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Red Cross delivering aid via mobile phone in Indonesia

Widiawah uses her cell phone to text friends and take photos. Now, she can add something new to that list: buying essentials for her family. Widiawah, 18, and her parents don't have access to potable water at home, so they have to purchase jugs and bottles every week to stay hydrated. It's a big, but necessary, expense.

In an effort to help families like Widiawah’s, the Red Cross and Mastercard launched a pilot project to transfer funds to people via mobile wallet technology. Widiawah's family and 700 other households in Bekasi, Indonesia received funds (about $60 USD), which they could spend or “cash out” at nearby convenience stores. After being trained on the process by local Red Cross volunteers and consulting with her parents, Widiawah used a mobile wallet accessible in her phone to purchase water, rice, and hygiene supplies like soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.

In the photos above, Widiawah is pictured in a local convenience store with cashier Tri Sulis H., who says the cash transfers are easy to perform from behind the counter.

There are a lot of different ways to deliver aid to families facing hardship. Giving funds—rather than goods—allows people like Widiawah to prioritize needs and spend over time. Cash also has the ability to boost local economies, build up small businesses, and can be more discreet than boxes of supplies.

Widiawah sees another advantage, too, “Sometimes families receive goods they might not use. Cash allows people to buy what they need.”

Carrying out mobile transfers—rather than giving people actual cash, bank slips, or vouchers—had several advantages in Bekasi. Red Cross volunteers mentioned that it was safer and more efficient to distribute SIM cards to people in the community, rather than hand out a carload of cash. One of Widiawah's neighbors, Jaiyah, saw an extra layer of security, too. "If the money is on a SIM card, I'm the only one who can see it's there. And I'm the only one who knows it's there," she said.

The American Red Cross has been working in Indonesia for more than ten years, helping people recover from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and investing in long-term projects to keep communities safe. This cash transfer pilot project was a partnership between the American Red Cross, the Indonesian Red Cross (locally referred to as Palang Merah Indonesia), and Mastercard.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.