UNHCR joins Facebook virtual charity gifts initiative

UNHCR joins a "virtual charity" initiative by Facebook that will help provide shelter for uprooted people in places like Afghanistan, eastern Congo and Sudan.

A young Afghan stands in the entrance of a UNHCR-supplied tent. Facebook users can help buy such tents for refugees.   © UNHCR/S.Schulman

GENEVA, April 7 (UNHCR) - UNHCR on Tuesday joined a virtual charity initiative by the popular social networking site Facebook that will help raise money to provide shelter for uprooted people in places like Afghanistan, Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Facebook continues to grow in popularity and has just reached the milestone of 200 million active users. To celebrate, Facebook is carrying a feature under which users can help any of 16 non-profit organizations, including UNHCR, by purchasing virtual "charity gifts."

Those opting to help UNHCR and its "Gimme Shelter" campaign can buy a virtual UNHCR tent for US$10, or a "Gimme Shelter" gift token for US$5. UNHCR Senior External Relations Officer Claudia Gisiger-Gonzalez explained that people's purchases would translate into real shelter aid for refugees and internally displaced people.

"For example, if 20 friends buy a virtual tent, they will raise enough funds for a refugee family to live in a real tent - giving them dignity and security," she said, adding: "That's the power of online social networking."

She said the Facebook initiative would help the flagship "Gimme Shelter" campaign, which is centred on a short film directed by American actor Ben Affleck and filmed by John Toll, both Academy Award winners.

Shot in DRC's troubled North Kivu province, the film captures the suffering as well as the hope of Congolese civilians displaced by conflict. The campaign, which features the classic Rolling Stones song, "Gimme Shelter," is being expanded to help other uprooted people in places like Afghanistan and Chad.

Kathleen Loughlin, a spokeswoman for Facebook, said the site was an invaluable tool for raising awareness about uprooted people. "Facebook now has more than 200 million active users. While an important milestone for the company, we believe 200 million people, as an interconnected whole, have a greater opportunity to initiate and affect positive change," she added.

By Hannah Freya Anderson in Geneva