Because I only wanted to volunteer my time with the most efficiently run organizations in the world, I spend a fair amount of time researching different groups. Here are the ones I have found that I personally support.
- www.hopecentrekashmir.org This is the website for the Hope Disability Centre in Kashmir, India. I volunteered with them for a year to help them reach out and help Kashmiris with disabilities. With the 21 year conflict in Kashmir, most medical personnel have fled the villages and retreated to other parts of India, or to the capital city of Srinagar. There is almost no one left in the small villages of the mountains (the Himalayas) to help Kashmiris with disabilities and their families. The Hope Disability Centre is run by Kashmiris, and has done a lot with very little money over the past 12 years. My blog, www.diane-emerson.blogspot.com has details on what life was like in Kashmir. I arrived in early 2009, and departed in December 2011, with a few breaks in between. Here is the blog posting from my first days there: http://diane-emerson.blogspot.co.nz/2010/04/kashmir-in-march.html#!/2009/05/kashmir-arrival-in-troubled-paradise.html
- www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org Gandhi was working on the peace army when he was assassinated. His idea is becoming a reality. This group is organizing the world's first trained, standing, civilian peace force, to go to areas of violent conflict to protect human rights, human life, and create the space for local people to do reconciliation work, and stay alive in the process. Click here for a short video on the group. They carry out tested nonviolent strategies in the areas they are invited to go to. I was fortunate to meet the co-founder in 2008, Mel Duncan.
- www.roshnisociety.webs.com I had the privilege of meeting Father Thomas while I was volunteering in Kashmir. Father Thomas also helps children with disabilities, and has done so for over 20 years. His approach is very effective. Rather than provide small amounts of assistance to many individuals, he has chosen to help a fewer number of children, but very deeply. Once he brings in a child to his fold, he stays with that child until they are well-settled in life, many years later. The children with disabilities stay in their family home, so they can have the love and stability of the family, and Father Thomas provides support and education and medical assistance as needed over time. When the children are older, he helps them identify how they wish to make a living, and then helps them obtain the skills and resources needed to take this next step. He sometimes, if asked, will use his many contacts to help the family bring young people together for marriage, but he never attends the weddings. He raises money for this work by selling greeting cards with artwork painted by young men and women with disabilities, as well as funding from well-wishers. I created some videos of Father Thomas and some of the children in his care, and their website, and will be returning in 2012 to volunteer again with Father Thomas, and enjoy connecting with the wonderful young people who are part of the Roshni family. Here is a link to my blog page which details my visit with Father Thomas: http://diane-emerson.blogspot.com/search/label/Roshni
"Problems can be considered a stumbling block or a stepping stone. The same brick can be both. " Father Thomas
- www.brahmanaad.webs.com Sri Sarthak Kumar left a promising career with the United Nations to teach tabla, his love. He walked away because he saw that the path he was on would give him money and prestige, but would be relatively empty spiritually. So he chose to be a simple tabla teacher. He taught many students to provide a living for himself, his wife, and his young son Om. In 2010, he started teaching tabla to children from the largest slum in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi. I met Sarthak when his dream to teach slum kids was still a dream, and encouraged him to make a start at his dream. The startup has not been without great challenges, but Sri Sarthak is persevering in this work. Here is a link to my blog page where I visited him and the students in December 2010: Teaching Tabla to Slum Dwelling Children I interviewed Sarthak and made a YouTube video of him talking about his philosophy and how he works with the children from the slums. Here is the link to it: Sarthak Kumar and Brahmanaad
- www.kiva.org Kiva is microfinance for individuals who just need a relatively small amount of money to get themselves set up or expanded in their small business. I have funded a number of them. Once the people pay the money back, it is available for you to lend out again to others in need, or take it back.
