Don’t Forget the FSN Emergency Relief Fund

The Foreign Service National (FSN) Emergency Relief Fund enables the Department of State to respond to crises affecting locally employed staff overseas, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. To donate to the fund, send a check to the Department’s Gift Fund Coordinator, Donna Bordley, RM/CFO, Rm. 7427, 2201 C Street NW, Washington DC 20520. Make checks payable to the U.S. Department of State, designation for the “FSN Emergency Relief Fund.” (h/t to AAFSW). State and USAID employees may also check their intranet for guidance on donation by cash or credit cards.   

The Fund dates from April 1983 when FSN employees at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago collected funds to support the families of colleagues killed or injured in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut—and by DACOR’s unsolicited donation to the U.S. Ambassador in Lebanon to aid bomb victims.
Besides Beirut, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the fund has assisted FSNs in Tegucigalpa, Dhaka, Santo Domingo, Niamey, Athens, Karachi, Algiers, San Salvador, Freetown, Maputo, Ndjamena, Caracas, Bamako, Islamabad and São Paulo. FSN employees in earthquake-wracked Algeria and war-torn Liberia have received assistance from the fund, along with local employees in Jamaica, Grenada, the Bahamas and Haiti— countries ravaged by  hurricanes in 2007. 

Ronda Harvey, a program analyst for the Gift Fund and K Fund wrote about the FSN Relief Fund: in the June 2009 issue of State Magazine (excerpt below): 
Unlike other appropriated activities, the relief fund is based completely on donations from the foreign affairs family. The fund has no administrative costs, so 100 percent of every donation is disbursed to LE Staff at U.S. posts around the world.
The fund receives requests to provide financial support to employees who have been devastated by natural disasters, political unrest and serious injuries or death occurring in the line of duty. The aftermath of a catastrophe can be especially devastating for LE Staff, once they realize the enormity of the disaster. In the past 26 years, approximately $651,000 has been disbursed among the regional bureaus.
Since the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing, the fund has assisted many families of employees at posts attacked by terrorists. Jennifer McIntyre, a supervisory post management officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said the fund means a great deal to her colleagues.
“The bureau’s most compelling need this year was a payment to the family of a local guard force member who was killed while defending the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a against terrorists,” she said. “We cannot overemphasize our appreciation for the employees and private donors who contribute to this important fund.”
Requests for disaster assistance from the fund are most common. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis destroyed the homes and property of 281 LE Staff at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon.  The government of Burma provided no public assistance, and most of the affected individuals had to buy imported high-cost building materials to rebuild. After reviewing each case, the fund disbursed $34,400 for property claims.
In recent years, support for the fund has come from Foreign Service officers who named it as a beneficiary in their wills or from requests that donations be made to the fund in lieu of gifts at weddings or flowers at funerals.
Donations also come from LE Staff themselves. “It is particularly gratifying to see how previous recipients return the favor and donate their own scarce funds to assist others in need,” Bordley said. “When the 1998 Nairobi embassy bombing victims needed assistance, our office received crumpled money that had been dug up from the backyards of the LE Staff of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia—examples of the helping hands that are also on the fund’s logo.”
Foreign Service Nationals  (also known as “LES”) provide unique services in support of foreign policy at nearly 265 posts worldwide. LE Staff are an integral part of every US mission overseas, providing continuity, the institutional knowledge and professional contacts that are so important to the embassy. US government agencies under Chief of Mission authority depend on their continuity staff, frequently delegating to them various supervisory roles and program functions. For those not in the know, local staff  are also compensated based upon prevailing practice in-country and are usually paid in host country currency. 

The situation in Haiti — with such a large scale devastation of structures will probably be comparable to Cyclone Nargis in Burma where 281 LE staff of US Embassy Rangoon lost their homes. Please think about the embassy’s local staff in Haiti when you’re considering a donation. 

Update 1/17/2010:  The word we’re hearing is not good. Also via NDS: “The FSN Emergency Relief Fund needs money. And lots of it. Many of our FSNs are unaccounted for. I spoke to one of my colleagues in Haiti and not one of her FSNs (out of seven) has called in. In another section, only two out of ten FSNs have called in. It’s really bad.”

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