It was an image that brought tears to the eyes of parents worldwide. The recent photo of a 3-year-old boy lying dead on a beach focused international attention on the tragedy of the Syrian civil war in a way that little else has since the conflict started in 2011. (Click here to read the distressing tale of Aylan Kurdi and his family.)
Maybe you saw the photo, maybe not, but if you’re like many Americans, you are now wondering how you can help the Syrians whose lives have been upended by the conflict. An estimated 12.2 million are displaced within Syria and another 4.1 million have fled the country, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.
There are many organizations that can use your money, and maybe even your time, to help address this humanitarian crisis. But there are, as always, scammers looking to make a quick buck from the misery of others. Here are four tips for making sure your money will actually help.
1. Donors beware
A general rule that applies here: Don’t give money to someone who solicits you, either in person on the phone or on social media. Many scammers try to play on your heartstrings and good intentions. If you want to give, make sure you initiate the contact with a reputable organization. Charity Watch, which tracks humanitarian organizations, offers this advice:
Social media will include many fake victims. Do not donate to unknown individuals that purport to need aid that post on Facebook, Craigslist, Indiegogo, etc. These are likely to be fraudsters, who may even be from another country and out of reach of our U.S. regulatory system. Even if they are legitimate victims, they may receive an unfairly large amount of aid.
2. Give money, not stuff
By donating money, you allow the organization to buy the goods locally and reduce shipping costs. It also allows the group more flexibility to purchase the items they need most, be it climate-appropriate clothing, food or other supplies.
3. Find a group you like
There are dozens of organizations working to help refugees from Syria, and a few that are operating inside the country. Here are a few with established track records that are active in the current crisis:
Doctors Without Borders is an international group of medical professionals who volunteer to spend time providing help in global conflict areas, including Syria. They report they treated more than 150 people per day at 13 makeshift hospitals just in the area around Damascus in the second half of August.
UNICEF is providing relief efforts focusing on children’s health, including food, water, clothing, vaccinations and counseling services.
Islamic Relief USA is providing food, housing and medical supplies to people inside Syria and in neighboring countries. They’ve also helped to set up hospitals, provide access to sanitation and warm clothing for the winter.
World Vision is helping people in Syria, and has recently started providing aid in Serbia, a transit point for many of the refugees fleeing the country. They are providing food, hygiene kits and kits for women with babies. They are beginning a program to help protect children, including the countless orphans at risk of being exploited.
CARE is providing relief to refugees who have fled to countries bordering Syria with food, cash and access to clean water. They are also helping in the country with emergency supplies, medical supplies, and psychological support for children.
Shelter Box USA is providing shelters, water purification kits, kitchen sets, blankets and classroom supplies for refugees in Syria and neighboring countries.
The World Food Programme has been getting food to people inside Syria and refugees in border countries. They tailor some programs to specific needs, such as getting proper nutrition to pregnant women, and providing food to Syrian children in school, to try to encourage them to stay in school.
Save the Children is operating schools, assisting teachers, giving children school supplies, and providing children safe places to play and counseling services.
4. Consult a watchdog
If you don’t like any of the options above, there are many more. But be careful. Whether you want to help refugees from Syria, or aid homeless people in your hometown, it’s good to consult with a watchdog group that tracks charitable organizations to determine if they are working as advertised. They provide information on how much money from each organization goes to helping people in need and how much is used for salaries and other administrative costs. Two of our favorites, each with information specific to Syria, are Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. Other good resources include GuideStar and Give.org, run by the Better Business Bureau.
For more insights on how to give charitably and make a difference, check out “6 Tips to Donate to Charity the Smart Way.”
Any groups we missed that people should know about? Let us know in the comments section or on our Facebook page.