Sep-Oct Update: Two Months of Passion and a Fundraising Drive
So much has happened since last we talked. On Sunday evening, while visiting some friends in Odesa, we found ourselves seated on a bathroom floor while drone after drone came whirring toward the city before being shot down with ear-splitting explosions. A few blocks from where we sheltered, a missile blasted into the street in front of the beloved Odesa Fine Arts Museum, leaving a crater which will block traffic for weeks. The next day, after a few hours’ sleep, I was off with fellow volunteer Chris to pass checkpoint after checkpoint on our way to villages just a few dozen miles from the beleaguered city of Kherson, where artillery shells fall day and night. Our assessment there revealed a population hardened by almost two years of war and occupation but unbowed in their resistance. And only the other evening I was having dinner with a Ukrainian veteran who spent four years fighting in the eastern region of Donbas before the outbreak of this full-scale invasion; the way he spoke of his time in the tanks and in the trenches, I could not help but think of the hundreds of thousands more who will be returning home to Odesa and other Ukrainian cities scarred by their experiences after this conflict. War is so truly terrible.
Of course, Ukraine is not alone in facing this specter of death and violence. Recent events in Israel and Gaza leave all of us horrified. In Sudan’s Darfur region, ethnic cleansing rages against the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups. In Myanmar, a bloody civil war continues to rage, with the national military controlling less than 40% of the country. My heart weeps and rages with every individual caught up in these sweeping, terrible conflicts and all of the others around the world.
Still, it is in Ukraine Dignity Aid has arrived, and by dint of luck and hard work, we have survived almost one year. While (as you can imagine) I sometimes long to help in other locations as well, we must first build where we stand presently. And after many months of passionate work, we have constructed a network of passionate individuals and potential projects which make me comfortable making a significant push for funds again. Over the coming two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you will see a series of social media posts highlighting our work here in Odesa and surrounding regions, with some emails to give you a deeper dive. With the help of my sister Maddy leading the social media accounts, and with the advice and support of many other volunteers, our goal is to raise $1,000-$5,000 in the next few weeks (with as many recurring donors as possible). If we can raise that money, I commit to lead Dignity Aid in accomplishing the following tasks, subject to consultation with beneficiary communities:
$1,000: Continue operations (fund the weekly Odesa Psychiatric Hospital volunteer run + advise local organizations + support international volunteers + continue US charitable registration etc.)
$3,000: Continue operations + Make dignified deliveries of tailored humanitarian aid to two (2) needy villages in Odesa/Mykolaiv/Kherson regions, including careful assessment and reporting processes
$5,000: Continue operations + Make dignified deliveries of tailored humanitarian aid to four (4) needy villages
To give you a better idea of how donated money is used, I’m starting here with a financial summary. I will then highlight one of our projects, with more of those highlights to come in following emails. I’ll then walk through one of my typical weeks and close with a quick summary of my trip back to Utah.
As of this moment, funds donated through our crowdfunding link go directly to my personal bank account, where I record carefully how much we have received (using a separate PayPal account to keep things straight when necessary). I then record our expenses, including receipts for all purchases over $100, and put them online as soon as possible. I’m currently working on getting bank account set up for Dignity Aid International, which was just registered as a legal entity in Virginia, so that funds can go directly there; our lawyers have indicated to me that it will be another 6-8 months until the government can process our tax-deductible status, but we plug away at that bureaucratic mountain! And in the meantime, we spend your funds as follows:
Of $10,233 collected ($6,578 crowdfunding on Fundly, $3,655 directly through PayPal, yay for surpassing $10,000!), we have spent $10,014 on humanitarian aid (88%) and supporting volunteers (12%); in the past two months, of the aprx. $1,000 raised, over $900 has gone to support the Odesa Psychiatric Hospital. So far, we have managed to give away almost 90% of our cash donations as direct humanitarian aid, and we hope to continue that pattern, subject to the needs of beneficiary communities. In addition to DAI donations, our volunteers have also facilitated the distribution of aid worth up to $200,000 in partnership with a number of other groups—watch for a yearly report soon with more details.