- www.fmsc.org Feed My Starving Children. Headquartered in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Uses all volunteers to assemble and package food for malnourished children. The formula was developed specifically to provide the protein and vitamins and nutrients needed to bring children back to health from near starvation. Volunteers come in 2 hour shifts to package the food. Church groups, business teams, children's birthday parties, even the occasional wedding party! 94% of all donations go to programming, and the food always reaches the intended people. There is no government involvement on either end - no government funding, and no shipments to any government agency. Private orphanages and community groups only, and mainly Christian ones. I volunteered full time for 2 weeks in June 2008.
- www.nothingbutnets.net For only $10 US, you can send a mosquito net to a family in Africa to help reduce the incidence of malaria. Once I found out about this organization, I find it very difficult to justify spending money which could be spent on a net instead.
- www.freewheelchairmission.org For only $78 US, you can buy and have a wheelchair delivered to a poor disabled person somewhere in the world. This inexpensive and sturdy design is the result of a retired General Motor engineer who once watched a disabled Moroccan woman pull herself across a street with her hands. He never forgot the sight, and when he retired, decided to do something about her. So he came up with an inexpensive and sturdy wheelchair that uses bicycle wheels, a plastic lawn chair, and a simple metal frame. After seeing young adults in Kashmir trapped inside their homes because they do not have wheelchairs, and they are too big to be carried, I know the difference a wheelchair can make to a person, and the family. I have also seen people pull themselves across streets by their hands. It is a sight I will never forget.
- www.freetheslaves.net When attending church in Algona, Iowa, in 2006 a missionary couple spoke about slavery in the Dominican Republic. I truly did not know that slavery existed anywhere in the world any more. So after church, I went home and went online. Wow! There are still 27 million (estimated) slaves in the world. Real slaves. Working under threat of beatings or killing if they try to leave. Chains and whips and everything you associate with the slavery we thought was gone. Life can't get much worse than that! So one of my focus areas is slavery. And Free the Slaves has as its goal to eliminate slavery in the world within 20 years. I cannot help on the ground to free slaves. It takes undercover operations to do that, and I would stick out like an albino squirrel. But I can help raise awareness, and I can help in the rehabilitation of former slaves. They need education and training so they can get jobs, or skills for self employment, so they don't end up back in slavery because it's all they know. Interestingly, in this area, it is much more helpful to donate small regular amounts than one time gifts. The small groups who go out and free the slaves need to know that funding will be ongoing, and will be there for the entire time of rehabilitation. They need certainty. Even $10 a month goes a long way in India and Africa for the groups who are freeing and rehabilitating former slaves. Free The Slaves sends the money to them, and they can keep a low profile. The people who benefit economically from slavery do not want to lose their unpaid workforce, so it is dangerous to be too public about who and where the freedom fighters are. On this page you will find a link to a video showing a slave raid, and the children freed speak about there experience: Free the Slaves!
- www.safe.org.nz SAFE stands for Save Animals From Exploitation. This is the organisation I supported by dressing up in animal costumes and collecting money for during their annual appeal. They have been instrumental in getting all the grocery store eggs in New Zealand to say right on the carton if the eggs are from caged hens! That helps people make the connection. Now nearly every grocery store I go to in New Zealand carries eggs from free range hens. A few carry eggs from free range hens raised in an organic environment as well. Things are changing fast in this area, thanks to organizations like SAFE. Click here for one of the times I dressed up in costume for SAFE.
- www.tewhangai.com In New Zealand, this charitable trust has been running only since late 2007, but already they have taken over 64 long term unemployed people and found full time jobs for them in the community. Whangai means 'nurture' or 'adopt' in the Maori language. And that is what Adrienne and Gary Dalton do with the people who come to them from the government social services agencies. Adopt them into the Te Whangai family, where everyone shares their knowledge and life skills and helps each other with everything from dealing with social service agencies to banks to getting rides to and from work. Work is at the eco-nursery, where the Daltons and the Te Whangai team grow native New Zealand trees and plants to revegetate New Zealand and create a self-sustaining native tree timber industry. I have volunteered several weeks there so far, and helped create their brochure, Powerpoint presentation, and their web site. Plus a couple of short movies. Click here for one of my visits to them.
