Just as Americans opened their wallets for Sept. 11 victims, charity officials say some are now giving to help civilian Afghans who have been uprooted by the war on the Taliban.
Precisely how much money is being donated is virtually impossible to say, though it’s likely in the tens of millions. Dozens of charities operate overseas and are aiding the Afghans, but many donors give to those humanitarian groups without specifying where the money should go.
Some personal checks, however, come with the note “for Afghanistan,” or in response to directed appeals or news reports.
In perhaps the best-publicized Afghan charity drive, children nationwide have donated $1.5 million in response to President Bush’s request that they each give a dollar for Afghan youngsters.
Young people also collected about $4 million in the 51st annual trick-or-treat Halloween drive for UNICEF. The money was earmarked for Afghanistan, where the effects of drought and civil war were felt for years before this latest crisis.
But not everyone agrees the Afghans deserve help.
“We did get two or three hate calls, from people who said ’Why are you taking food out of the mouths of firefighters’ children?”’ said Jeff Meer, executive director of USA for UNHCR (the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees).
Still, an appeal from the group has raised about $1.6 million in donations so far, a response Meer rates “very strong.”
“The only other circumstance when we raised money faster for a refugee crisis was for Kosovo,” he said. In that case, Meer’s group raised more than $3 million to help the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians fleeing a Serb terror campaign.
Millions of Afghanistan’s roughly 25 million people have fled from their homes. The United Nations estimates 3.5 million now live in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, and up to 200,000 in Tajikistan, Meer said. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million Afghans have been displaced but remain in their ravaged country.
With winter coming, agencies say they need money for emergency basics like tents, plastic ground covers, blankets, jackets, stoves for heating and cooking, kitchen tools, medicine and food.
Janet Harris, at the International Rescue Committee in New York, said she felt relieved when President Bush assured the world that the United States was waging war on terrorists and those who harbor them, not the Afghan people.
She also knows the impact when the news media focus on Afghans’ plight.
“I can tell by ... what’s on the front page, what our checks the next day will be,” Harris said. “Those are the days someone may not write on their check ’Only in Afghanistan,’ (but) I know why they’re doing it.”
The IRC hopes to raise $17.8 million to provide Afghans with necessities for immediate and long-term survival, from soap and sox, to seeds, wells and water tanks.
Harris says that giving to her agency is up compared with last year. In October-November 2000, the IRC raised $2.5 million, she said. The same two months this year brought about $6.5 million — including $2 million from a single donor.
While the total Afghan donations come nowhere close to the $1.4 billion the Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates have gone to Sept. 11 causes, many Americans seem to be remembering Afghans — at least to some degree — when they give.
For instance, workers at the And 1 basketball shoe and apparel company in Paoli, Pa., organized a fund-raising effort for attacks victims that netted $300,000, much more than expected. An employee committee sent some money to attacks victims, some to local charities, and about $50,000 to Afghans in need.
Jay Gilbert, co-founder and chief executive officer of And 1, said workers wanted “to make sure people there knew we cared, not only about our own, but about them.”
On the Net:
USA for UNHCR: http://www.unrefugees.org
International Rescue Committee: http://www.theirc.org