Project Highlight: Cash Assistance for Displaced Families
Most humanitarian organizations now acknowledge that cash assistance is one of the most effective and dignified ways to help communities in need. Our partners HumanFrontAid from Switzerland and Plich-o-Plich from Ukraine have worked together to create a wonderful system of identifying families displaced by war, from Bakhmut to Kherson, and because of our close working relationship with the individuals in these organizations as well as the international citizenship of founder Abe, we have been selected as the trusted middleman to help with cash transfers and reporting. Since joining the team, we have facilitated the transfer of over $40,000 from Switzerland to Ukraine, all of which has been given out in amounts of $50-100 to families which are often without work, home, or hope. While this is a temporary wartime measure, supporting these households until they are able to return to their homes or find more permanent situations is crucial; Dignity Aid donors make this possible by funding the ongoing activities of Abe and other volunteers as they seek to build on these partnerships.
Abe’s Days: A Smattering of Everything
My weeks are usually full, in the best of ways. A typical Monday morning might see me go to the bank to pick up cash from Switzerland for displaced families, which I put directly into a brown paper bag for transfer to our distribution point the following day. That afternoon, after lunch at a local cafeteria, I might answer a few emails from international volunteers who are coming to Odesa or work on Dignity Aid charitable registration, followed by a 4pm volunteer meeting at one of the local food kitchens (which also makes regular deliveries to at-risk populations in Kherson) and a 7:30pm meeting with volunteers from Be an Angel Ukraine, who help coordinate medical evacuations as well as other aid operations and often need someone like me who lives in the country and can provide on-the-ground scouting operations.
Tuesday might begin with cash assistance at the Plich-o-Plich Humanitarian Center, a new place for displaced families to gather and get haircuts, receive medical care, buy coffee, pick from donated clothes, or apply for cash help. After many hours listening to heartbreaking stories of loss, our group of volunteers will fill out the final paperwork for that program and head for pizza, after which I might go to the Unity Nest co-working space for some work with my partners at Manifest Mira. Their office space is co-sponsored by a Utah organization, Lifting Hands International, and it has been fun to get to know that group a little as well as the excellent folks at Manifest Mira. A meeting or two about a potential new proposal, or to draft a budget summary, might be followed by an evening at a tea shop or relaxing at home.
Wednesday morning I might meet a friend who just came in from Germany, or Spain, or Ireland, or any number of countries worldwide from which people come to volunteer in Ukraine. Usually I will arrange these meetings a few days ahead, and we’ll spend an hour or two in a cafe going over their options and then take them around before lunch to see the food kitchen, the Plich-o-Plich center, or whichever projects might interest them. After lunch we might work together for a few hours before I head off to my regular 6pm Everyman meeting, a weekly gathering of men where we can discuss our feelings and troubles in a confidential and supportive environment. That project has been going for months and I am very honored to be allowed into that circle of growing friendship; we are hopeful that those groups only become more popular in Ukraine.
By Thursday, at this pace, you can imagine that my various inboxes will be filling up with requests to file paperwork for Dignity Aid, or to help with paperwork for another partner, or to answer questions from volunteers thinking of coming to Odesa, or to help families suffering from displacement find assistance; I usually spend at least one day per week entirely on my computer and phone catching up with these requests. In addition, there is generally a local NGO coordination meeting on Thursdays at 5pm which I try to attend, if I am not traveling in the villages or otherwise occupied. And there is always the possibility that I will have remote editing or writing work due that week, in which case I sometimes work into the evening to ensure that my own bills are paid as well as the organization’s!
Friday is typically the day to wrap up various deadlines from the week, return to Odesa if I’ve been out in Kherson or Mykolaiv Oblast, ensure that we have the cash ready for Saturday’s hospital visit, and then hopefully get dinner with friends and spend a quiet evening.
Saturdays are the Odesa Psychiatric Hospitals every morning, followed by lunch with the volunteers (or setting up for a charity concert if it’s last week!). Sundays we rest. Or write donor updates. As the mood strikes me. 😉
A Visit Home
This update grows long, as usual, and the hour grows late, but I can’t go without saying a word or two about my recent visit to Utah. The occasion was the passing of my grandfather on my mother’s side, a noble man who spent his life in pursuit of happiness for his family (and of adventure!). I had not seen him for about a year, but we were in regular contact over the years and he was a great friend to me many times. The funeral was such a beautiful experience, as was simply seeing my family again and catching up after many months of separation. I wanted to catch up with many more people than I was able to see in the short five days that I stayed there, but the time I did have was so precious. Thank you to everyone who made it possible, beautiful, and memorable. I hope to be back again before the next year is up.
Love to all,
Dignity Aid International | Odesa, Ukraine
WhatsApp: + 1 385-202-8624
Ukraine/Telegram: +380 98-301-1327