Good manners and common sense: Charity founder addresses Feinberg students at benefit for Pakistani flood victims

Neal Ball, Founder and Honorary Chair, American Refugee Committee and Terry Long, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine

Neal Ball, founder and honorary chair of the American Refugee Committee, spoke to more than 30 students and faculty at the Feinberg School of Medicine as part of a benefit to raise funds for Pakistani flood victims Friday.

Twenty million Pakistanis were directly affected by the flooding last summer, and large swaths of farmland are still under water, according to event coordinator Paul Battone, a Feinberg medical student.  The 24-year-old president of the Student Senate said lingering floodwater would affect next year’s harvest and exacerbate the disaster.

Ball’s charity emerged from another disaster in the Eastern hemisphere more than thirty years ago.

After sponsoring a Vietnam War refugee from Laos, Ball set about trying to find the boy’s family.  The search took Ball on a tour of refugee camps in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.

The poor conditions in the camps motivated Ball to address the plight of refugees—an effort that culminated in the present-day American Refugee Committee.

Ball pulled from his experiences with the charity to explain how humanitarian outreach can make a difference and to point out obstacles along the way.

“Good manners and common sense. That’s what I think humanitarianism is,” Ball said when asked to define the term.

But life often complicates simple and sound advice.

Ronak Vashi, a Feinberg medical student, said people are often consumed by their everyday lives at the expense of what’s happening in the world around them. But she’s optimistic that small acts can have an impact.

“People think that you have to do a lot to make a difference, but there’s more to be said for a larger number of people each doing a smaller part to help a bigger cause,” she added.

It was this same lack of attention that prompted Battone to coordinate the benefit with first-year medical students Matthew Hire and Alex Sidlak.

“Truthfully I’d heard of the disaster in Pakistan, but I didn’t know too much about it,” he said.

Battone wasn’t alone. After researching the issue for the Feinberg Student Senate at the request of a professor, he noticed knowledge about the flood was limited.

Pakistani student Hira Bai said she was also surprised at the limited US outreach, especially in light of American support for the country in other areas.

”We should all just be more aware of our international community,” she said.

Battone partnered with Northwestern’s Center for Global Health and the South Asian Medical Student Association to host Friday’s benefit to raise awareness and funds for flood victims.  He also contacted local Pakistani restaurants to contribute food for the occasion.  Through donations the benefit raised $550 for Pakistani flood victims.

While some might argue that a small gathering in Chicago might not make a difference in a region ravaged by flood waters, Ball would disagree.

“No matter how big the problem is or how far away, don’t be shy about it,” Ball said.  “It’s never too big or too distant to give help.”

Not all charities are created equal.  Make your donations count with Neal Ball’s suggestions:

  • Look for transparency and accountability. Find a charity willing to share information about their work.
  • Find the shortest line between need and aid. Middlemen can complicate things.
  • Put your charity to the test with Charity Navigator, an independent, online evaluator.
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