This has been a busy year. Our world is in turmoil and much of that turmoil is affecting Compassion’s work.
Here’s a snapshot of the things I’ve reported over the past 11 months:
military rebellion, slum fire, dengue fever outbreak, H1N1 virus outbreak, flooding, strike, civil conflict, volcanic eruption, earthquake, heavy rains, political unrest, hotel bombings, protests and violence, typhoons, meningitis outbreak, polio outbreak, cholera outbreak, famine, landslide, tribal war, ferry sinking, riots.
As an organization entirely dependent on your trust, we have made a commitment to be honest and transparent in everything we do. This means, among other things, that we do our best to let you know as soon as possible when your child is affected by a crisis or disaster.
In a perfect world, here’s how the process would work:
- Within 24 hours of a crisis, our Field Communications Specialist (FCS) submits a crisis report via e-mail. This e-mail comes to an inbox that I check regularly.
- As soon as I receive this e-mail, I determine whether funds will need to be raised to provide relief, and summarize the report and e-mail it to our partner countries (the countries where the sponsors live).
- Meanwhile, the FCS is in contact with the Partnership Facilitators (PF), field-based staff members who are contacting our affected church partners.
- The FCS then submits a follow-up report via e-mail, with further details from the PFs about which centers are affected, how they are affected, and any other relevant details, photos or video.
- As soon as the church partners are able to provide specific information on registered children, the FCS e-mails that information to me. I do a quality check and then forward that information to the partner countries.
- Each partner country then contacts all the sponsors with affected children to let them know the status of their child.
Seems pretty cut and dried, right? And often, the process works exactly as I just described it.
However, as we all know, we do not live in a perfect world. Sometimes a disaster will wreak havoc on the field’s end, thus affecting our communications process.
Let’s take the recent typhoons in the Philippines as an example.
Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines on Sept. 26. Almost 17 inches of rain fell in 12 hours, halting any semblance of normal life, flooding everything in sight, killing hundreds and displacing thousands more.
Roads were destroyed, electricity was out and much of the country was underwater, neck-deep in some places.
Eighteen of Compassion’s staff members in the Philippines office (more than half) were personally affected by the flooding (including the FCS responsible for sending the crisis report).
After the typhoons, every single staff person in the Philippines office was involved in the relief efforts and for a time, Compassion’s entire staff put their regular duties on hold in order to help those in desperate need.
During disasters like this, while you are anxious to hear news about your child, keep in mind that many unforeseen and unavoidable things can occur, hindering good communication. Grace, patience, understanding and flexibility are critical.
Here are some things that might affect the communication process after a crisis:
- Getting information from the field to the partner countries isn’t always the No. 1 priority.
After a disaster, the highest priorities are critical needs such as shelter, clean water and food. Communication sometimes takes a back seat to meeting basic needs in life and death situations.
- It’s not just the sponsored children who are affected. Sometimes the staff members themselves are in need.
While our staff members are trying to address the immediate needs of our registered children, they also must take care of their own families and homes.
- Communication tools are not available.
The infrastructure in developing countries is much less stable than in the developed world. For instance, telephone and electricity were out throughout Manila, remaining out for weeks in some places. Communicating with the church partners was difficult, and in some cases, impossible.
- Different cultures put different importance on time.
Many countries where we work are not time-oriented the way we are in the United States. Time requirements do not have the same importance as they do here.
Despite this, you can be confident in our commitment to share accurate information with you as quickly as possible after a crisis. It’s just that sometimes this may take longer than we’d like.