This holiday season there are a number of ways you can donate to powerful causes in honor of family and friends that they would wholeheartedly endorse in lieu of a gift:
1. Water purification tablets to disaster-prone areas like Cuba, Haiti, The Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Each $125 buys 10,000 tablets delivered by air, each of which purifies over 25 liters of water. Think of the many children whom you'll protect from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. Recently, Operation USA sent 2 million such tablets to The Philippines after it was struck by several typhoons. Local partner nonprofits distribute the tablets to many of the residents still battling the after-effects of the storms.
2. Why stop there? Drill a water well in East Africa, Central America or South and Southeast Asia. The cost varies but figure $500 if the water table is not too deep. Or, you can dig deeper -- literally -- and allow existing wells to be deepened to reach the water table; that would average $1000.
3. Make a loan to a woman in a rural community so she can launch a small-scale agricultural, animal husbandry or fresh food preparation project. Most of us know how dramatically these loans improve lives by improving livelihoods -- $50 buys 20 chickens; $100 buys 25 chickens, a rooster, materials for a small hen house and some start-up chicken feed; $150 buys a large pig ready to reproduce while an extra $100 provides the pig a cement pig pen linked to a $250 rubber bladder and tubing so the pig's excrement can be processed as biogas to run a stove or heat a small house. The variations of what people use these loans for are endless but most microfinance groups report whole villages being rejuvenated by an infusion of small amounts of capital. The kids get their school fees paid, the family can afford health care and the projects are expanded into real small businesses. Well over 95 percent of the loans are paid back into a small village "credit bank" for relending to others who wish to follow the example of the early borrowers.
4. Vitamin A capsules save a child's sight in many parts of the world where there is a shortage of Vitamin A-rich food. Xeropthalmia is what happens when there is not enough Vitamin A in a child's diet. This not only threatens a child's vision but exacerbates a host of other diseases like malaria and jeopardizes young lives.This gift has astonishing returns on an investment of $45 per thousand Vitamin A capsules, since a child of 5 to 8-years-old only needs 2 capsules taken 6 months apart to provide long-term protection against this insidious condition. You can protect 500 kids for $45, at 9 cents per child! That's the cost of two apple martinis in a trendy club or a movie date with popcorn and parking.
5. You can send a child to school for between $25 to $150. That includes fees, textbooks, school supplies, a uniform and transportation for one child. In rural Vietnam, the average cost is $25 and in rural Nicaragua the costs total $150. For $2000 you can also pay a credentialed teacher in Nicaragua for a year; $1500 in Vietnam; $1200 in Cambodia. Oprah spent $40 million on one school in South Africa, but you can build your own large schoolroom for 50 kids in most parts of Africa, South Asia or Central America for $15,000 to $30,000. In India, poor school hygiene and water are issues in school, in many cases keeping girls from getting a primary education because they do not want to share toilet facilities with the boys. For $5000 you can drill the school water well, install two bathrooms with hygienic toilets for boys and girls, train teachers how to effectively teach hygiene and upgrade the school's food service.
6. A completely outfitted motorized 6 meter-long fishing boat with nets and hooks in post-tsunami and post-war Sri Lanka costs $3500. You know the adage about a man and a fish: The fisherfolk pay back to a village pool of capital for the next fishing family to use.
7. You may be asking by now, what about OUR kids here at home? Awesome Girls in New Orleans provides after school services to at-risk teenage girls at a cost of about $200 per girl per year. in California, nearly 200 nonprofit community health clinics receive medicines, vitamin supplements and clinical supplies donated by many American companies at a shipping cost of $25 for a 30 to 40 pound box; as more people become unemployed and lose their health insurance and access to health care, they use community clinics whose own budgets rarely allow them to pay for more than the rent and a few salaried staff -- They rely on volunteer medical staff and donated supplies to provide the essential social safety net all of us want them to have.
Operation USA, (www.opusa.org) does all of these projects and much more, including health clinics, emergency medical aid to disasters, literacy projects. The best news is that others do this, too. charitynavigator.org a the watchdog group that can lead you to the others. Just be careful of the TV preachers with slick websites who prey (not pray) on the unsuspecting by offering their own catalog of good works!