“Real Users”: Bitcoin Donations Helped These Earthquake Survivors Recover

This is the second in a series by Aaron van Wirdum focusing on real people who use cryptocurrencies. Read about his earlier experiences in Italy here: , a charity-based NGO dedicated to the earthquake recovery efforts.

This financial help did not come in euros. Legambiente had no euros left, Ilaria and Lorenzo were told when they applied for a reimbursement about a year ago; only bitcoin. The two had heard of the digital currency a couple of years ago when they were researching local money systems. But they had never owned any themselves.

“We would have preferred euros if it was available,” Ilaria admits, sitting down on one of the wooden benches they installed in the marquee. There are no potential customers stopping by, so she has time to talk about her experience. “But bitcoin was, of course, better than nothing, so we gladly accepted.”


Guido Baroncini Turricchia, founder of Helperbit

The reason Ilaria and Lorenzo received bitcoin is Guido Baroncini Turricchia. The 39-year old Italian environmental engineer is the founder of, a Malta-based exchange operated by Italians. Here, she encountered her first problem.

“They required a copy of a utility bill to prove my home address,” she explains, with a sarcastic smile. “I don’t have an address anymore.” She still lives in emergency housing, best described as a sea container with a door and windows, next to a gas station just outside of Norcia.

Helped by the town mayor who provided her with a signed letter for the verification process, Alessia managed to get verified in the end. “But I still didn’t sell all of my bitcoin, I’m holding onto what I’ve got left,” she says. “At least until bitcoin reaches 100,000 euro.”

The Case for Bitcoin

Baroncini Turricchia is himself a Bitcoin enthusiast; he spent much of the drive to Norcia philosophizing on the consequences of hyperbitcoinization and speculating on Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity. But like Ilaria, Lorenzo and Alessia, his decision to use bitcoin is also practical.

The transparency provided by Bitcoin is unique compared to existing payment systems. Even funds donated in fiat currency — which is also possible via Helperbit — are converted into the cryptocurrency, which allows donors to track their own funds.

But that’s not all. If they want to, donors can also show to the world that they contributed; HelperBit even includes a provably fair ranking for donors.

Further, Baroncini Turricchia plans to extend that traceability to merchants who serve NGOs in disaster-struck areas, selling tents, sheets, food and more. Donors would know not only which victims received the funds but also where and how the funds were spent. Deals with such merchants could ultimately offer a profit opportunity for Helperbit, which is itself a for-profit company.

Transparency is not the only Bitcoin feature leveraged by Helperbit. Perhaps most obviously, the cryptocurrency is well suited for fast and cheap international payments, allowing donors to support causes anywhere in the world. To prevent anyone meddling with data, Helperbit also timestamps invoices on Bitcoin’s blockchain, like the invoices provided by Ilaria, Lorenzo and Alessia to claim their reimbursement. In the longer term, Baroncini Turricchia wants to establish a reputation system to let donors send bitcoin to victims directly, peer-to-peer.

At the same time, Bitcoin has presented its challenges. “The biggest problem is key management,” Baroncini Turricchia said. “It doesn’t matter how strongly we emphasize that private keys are crucial: It’s hard for people to understand that, without them, the money is literally gone, in a way that not even Helperbit can recover it.”

In part to mitigate this risk, Helperbit sets up a multi-signature solution. Legambiente, in this case, holds three keys assigned to three different people. Helperbit keeps one. Of this total of four keys, three keys are required to unlock the funds on Bitcoin’s blockchain.

“If Legambiente loses one key,” says Baroncini Turricchia, “they should contact us immediately to help send the funds to a new address. This has already happened once.”

Ilaria and Lorenzo, of course, did not choose Bitcoin for such practical reasons at first: It was simply the only option available. But now, as they learn more about the cryptocurrency, the couple is starting to see some benefits as well.

“It is the most transparent currency in the world,” Lorenzo says, when asked what he knows about Bitcoin by now. “And politicians don’t like it,” he jokes. “That’s a good sign.”

The two are now considering opening a webshop to sell saffron for bitcoin, most likely through OpenBazaar. Baroncini Turricchia recommended it because the peer-to-peer marketplace includes a built-in, dispute resolution solution. OpenBazaar will allow them to sell their saffron internationally, opening them up to a new market of bitcoin users, they hope.

Online, at least, the rain shouldn’t affect their sales.

Some of the quotes from this article were loosely translated from Italian.

This article originally appeared on Bitcoin Magazine.

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