How to ensure that your contributions to Pakistani flood relief go to the right place.

Advice on how to make the world better.
Sept. 15 2010 10:27 AM

No Flood of Relief

How to help the Pakistani flooding victims.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com.

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Pakistan is half a world away, and Haiti is nearby. The Caribbean country's disaster received extensive media attention in part, frankly, because it was relatively easy for reporters to get there.There were celebrities involvedsinger Wyclef Jean, actor-director Sean Penn, and former President Bill Clinton. For better or worse, we have a sort of parental feeling toward that unlucky island, perhaps a leftover from the Monroe Doctrine.

Pakistan is not only far away, but it is also a country with a shaky government.The United States and Pakistan misunderstand and mistrust one another. We don't trust the current Pakistani government, and Pakistanis don't trust that government, either. According to a Pew Research Center poll, two-thirds of Pakistanis disapproved of the job being done by their president.

Finally, though we're also in an economic slump and likely to be cutting charitable spending in general, you have to wonder whether our ignorance of Islam is a factor. Pakistan has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia. Most of us in the United States know very little about the Muslim faith, and our ignorance has led to fear and some bizarre misconceptions.

This has all reminded me of another religion and another flood in the wheat-growing plains of another continent—the 1997 Red River flood that nearly destroyed Grand Forks, N.D.As a young(ish) reporter, I wrote about the work of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team there. The team, mostly retired men from Kentucky with extensive experience mopping up after repeated Ohio River floods, slept on cots in the basement of the local Baptist church and spent their days cleaning up the awful mess in people's homes, for free. (One family had a dead cow float through the living room picture window.)

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This was a much less devastating flood than the one in Pakistan. Most of the city's 72,000 residents had to evacuate, but almost all returned; 11 people died.I spent a couple of days shadowing one of the Baptist crew, a 74-year-old former contractor who had not only worked at numerous floods and two hurricanes in the United States, but had also spent a month with a church group rebuilding houses after the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. I asked him whether he would suggest that the woman whose basement he was disinfecting with bleach come to Baptist services the following Sunday."No. She has her religion and I have mine," he replied.Isn't part of the Baptist faith that you should bring others into the fold? His answer, which he said in a matter-of-fact and completely un-pompous way: "My hope is to make my life an example."

—Constance

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com.

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Constance Casey's "Doing Good" beat for the Newhouse News Service focused on charities, the politics of nonprofits, and finding good solutions to bad problems. She has written on gardening and revolting creatures for Slate.