Xingcen Liu is the founder of ‘Borderless Allies’, a non-profit volunteer organization that is on a mission to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care professionals and communities all around the world. Borderless Allies is all about helping third world countries effectively combat the virus while most mainstream media attention is on developed nations that have a better medical infrastructure to deal with the crisis.
Borderless Allies recognizes that lots of people in developing countries are forced to choose between feeding their family and purchasing protective equipment. They have partnered up with foreign nonprofits in local communities to deliver care packets containing food and masks to families. For a donation of just $15 USD, a family in Sri Lanka can get 5 meals and a mask that enables one family member to leave the house and perform essential tasks with proper protection.
It all started when a Chinese student studying in the US, Xingcen Liu, raised $1500 USD to help supply masks to Chinese hospitals back in January. Since then, Xingcen has had her sights set on helping even more people, and this is why Borderless Allies has grown into the force it is today.
Xingcen answered some questions for us:
How did Borderless Allies get started?
Our story started 5 months ago when the outbreak first started in China in January. I am a veterinary technician and I was working for a veterinary company around that time. One day I talked to my boss and asked if we could use the company’s purchasing channels to locate some medical resources to support China, and my boss agreed. So, then I fundraised on my personal Facebook page, purchased about 1000 N95 and gowns, worked with a charity logistic company, and delivered those supplies to Wuhan.
After about a month, when the outbreak became serious in the US, I did another round of fundraising, this time in China. I told my friends and family, “the Americans supported us during the darkest time, now it’s our time to pay it back!” Then, unexpectedly I got a lot of support on Chinese social media. People started to send me cash transfers on Wechat, and material donations were sent to my mother’s house in Shanghai. In less than 2 weeks, we had raised 25,000CNY and about $10,000USD worth of equipment. With the money we raised, we purchased about 20,000 surgical masks, arranged international logistics, and had them delivered to more than 50 organizations across 10 US states.
These 2 fundraisers connected me with many people, and they are the original Borderless Allies. Some of them are my college friends, while others were simply donors to begin with. It’s quite fascinating how these people located in different time zones all came together and worked with me to further a cause which we all cared about.
While we were doing deliveries to hospitals around the US, we encountered some situations where they wouldn’t take our donations because the quantity was too small. We were donating 200-300 masks per organization because we want to help out as many people as we can, and that’s about a size of a medium Amazon box. It’s just weird to arrive at warehouses stockpiled with hundreds of boxes labeled 3M and being told that your contribution is not enough.
Meanwhile, some friends reached out to me from Sri Lanka and Ecuador. They asked if I was able to allocate some resources to their countries and told me how much people were suffering there. It suddenly made me realize that I should probably send some help to these developing countries instead. I then did more research to find out which organizations could collaborate with us, but I found none. Tons of organizations are helping locally in the U.S., but there weren’t really any helping our friends in poorer countries. So I was even more determined to be the starter, and hope to inspire more organizations to join forces. Logically it makes perfect sense; our money can go so much further in developing countries, and from a public health perspective we cannot recover from COVID19 and reopen our borders without helping other countries. And as for individuals, your personal wellbeing and wealth also depends on the global wellbeing and economy.
So even though all of us had full-time jobs on our hands, we decided to step out and spend some time to help others. We have about 17 volunteers onboard and nobody is getting paid, which actually makes our campaign more attractive and reliable than, for example, American Red Cross. We can promise you that every dollar that we raise will be spent on relief work, rather than ending up in some management agency’s pocket.
What is the main goal of Borderless Allies?
Many families in developing countries depend on daily cash earnings to support their family, and sometimes a lockdown essentially means starvation for them. Google Map have gathered data that shown: the poorer the area, the more movement there is during lockdown. People are making a trade-off between protecting their health and their livelihoods.
Our goal is to send 10,000 masks to 10 different developing countries and coordinate care packets with local nonprofits. In the care packets we will include a mask and basic food such as beans, sugar and oil. We want to educate people on how to wear a mask and protect themselves during this critical time. By coordinating food distribution, families can stay in, and kids will not starve during a lockdown; by delivering masks, working parents will be more protected against the virus. By doing these 2 things we can create a stronger and better protected community.
How can someone help or volunteer their time with Borderless Allies?
Since this is a global mission, we will need global help to achieve it. We need volunteers with foreign language skills or connections to help us build bridges in order to send help to more people. We welcome anyone who shares the same passion as us – we have a lot to do and totally depend on our amazing volunteers.
If you are unable to contribute time, you can support us financially through our GoFundMe campaign. With just $15 we can provide at least 3 meals to a family abroad or purchase 28 masks – with all international shipping costs included. $15 to us is just the cost of one dine-out meal, however it’s so powerful and worth so much more elsewhere.
Besides volunteering and financial help, we can also accept material donations such as tampons and pads for women and any old technology products such as used smartphones, iPads, laptops etc. in order to help kids keep up with online learning during a lockdown.
What countries does Borderless Allies support during COVID-19?
We supported China when the outbreak first started in January, then we supported the US. Currently we are in the process of sending supplies to Mexico and Guatemala.
The logistics have been extremely slow and difficult recently since many service routes were canceled due to COVID-19. To ensure the lowest price on shipping we often have to stick with slower methods. Sometimes our shipments have been rerouted as many as 6 times and traveled around the world before reaching our hub here in Los Angeles.
Despite the unusual difficulties, we are doing our best to seek more channels and ways to ensure our help gets to our foreign friends as soon as possible.
What are your future plans for Borderless Allies to help more people?
If we can secure sustainable funding, we will hire some employees and make Borderless Allies a long-lasting organization. We will still be doing relief work in different areas/countries. We want to be like American Red Cross, but in a more personable way. Just imagine a Walmart superstore and your neighborhood Mom & Pop shop, they both have advantages. Our advantage as a small nonprofit organization is that we are able to be personable and transparent, connect with our donors and create communities that regular people can use to help each other. It’s like a pay it forward system: if you have donated to our cause, then you’re in our network. If your community has an emergency need in the future, our organization will be working alongside you to help out.
What kind of actions do you think Governments need to take to help with COVID-19 relief?
I think they need to stop arguing and fighting; just do something and be kind to each other. Warren Buffett mentioned at BH’s annual conference that “Germs don’t have borders”, and we need a global plan to combat COVID-19 together. Whether that is to share supplies between organizations (many hospitals have too much while other clinic offices have none, and many nonprofit organizations are holding lots of PPE with nowhere to donate because they only focus on some certain areas in their state), or to share supplies between states, or to share supplies between countries. Powerful countries are more powerful because they are blessed with more resources. I think these large powerful countries need to take some responsibility for other, smaller countries when disaster happens. It’s not easy to just ask anyone or any country to give, but as a way to pay it forward for their future needs it makes sense as the future of this world is globalization.