ISM’S Disaster Relief Fund: Follow the Money

Written by: Niyanthri

Edited by: Erich

Visuals by: Owen

From typhoons in the Philippines to the Ukraine-Russia war, and most recently, the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, the ISM Disaster Relief Fund is a way for the Bearcat community to take part in aid efforts for disasters at both the local and international level. But where does the money for the fund come from, who decides how to allocate it, and do ISM’s  donations truly make a difference to the issues? 

Mr. Woods, the creativity, action, and service (CAS) and activities coordinator, is responsible for overseeing many aspects of the fund. When asked where the funding comes from, he answered that “the fund consists of donations from the community, alumni, IASAS and EARCOS friends, and former ISM teachers. Donations can be individual or from a group such as BOB, PCC, etc.” The connection with IASAS (Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asian Schools) and EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) also plays an important role in handling another aspect of the fund: the decision-making process behind where the money should go. In terms of which events ISM donates to, Mr. Woods notes that “as a general guideline, ISM will support incidents where our community has strong connections with the community affected, or if there is purposeful intent to action presented by a member of our community. Where possible, ISM will connect and support IASAS schools, EARCOS schools, or other connections deemed suitable (organizations the school has had direct contact and experience with). Where this is not possible, ISM will support UNICEF (or another applicable United Nations organization or affiliate), Save the Children, or the Red Cross.” Whole school involvement, including parent input, is key to ensuring that the Disaster Relief Fund contributes towards alleviating issues that resonate with the whole community. 

However, the allocation of funds isn’t decided by just one person, but rather by multiple groups of students and faculty members; the Service Learning Council (SLC) and the school-wide Service Learning and Environment Committee (SLEC) are both heavily involved in deciding where the funds should go. Student involvement is crucial as Mr. Woods affirms, “Student connections, experiential learning, and decision-making should be included in all aspects of the process where possible.” The fund gives students opportunities to participate in a process that mimics how resources in such funds are distributed in the real world—NGOs and corporations alike. Being a member of these service councils is a great way to learn how to make these decisions on a smaller scale, by honing skills like collaborating to reach a consensus and using critical thinking to decide where the money should go, while still making a significant positive impact. 

Though ISM donates to disasters when possible, the fund is not capable of donating tens of thousands of dollars to each one. In this regard, Mr. Woods explains that “donation size has to be balanced with available funds and how much can be raised to refill the fund from our community.” For the recent Turkiye-Syria earthquake, ISM donated 2000 dollars to UNICEF, while in 2021 and 2022, a combined total of 4000 dollars was donated to help children in Ukraine affected by the war. While some may question the use of donating a seemingly small amount of money, highly reputed organizations like UNICEF rely on voluntary donations to carry out their operations, which have fed, sheltered, and educated millions of children in unsafe situations during times of war and natural disasters. Every cent matters— each has the potential to change a life. 

The ISM Disaster Relief Fund is important for many reasons: for one, it increases community involvement in service. Beyond this, it also contributes towards resolving global issues by helping children, who are often the biggest victims of such disasters. This is achieved by making progress with regard to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number four, quality education, as UNICEF and other organisations that ISM supports often focus on ensuring children in disaster zones are able to continue their education through donating school supplies or through other means. With regard to how donations to the fund work, everyone can contribute. Clubs can donate to the fund after discussing with their advisors and making a transfer from the club account to the fund, while individuals can do so at the cashier’s office. Remember, any contribution, small or large, goes a long way in helping the global community—be a part of the solution!