As the refugee crisis continues across the globe, many displaced citizens are going without access to basic needs such as clean water, food, clothing and shelter. Many companies are stepping up to provide aid, from Ikea's flat-packed refugee shelters to Google's $5.5 million donation match to humanitarian groups. Yet sometimes a company's own product can be the very best source of relief. When dermatologists Grace Bandow and Samar Jaber arrived at a Syrian refugee camp in 2014, they were surprised to learn many of the ailments affecting patients in the dry, hot, exposed desert could be easily relieved with a very simple product: Vaseline.
Bandow and Jaber published their findings in a Washington Post article, and Vaseline took notice. It signed on the two dermatologists as advisors to "The Healing Project," a partnership with nonprofit Direct Relief to provide "petroleum jellies and lotions to people displaced by natural disasters or humanitarian crises." The Project kicked off this week with a 1.2 million unit donation of Vaseline, with an ultimate goal to heal the skin of 5 million people by 2020. To bring consumers along on the journey, the Healing Project website includes an interactive map, showing where and how many people are receiving aid, as well as videos and images highlighting the difference Vaseline can make to individuals whose entire lives have been uprooted. And for consumers who wish to get involved, Vaseline has created digital relief kits where users can drag and drop items with associated donation amounts, like a headlamp ($15), band aids ($2), scissors ($4) and rubbing alcohol ($3), into a kit already stocked with a petroleum jelly pot donated by Vaseline. When the digital kit is packed, users donate the total amount to Direct Relief's kit program. To further impact, every Vaseline lotion or jelly purchase in 2016 will trigger a 2 cent donation (up to $1 million dollars) to Direct Relief.
Oftentimes in-kind donations are trumped by faster and more fluid monetary donations in times of humanitarian crises, but Vaseline listened to doctors on the frontline to provide a high-priority item. Although a pot of petroleum jelly may not seem like a life-saving item when individuals are in urgent need of food, clothing and shelter, this one product can have a major impact. In fact, "67 percent of health workers on the frontline of crisis and disaster say preventable skin conditions keep people from doing ordinary things like attending work or school" and a simple item like Vaseline can "go a long way, instilling dignity and confidence" in the wake of disaster.