Now, though, in the wake of the global disasters of the past week—Haiti, first, brought to its knees by an earthquake, then Afghanistan, with innocent citizens now desperate for safety—it’s hard to not to look on and just feel utterly helpless. One truth remains, though, even if it’s a truth that sounds like an Instagram meme: The best way to stop feeling helpless is to find ways to help.
Here, we’ve rounded up a handful of things Philadelphians can do now in service to our fellow global citizens who are in need.
1. Help welcome Afghan refugees
Pennsylvania has historically been a very welcoming state for refugees—number 8 in the country as of 2018, according to the National Immigration Forum. Under President Trump, the number of refugees the country took in hit record lows; the Biden administration has significantly raised the cap, which means we can expect more newcomers.
And Philly has a capacity to resettle “quite a number of refugees,” says HIAS Pennsylvania’s Daniella Nahmias Scruggs. HIAS Pennsylvania, the longtime Philly-based resettlement agency, has seen a slow and steady number of families from Afghanistan since 2005, she says, and they expect to see many more in the coming months. Philly is one of 25 cities in the U.S. earmarked for taking Afghan special visa holders.
So how can we help ease their way?
- Donate money. You can do this on a one-time or regular basis to Philly-based organizations like HIAS or the Nationalities Services Center (NSC) or to Bethany Christian Services (which has offices in Jenkintown and Allentown), all organizations that work to resettle refugees in the city and region, connecting them to furnished apartments, work and access to resources like English classes, transportation, food and more.
- Donate household goods, clothing, gift cards or—in some cases—food that will help newcomers feel welcome and settled and more at home. The list of needs for HIAS is here; for NSC, here; for Bethany, you can call to see what the local needs are.
- Sign up as a volunteer. HIAS, NSC and Bethany all welcome people who want to do jobs that range from welcoming people to teaching English and digital literacy to cleaning and set-up of homes to meal prep and grocery shopping to childcare and driving, and much more. “It’s really about coming alongside the refugee community however you can,” offers Heather Bert, Bethany’s branch director in the Greater Delaware Valley. “One thing we say here is that everyone can do something. What’s your something going to be?”
Attend the “Stand With Philly’s Afghan Community” event that’s sponsored by HIAS PA, NSC, and Bethany Christian Services this Sunday, August 22nd at the Tarken Recreation Center. 5 p.m
2. Support the efforts within Philly’s Haitian community
- The Philadelphia Haitian American Chamber of Commerce has launched a Go Fund Me to fund a trip down to Haiti to help rebuild homes, and work to get support, medicine and care for struggling families.
- Gilbert Ovide, the Willow Grove-based, Haitian-born founder of the nonprofit GOIFE (the Guybert Ovide International Fund for Higher Education) is also sending care packages to the Bethel School of Solon, in Cayes, which was hit hard by the earthquake. You can donate to the cause here.
3. Donate to vetted international aid organizations with positive histories of impact in the area
Social media—which is occasionally good for some things—is awash with ways to help both Haiti and Afghanistan right now. A few of note:
- For Afghanistan, there’s Miles4Migrants (getting plane rides to people who need them, including Afghans); Women for Women, which is aiming to help Afghan women find safe places to meet and stay connected; the International Rescue Committee; Afghan Journalists Safety Committee for immediate help; and Lutheran Social Services (helping resettle Afghan allies), to name a few biggies.
- For Haiti, there’s Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (which Andrés founded after the 2010 earthquake in the country, and which is currently helping feed people); Ayiti Community Trust (Haitian-led group where contributions are channelled to Haitian-led groups in the country); Hope For Haiti; Doctors Without Borders, which has had a presence in Haiti for decades, the Haitian-led Fonkoze, an anti-poverty nonprofit with deep roots in the country.
- Another option is My Neighbor’s Children, the Haiti-focused partner of Hand in Hand Soap, the Philly biz with a decade-old mission of getting soap and clean water to folks in Haiti who need it. (You can check Hand in Hand’s site, too, in coming days for ways to donate.)
- There’s also Global Giving, which gets your donations to vetted, local nonprofits in both Haiti and Afghanistan (among other places). Also, if you’re curious about the efficacy or transparency of an aid organization and want to know more about the group beyond what’s on the website, you might also consider checking Charity Navigator or Charity Watch, which offer ratings on and info about many nonprofits.
“One thing we say here is that everyone can do something. What’s your something going to be?” says Bethany’s Heather Bert.
4. Call your legislators
Write, email, call, Tweet: You can have an impact on how well and how quickly the U.S. (and Philly!) welcomes refugees. Here’s how to reach your electeds. Here’s the email for the White House, too. (Note: The International Rescue Committee also has an email form through which you can tell President Biden you’re in support of the U.S. getting “vulnerable Afghans” on paths to safety.)
5. Fight the one-and-done urge
“Americans are so generous,” Bert says. “And we’re really good at the moment, so good initially.” But then? Life, the news cycle and our attention span moves on … while the trauma and need for funding remain. So: “Let’s not forget both of these places,” Bert says. “Let’s remember that this is a long-term game plan.” Finding and then regularly supporting the organization(s) you believe in are the most helpful things you can do, she says.Header photo by Danielle Butin / Flickr