As we head into the holiday season, as the days (in the northern hemisphere) get shorter and colder and the planet (due to recent current events perhaps) starts to look a little darker and a little scarier than it did before, many of us may find ourselves wondering how we can possibly make a little difference, do a little good, and put a little light back into the world.
And so, based on some of the news stories and issues that have captivated me this fall (and in general), I give you a small winter 2016 list of charities and other good places to give:
Refugees (UN Refugee Agency)
While I am very happy that some 25 000 or so Syrian refugees have been settled in Canada over the past year, the fact remains that there are still tens of millions of refugees, displaced persons, and stateless persons around the world. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), refugees remain uprooted for an average of 17 years. They don’t go away once we stop thinking about them. And they do need help.
You may have seen images of Aleppo, or Yemen—the little orphans covered in concrete dust, the starving civilians (literally starving to death) caught in a nightmare that has nothing to do with them. While ultimately we hope that each and every one of these people will find a save haven and a place to call home, in the meantime they desperately need food, shelter, water, and medical care.
The UNHCR assisted 49.8 million people last year, and if you want to help support refugees, I recommend visiting www.unhcr.ca to learn more and/or to donate.
First Nations Rights and the Environment (Standing Rock)
You may have heard that water protectors in North Dakota (led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe whose land and rights are being violated) have been protesting peacefully against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens not only Native American land, sacred spaces, and drinking water, but the also drinking water of some 18 million people who depend on the Missouri River being potable and oil-free. The police response to this peaceful activism has been brutal: attack dogs, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, water cannons in below-freezing temperatures, asking local hardware stores to refuse to sell supplies to the water protectors—it’s pretty f*cking low. As winter sets in the fight is still far from over.
To learn more about what is happening in Standing Rock or to make a donation to support the efforts of the water protectors, please visit standwithstandingrock.net.
[If you’d like to have this issue explained quickly and satirically by a yuppie spiritual guru/comedian, you may enjoy the video below.]
People Who Are Sick (Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF])
Though the Ebola Crisis has since faded from the headlines, the fact is that MSF were the heavy lifters in saving lives and combating the spread of the disease. While the western world mostly hoped that the virus “wouldn’t make it over here,” the healthcare practitioners at MSF risked their own health and lives to help others. MSF’s resources were severely depleted by this major crisis, and yet they are continuing to respond to other medical crises around the world. A thousand thousand thanks (and maybe some donations, if you feel so inclined) go out to this incredible organization: www.msf.ca.
Children Living in Poverty (Lumos Foundation)
UPDATE from 2023: Obviously, I wrote this blog before I ever learned about J.K. Rowling’s horrific hateful and transphobic statements and public stances; I leave the info up because issues around exploitation of poor families and needless separation of poor children from their families still exist.
I must admit, I first discovered this foundation while watching YouTube videos about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. J.K. Rowling (author of Fantastic Beasts and the Harry Potter series) sits down with actor Eddie Redmayne (star of Fantastic Beasts) for an illuminating discussion about the foundation that is dear to her heart:
In a nutshell, Lumos supports community-based care for children in developing countries, helping families raise their children at home rather than feeling forced to give their children up to institutions in order to ensure they will have the food, education, or medical care they require. Research has shown many institutions and orphanages to be corrupt—forcing families to give up otherwise wanted children, subjecting children to cruel and inhumane conditions, trafficking children into the sex trade, or pocketing the “per-child” money received from aid organizations or the government (the saddest thing is this money often comes from well-meaning donors in the “developed” world). Even when these institutions are carefully managed and well run, studies have shown that children who grow up in institutions instead of in families are severely disadvantaged—children need the love and care of their families (or family-type settings) in order to develop into healthy adults.
If you wish to learn more about Lumos or donate to initiatives that keep needy children with their families, please visit wearelumos.org. If nothing else, if you want to help children please make sure to choose the organizations you donate to carefully, and never donate money to (or volunteer at) orphanages or other institutions that take otherwise wanted children away from the families that love them.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Any giving you do thoughtfully and with generosity (whether you give a little or give a lot, whether you give money, time, or anything else you have to give) is a wonderful thing. But if you did want some ideas, I hope I have inspired you. Happy December, and happy giving!