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Ehsan Zaffar

Ehsan Zaffar

Posted: October 22, 2010 06:44 PM

Big, burly, ferociously committed and said to resemble an "American football coach more than a health worker," Todd Shea is a surprising contradiction of a man who still seems to belong in rural northwest Pakistan.

Beloved by the locals since his arrival in 2005, Todd's good-natured persistence underlies his belief that in spite of floods or earthquakes, health care for Pakistanis in rural parts of the country is an attainable goal.

Much like today, in 2005, another natural disaster in Pakistan was making the headlines. That's when Todd Shea, went to help earthquake victims in Pakistan and ended up staying. Now Todd and his U.S.-based nonprofit, Sustainable Healthcare Initiatives Now Empowering (SHINE) is in the region again assisting flood victims in Charsadda Children's Hospital in rural Pakistan.

In a time when individuals hesitate to donate to large inefficient nonprofits or to disaster victims who live under corrupt regimes -- dedicated, nimble and efficient grassroots disaster relief organizations like SHINE are exceptional alternatives. As a SHINE volunteer, I have had the privilege of working closely with SHINE's board of directors and seeing the amazing work both they, Todd and the dozens of SHINE employees and volunteers on the ground in Pakistan have done over the past half-decade.

Just this past year, when the earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, SHINE launched a comprehensive health care initiative in the country a few weeks after the disaster. As I type, SHINE is gearing up to implement another million-dollar health-care initiative in flood-affected northern Pakistan.

Over the past few months the small California-based SHINE has provided hundreds of farmers in Pakistan with water pumps to drain fields allowing them to plant crops, introduced a new sugar formula to feed a collapsing bee population in the Swat Valley and raised over $500,000 for flood relief. This is a far cry from SHINE's start as one white man hauling aid supplies and singing Pakistani pop songs to the locals.

In five short years, SHINE has become a credible and trusted non-profit organization in a region where few such organizations exist. Organizations like the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), a grassroots aid relief organization in Pakistan and support organizations like the Association for Development of Pakistan are also doing excellent work in the region.

Yet the really remarkable story here is not SHINE's success, but the nature of the organization itself. Community-driven grassroots aid relief organizations like SHINE with a long-term commitment to Pakistan are exceptionally rare.

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, a number of NGOs and individual donors expressed concern that their donations would be misappropriated by the Pakistani government or other corrupt organizations in Pakistan. Max Fisher of The Atlantic, noted earlier this year that a lack of Western and local charities in Pakistan and distrust of local government were some of the reasons why Americans and others chose not to donate to flood victims. In an era of donor fatigue and increasingly epic worldwide natural disasters, this lack of confidence further exacerbated delivery of aid to over 20 million Pakistanis.

Yet, the Pakistani government and army remain the largest institutional aid relief providers in Pakistan and an NGO's unwillingness to work with the government or other organizations is crippling in a disaster of this magnitude. That's where organizations like SHINE come in. They possess credibility with the communities they serve in Pakistan, gained through years of thoughtful work. Moreover, they are staffed by professionals who maintain transparent funding pipelines and reduce compliance challenges for partnering NGO's. Organizations like SHINE simultaneously maintain links with the Pakistani government's National Disaster Management Authority as well as dozens of credible international NGOs on the ground.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is lowering barriers for organizations like SHINE in order to make it easier for them to obtain USAID funds and cut through the red tape that often inhibits charities, especially those working in Pakistan, from obtaining foreign assistance. For instance, Mark S. Ward, Acting Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAID, recently addressed my concerns and told me of a new initiative USAID is starting which fast tracks aid from USAID to smaller nonprofits like SHINE, if they partner with larger, well-established NGOs which have worked with USAID in the past.

So to those individuals who remain concerned about donating to flood victims in Pakistan (and they still need your help) I say donate to fledgling organizations like SHINE and RSPN who work tirelessly and on shoestring budgets yet manage to have a disproportionally positive impact on the ground relative to their size. And I encourage those NGOs worried about compliance, transparency and accountability to partner with SHINE here in the U.S. and Todd on the ground in Pakistan.

In an era of increasing concern about donating to disaster relief in third world countries, organizations like SHINE -- conceived by concerned American citizens and staffed by Pakistani expats and local citizen volunteers serve as shining examples of effective aid relief in under-served and politically unstable regions. They deserve our support and encouragement and donations.

 

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