- www.booksforafrica.org A former Minnesota bookstore owner, Tom Warth, sold his company, took a trip to Africa, and discovered libraries with empty shelves. Now he gathers and ships used books to Africa. Click here to watch the video of how he got started. I found it to be heartwarming and inspiring. And it is a very well run organisation:
“Books For Africa has earned its third consecutive 4-star rating for its ability to efficiently manage and grow its finances. Only 11% of the charities we rate have received this 'exceptional' designation, indicating that Books For Africa consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way and outperforms most other charities in America” — Charity Navigator, 2009
- http://www.healinghaiti.org/ I first learned about Jeffry and Alyn's work in Haiti in 2007, from an article in the local community newspaper in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. They were in the printing business, and when they sold their business, they took a trip to Haiti and their hearts were broken wide open for the desperate poor of Haiti. Since I met them, they have poured their hearts and souls into Haiti, and we have lost Alyn to cancer. Click here for the video on the people they help and their future plans for the children of Haiti.
- http://www.ftpf.org/index.php The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation plants fruit and nut trees around the world, to alleviate world hunger, combat global warming, strengthen communities, and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water.
FTPF programs strategically donate orchards where the harvest will best serve communities for generations to follow, at places such as public schools ("Fruit Tree 101"), city parks and community gardens ("Communities Take Root"), low-income neighborhoods and international hunger relief sites ("Fruit Relief"), Native American reservations ("Trees for Tribes"), health centers ("Roots of Recovery"), and animal sanctuaries ("Orchards for Animals").
- http://www.osalt.org/ The Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust holds rural and urban land in trust to promote sustainable agriculture. I got to know them when I stayed in Portland in 2012.
In 2012, OSALT:
Helped the Urban Farm Collective (an OSALT program) receive a $2,400 grant for youth garden programs. Urban Farm Collective donates a significant portion of the vegetables grown in its gardens to the food bank at St. Andrews Church in NE Portland.
Received a grant from the Portland Development Corporation to build education space at Greeley Forest Garden, and our food forest is beginning its journey—we planted apple and plum tress this Spring, with nut trees coming next year.
Helped the Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition ("PACSAC"—an OSALT program) receive a $60,000 reimbursement grant from the USDA to support local small natural and organic farmers in the Portland area.
Received new property from Multnomah County Digs near Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
This is a 100% volunteer run organization, so any donations you make will all go to programs. They accepted a gift from me to plant nut trees, and these will be planted throughout the region. I look forward to watching the progress.
- http://portlandfruit.org/ The Portland Fruit Tree Project was one of my favorite volunteer projects in 2012. This small and incredibly efficient organization organizes volunteers to harvest fruit and nuts which would otherwise go to waste, from people's gardens and orchards. I was a tree scout for them. My job was to canvass my neighborhood, looking for fruit and nut trees. Once I found one, I would make note of the type of tree, its location on the property, and a few more details. Then I would ask the owners if they would like to have the tree registered on the Fruit Tree Project database. It was free for the owners. If they chose to have their tree registered, the owners would be able to attend the many tree care workshops offered by the Portland Fruit Tree Project throughout the year - at no cost to them. Plus, they could ask to have their tree harvested by volunteers, and get to keep up to 25% of the fruit harvested. Not a bad deal!
In 2012, the organization, with only 2 paid staff people, was able to coordinate 88 harvesting events and harvest over 67,000 lbs of fruit! I went on two of the harvesting parties, and had a delightful time at both of them. I participated in the first ever harvest by bicycle, with my BOB trailer and pannier bags. I brought home 42 pounds of fruit - my share of the harvest. Here is one of my blog posts from the harvesting: http://diane-emerson.blogspot.co.nz/#!/2012/09/portland-fruit-tree-project.html