Supermodel Petra Nemcova’s surviving the 2004 tsunami while in Phuket, Thailand, led her to establishing the Happy Hearts Fund, a charitable organization to address what she called “the hopelessness in the eyes of children” that she saw when she returned to Thailand after the tsunami. She wanted to close the “gap” that exists after first responders leave a disaster site and before full-scale reconstruction has begun by providing “islands of safety” for children in the form of sustainable schools. She explained the model behind the Happy Hearts Fund to a gathering of representatives from 8 different disaster relief organizations that are members of Global Washington.
Following Petra’s brief presentation, the Global Washington members had a lively discussion about their experiences – both positive and negative – in disaster relief work. Beryl Cheal of Disaster Training International pointed out that there are certain places in the world where you know there are going to be disasters (such as the Philippines), so disaster preparedness is important. John Scanlon of Oxfam shared the names of four initiatives – the Sphere Project, People in Aid, the Humanitarian Accountability Project (HAP), and the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) – that are trying to improve quality and accountability in the humanitarian sector. Mercy Corps shared its experience using information and communications technology (ICT) to collect information on maternal health in Indonesia.
Many agreed that having a local partner “on the ground” in a disaster area is important. Petra commented that the Happy Hearts Fund criteria for taking on a project include having a local NGO or corporation in place, as well as needing good local community engagement, reflecting Global Washington’s principle of local ownership.