It's interesting how we react to disasters around the world.

And by "interesting", I guess I mean curious or perhaps weird or maybe shocking.

This is not new - we place great value on those we feel most strongly connected to or can directly relate to. People in war zones, starving on the other side of the world, living in slums without running water, persecuted for their religion don't usually make the news or at least stay in the news for long here in New Zealand.

We allow this dehumanising to affect how we look at our fellow humans - and how we help each other.


I have travelled to Nepal so when the earthquake struck last month, I immediately donated to the Red Cross. I trekked Annapurna with Wanda Vivequin, a Kiwi living in Canada who has travelled to Nepal 29 times in the past 15 years. Wanda has set up a fundraising website,, to help the long-term recovery of the country by focusing on rebuilding schools. Thanks to the generosity of her networks, she is already more than halfway to her fundraising target of $50,000. And no corruption risk there - Wanda has trusted relationships with people taking action on the ground.

Nepal is strong in the New Zealand identity not just because of people like me who have travelled there but because of Sir Edmund Hillary's historic feat being the first person to the summit along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. It means we do pay attention to Nepal.

Not so much Myanmar. Not until it becomes so appalling that even we pay attention Down Under.

The plight of those thousands of Rohingya refugees floating in the ocean between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, abandoned by human traffickers, starving and dying, crammed onto boats, is heartbreaking.

Apparently boats are being turned back with refugees not being able to reach land and claim asylum, let alone get food and water after their supplies have run out.

What can we do to help? We don't have the same connections - there isn't a massive groundswell of fundraising in the same way we're responding to the Nepalese people, or our South Pacific neighbours in Vanuatu post Cyclone Pam, with both countries still facing significant challenges.

The first step is to show compassion - to talk about these people and show them respect. Don't call them illegal immigrants - they are seeking refuge and have protections under international law. Ask our politicians to advocate for their human rights through diplomatic channels. A lack of tolerance is part of the reason people leave their home countries, taking awful risks.

We might reassure ourselves that at least we're not as bad as Australia with their tough conditions for refugees on island camps. The information coming out of the Nauru Inquiry is horrifying.


But the reality is we lag far behind our Aussie cousins - they take up 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers each year while we take 850. Our quota has not increased since 1987 - we are now rated 88th in the world for our per capita rate. Check out for more information.

We could take more people, real people - mums, dads and children. If even Winston Peters is advocating for an increase in our refugee quota this week, it might just be time for us to do our bit.

Helping these countries and people is also possible beyond charitable donations and political advocacy - Nepal is calling for tourism to continue. Much of the country still has working infrastructure and could benefit from the tourist dollar being spent there again - it's an amazing country. Same in Vanuatu - there are hotels still taking bookings.

Some will argue that charity begins at home and we should focus on the very real need in New Zealand first. But there is only one planet Earth - this is our home, these people are our global neighbours and need our help too.

-Nicola Young has worked in the government and private sectors in Australia and NZ and now works from home in Taranaki for a national charitable foundation. Educated at Wanganui Girls' College, she has a science degree and is the mother of two boys.