Ebola: What you can do to help

I am an ardent participant in NYC’s West African dance classes. They have kept me healthy in both body and mind for over ten years now, seeing me through major transitions and hard times, bringing me and hundreds of others joy every week.

So an international news feed shouting about ebola spiraling out of control in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone is more than just a distant terror that makes me fret and argue for stopping flights between those countries and mine. These are people who are familiar to me, their bodies transcribing a beautiful arc in space and flight that has been mine, too, and I am heartbroken to think of them cut down:

Their names are not foreign; they are familiar, the names of teachers greatly respected in my community.

They are not numbers; they are not doomed souls born to a continent where some other dire disease was going to claim them anyway. They are my neighbors.

They are facing an epidemic of the sort our countries have not seen since the turn of the last century, the kind that comes with quarantines and 50% mortality rates or higher. Due to the lasting effects of colonialism, wrought by our own ancestors, their countries are still not prepared to handle this. But we are.

I’ve been thinking about what I can do, and doing some research, as has my sister, who has been obsessed with the disease. She mentioned that a major cost faced by the organizations helping out on the ground is flights — getting people and supplies over to Africa, where not many flights go and roads are in poor shape.

It occurred to me: I’ve got frequent flyer miles. Why not donate them? In the course of investigating how, I’ve identified organizations aiding in the ebola effort, which airlines support donations of miles, and other in-kind donations that might help.

The links below will take you directly to pages where you can donate your mileage and give other support. I hope you will contribute.

Airline Organizations supported
United, and possibly other Star Alliance carriers from a number of countries, including SAS and Lufthansa(and formerly Continental. See link for more information.)
Air Canada
US Airways
Alaska Airlines
  • Unicef, which is aiding in prevention education efforts
Cathay Pacific
American Airlines
  • Not clear whether they support mileage donation at all. Perhaps we should lean on them for clarification. Their Twitter rep noted Virgin Atlantic supports mileage donations to Free The Children, which does work in Sierra Leone. However, FTC does not indicate on their website that they are specifically responding to the ebola crisis. Donation of miles appears to involve contacting Virgin reps directly, so it’s possible they can support donations to other organizations. Not sure yet if any of this applies to Virgin America.*

I didn’t have time to look for more international airlines; if you find others, go ahead and post links in the comments. Thanks to the recent participants in the Reddit IAmA on ebola response, and their suggested resource from the Matador Network.

Here are some organizations which I couldn’t figure out exactly how to support with miles. Some have other in-kind donation or volunteering needs, or a very strong presence in a particular community on the ground (the ones mentioned here were also featured in the Reddit IAmA).

Organization What it does What they need
Red Cross In addition to the services mentioned above, they’re looking for volunteers to help map previously unmapped cities, the spread of the disease, and cemetaries, remotely.
Imani House Has run a medical clinic in Monrovia, Liberia since 1985; they really know the area, and donations are likely to support long-term building of infrastructure in the area.
Develop Africa Providing protective equipment, prevention education, and most critically, they hope to develop a system to provide victims with antibodies from recovered patients. Has a long-established team in Sierra Leone.
More Than Me Supporting education for girls in West Point, Liberia; currently responding to ebola with education, safe burials, and support for children orphaned by the epidemic.
MedShare Redistributes surplus medical supplies
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) Sends medical personnel and supplies to crisis areas. Highly respected internationally, and only a small part of their funds go to administration.
Oxfam Increasing water supply and sanitation, among other efforts.
World Food Programme Logistical support and keeping food supplies flowing to quarantined areas.

Most organizations cannot guarantee that your donations are specifically put toward this effort. However, this issue is rapidly burning through organizations’ funds, so it’s likely to help regardless. And there’s always another important battle to fight — the aftermath of the next hurricane or earthquake, the ongoing education of children or maybe a permanent medical center.

* If it sounds like I’m calling out Virgin and American, it’s because they’re the only airlines I happen to have miles with. The punchline to all of this is that I can’t donate any miles myself! So I gave a chunk of money to DWB/MSF instead. I hope you have more success at mileage donation than I did!

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