A unique pilot programme launched by the Czech Donors Forum last year to collect charitable donations through mobile phone text messages proved invaluable in Czech efforts to aid victims of the devastating tsunami that struck Southeast Asia last month.
The Czech humanitarian organisation ADRA on Wednesday held a press conference to thank the general public for its generosity — over 200 million crowns in private donations have been collected so far — and to applaud the country's competing mobile phone operators for working together in the name of charity.
Part of the global Adventist Development and Relief Agency network, the Czech branch of ADRA works towards improving health and living conditions for disadvantaged people both in the Czech Republic and abroad. The organisation has focused its long-term activities abroad mainly in the former Yugoslavia and in the poorest countries of Eastern Europe; namely Moldova and Ukraine.
But apart from running social and humanitarian programmes, ADRA also provides and coordinates humanitarian aid to victims of man-made and natural disasters. In large part thanks to donations made through SMSes — mobile phone text messages — Czech non-profits like ADRA were able to respond to the Asian disaster with unprecedented speed.
ADRA Executive Director Jan Barta: "We receive a lot of money from ordinary people - and we are so happy that just ordinary people support us because we are doing things for ordinary people in these countries in Southeast Asia. First of all we went to Thailand and we helped them immediately after this disaster by sending money to buy equipment for a hospital in Phuket; this is a specialised hospital that offered help to 3,000 people who were hurt."
ADRA will now focus its efforts on helping fisherfolk replace some 100 lost boats and rebuild schools in devastated Thai coastal and island communities. The first of these boats will be christened the "DMS Asie" in honour of the Czech mobile phone project known as the Donors Message Service.
Dozens of other Czech organisations opened special accounts for the disaster, including Caritas Czech Republic, the foundation People in Need and the Czech Committee of UNICEF, all of which praised the speed, transparency and ease of the Donor Message Service.
Jan Barta again:
"The most important thing is that we started with these activities immediately after [the tsunami hit]. It was just one day after that we started to collect this money through SMSes and I think this is why we were successful because we were first in a time when other people were thinking how to 'catch' this money."
The executive director of the Czech Donors Forum, Pavlina Kalousova, oversees the complex system of collecting donations via SMS, a joint project of the Czech Association of Cellular Networks Operators.
"The system is unique because it is not just ad hoc for one or two projects a year; rather it is a standard, transparent system for any NGO [non-governmental organisation] that wants to start collecting money in the Czech Republic through SMSes."
RP: I understand there was a pilot programme already in place before the tsunami disaster?
"Yes: 2004 was a pilot year; we launched the project on April 1 and 35 NGOs were involved in the project when we already tested how the system would work and how the Czech public would react to that. The first successful collection was for the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia last autumn and the most successful ever was the public collection for Asia."
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