Disaster Relief Philanthropy in Guatemala Volcano Crisis

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Disaster Relief Philanthropy in Guatemala Volcano Crisis

On June 3rd, Guatemala witnessed the worst eruption from Fuego (“fire”) volcano ever recorded. 70 fatalities have been recorded[1] and 192 are missing[2]. These numbers are sure to increase over the coming days.

Pionero Philanthropy’s base is in Antigua, approximately 9 miles from Fuego and we have seen a large variety of Philanthropic efforts taking place on a local, national and international scale.

When searching for “Guatemala Volcano” on www.gofundme.com, a staggering 545 campaigns appear. One page has raised over $70,000 and the majority, at least a few thousand dollars. Some of these pages are raising funds that will be transferred to reputable non-profit organizations (NPOs), whilst others are using the money to buy supplies such as medicines, food and clothing to carry out their own efforts.

Source: National Police of Guatemala
The village of El Rodeo before and after the eruption. A whole village wiped out. Source: Meteorología GT

Other actors include local and national companies, from cafes and hotels to nationwide Pharmacies and chains setting up Donation drop off points whose items are distributed through intermediary NPOs.

Local NPOs, including those whose expertise isn’t in disaster response, are utilizing their local networks to coordinate the distribution of materials and their broader network and donor bases abroad for monetary support through Social Media channels.

Given that Pionero’s mission is to connect donors to outstanding causes and that we are here on the ground, we felt it necessary to provide some reflections and pointers on what we believe every donor needs to keep in mind in order to best support Guatemala at this tragic time.

Pionero’s 5 pillars for selecting the most impactful NPOs are; Impact, Sustainability, Efficiency, Relevance/Need, and Transparency and although we are currently in this period of great uncertainty regarding which NPOs are fulfilling these criteria best, there are regardless some key questions every donor needs to consider:

1. Material or Monetary donations?

This depends on where you are located. If located abroad, then money is indisputably the best method of supporting aid efforts.

There is no point sending, shipping or travelling to Guatemala.

There is no postal system, private couriers are expensive, and carry on luggage and plane tickets are an inefficient use of funds. Your money goes further by donating to a reputable and effective NPO who can source products at the best price in-country. Furthermore, the flow of money supports the local economy rather than adding to international couriers and airlines’ bottom lines. If you are a local resident of the area affected, material items, so long as they are relevant and given to a responsible NPO is another possible option.

Local volunteers forming human chains to distribute material donations

2. Do your due diligence before donating.

Donate to organizations that have a good reputation in the local and international community. Unfortunately, during times of crisis and goodwill, there are also people who take advantage and set up fundraising pages and campaigns that are fraudulent.

3. Donate to Natural Disaster NPOs or trusted NPOs you have confidence in

Although the country hasn’t experienced such an event with this volcano for over a century, you ideally want to donate to organizations that already have experience and processes in place for effectively distributing the resources. In times of crisis when the situation is constantly changing, you want to trust organizations that have tried and tested processes in place and networks with important actors such as government agencies so that distribution of resources can reach those most in need in the shortest time.

Locals, volunteers and first responders at Alotenango where survivors take refuge. Fuego volcano smoking in the background.

However, we aren’t living in an ideal world here in Guatemala and other than the Red Cross that is working with CONRED (Guatemala’s national civil protection authority in disaster management), it seems that there are very few to no specialized NPOs operating in disaster relief at the time of writing. There are, however, many other NPOs who specialize in other areas such as health and housing who are utilizing their networks and resources to take action. If a donor has trust in a particular NPO with whom they feel confident, then donating to these NPOs could be an effective and fast-acting option.

View of the damage casued by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano in San Miguel Los Lotes, a village in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 4, 2018. – At least 25 people were killed, according to the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred), when Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted Sunday, belching ash and rock and forcing the airport to close.. (Photo by Johan ORDONEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Think about HOW you want to help – long term or short term?

Sure, everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is to donate items for immediate relief, but what happens once the media circus leaves town? Think about whether you want your funds to be used for the short term or the long term. For example, once communities move out of temporary refuges, they will need help with housing, roads and ongoing health care. It doesn’t matter within which area you want to help, but at least bear in mind that natural disasters, although quick to take place, take years, if not decades to recover from.

We hope this blog entry has shed some light on the unique situation that is happening here In Guatemala and leads donors to think a little more before they donate. It is definitely worth it if you want to make the biggest difference possible.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-44369461

[2] https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/latest-guatemala-volcano-rumbling-spewing-ash-55658054?cid=social_fb_abcn