-up stories by telling them how well or badly a project has been managed and the impact a project has had on restoring life and dignity to aid recipients.

“Overseas aid must be continuous and sustainable, for which interactive and human relationships between donors and beneficiaries must be promoted.”

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