Who Benefits from Hurricane Relief?

Esteli, Nicaragua...

Like all of you, we were moved deeply by the recent tragedy of Hurricane Mitch, as the nightly news showed the massive destruction it caused throughout Central America. We began raising money to send to Nicaragua, where we had personal relations with some of the most hard hit communities. We co-sponsored and co-organized a concert called "Hurricaid" which raised $8,000.00 for Nicaraguan relief efforts, and we also pulled together another $1,200 from donations, our matching funds and all profits from a two month sale of Nicaraguan Relief Roast.

Many people ask how much of the money raised by relief efforts actually gets to the people who need it the most, and how can we be sure that the money is used as intended. Read on.

From the very beginning of our efforts we wanted to be certain that all of the funds went directly to needy communities, and that the funds would be used for the most urgent relief purposes. That is why we did not just give the money to any of the well-intentioned professional relief groups that take "administrative fees" out of the money raised, or who might not have been able to deliver money or materials directly to needy peoples because of government or military interference. Therefore we gave the money directly to grassroots organizations in the most affected communities themselves.

Our main beneficiary has been PRODECOOP (Promoters of Cooperative Development), a democratically run cooperative made up of 44 small cooperatives representing over 2,000 rural families in eight municipalities around Esteli, in north central Nicaragua. The main source of income for these families is growing conventional and organic coffee, and they also grow corn, beans and other crops for sustenance and income generation. We have worked with PRODECOOP for four years and know many of the families personally, and can vouch for the integrity and commitment of the organization. Since the hurricane, we have kept in close e-mail contact, learning the full extent of the damage and PRODECOOP's assessment of how best to begin the road back.

Their reports revealed miles of roads and bridges destroyed throughout the area, with crop losses ranging as high as ninety percent. Homes have lost roofs and walls and many of the communally owned "beneficios" (small-scale crop processing facilities) have been destroyed. In addition, PRODECOOP has reported that the government has not permitted much outside aid into the region, or has taxed it heavily or held up materials in Managua customs warehouses. Food and materials for repairing homes are available, but without crops to sell, the families of the Esteli region would have no money for these necessities. In the face of this situation, PRODECOOP asked for direct financial aid that they would use to purchase and distribute food and building materials to all affected families. They provided us with a detailed plan for how much food and materials could be bought for how many families in the different affected areas, and how they would distribute according to need. It was sobering to read how little money ($7.00) could sustain a family for several weeks. We wired the money directly to the PRODECOOP bank account in Managua via a Miami corresponding bank. It was received within three days. We have continued to keep in touch by e-mail and telephone. We have also sent friends and associates down to visit and report on the progress of the reconstruction efforts. Last week we received a full written report on the use of the funds. The report showed that our funds were distributed as follows:

  • 44,800 lbs. of food (mostly rice, beans and sugar) distributed
  • 18 km of roads repaired
  • 4 beneficios repaired
  • 300 sheets of zinc roofing provided to community members

We will continue to work with PRODECOOP to alleviate the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch. The folks at PRODECOOP are very grateful for the assistance provided by all who participated in the Hurricaid concert, those who sent money to us and everyone who purchased Nicaragua Relief Roast. We share in the belief that communities can work together to help each other in times of struggle, and we are committed to being a means to that end. We welcome any questions you have about this work or any of our involvements in social, ecological and economic justice both home and abroad.

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