After Kony2012, the video created by Invisible Children Inc hit the internet, it seemed everyone wanted to know how they could help children in East Africa, particularly those affected by war. While Kony2012 raised awareness and drummed up attention, the organization behind it has been criticized for high overhead and mismanagement, as well as having their glossy film boycotted in Africa, raising concerns that they were oversimplifying a complex issue. Many people felt it trivialized the issue, and either painted Ugandans as victims or didn’t include them at all. And while sending away to their organization for an action kit is a place to start, there are other ways to help people in Africa. We’ve rounded up our top picks for your charity dollars.
Sleeping Children Around the World
Now in its 40th year, they provide bedkits to children around the globe. Founded by Murray and Margaret Dryden in 1970, today they’ve raised over CDN$23 million and helped kids in 33 countries- their millionth child received their bedkit in 2009. They’re active in many African countries, including Uganda, and give kids a chance to sleep on a bed, often for the first time in their lives. Sleeping Children works with local schools and community groups to select which kids will receive a kit, and to make sure the kids get to keep everything the kit contains. The kits contain a mattress as well as a set of clothes, pillow, sheet, blanket, mosquito net (crucial in malaria areas) towel and school supplies, as well as various other items depending on the local needs. Items are purchased in the country where the bedkits are distributed: so not only are the kids benefiting, but the local businesses and manufacturers as well, stimulating the local economy. With zero overhead and 100 per cent of donations reaching people in need, the CDN$35 cost of the kit goes a long way. Kits are distributed by volunteers who pay 100 per cent of their own travel costs, and each donor will receive a photograph of the child who received the kit their money bought. Check out www.scaw.org for more information or to volunteer.
Founded after Laurie Davey-Quantick met a group of Ugandan women trying to find ways to keep girls in their local village in school, Omwaana Ono are well on their way to completing construction on an all girls school in the village of Nabitende, Uganda. Currently, girl’s walk over 45 minutes to get to class in this area, where they are squeezed into classrooms with between 80 and 120 other pupils. The final school will house 350 girls, in classes of only 30 students, and will contain a well and medical clinic, plus facilities for children to live and go to school. The whole project will cost around USD$350,000. The idea is that in Uganda, as in many developing countries, girls are more likely to not complete their education- instead taking on household tasks, working to support their families, or caring for younger siblings, particularly in regions where many of their parents have died of AIDS. The group believes that to ‘educate a girl you educate a nation’: women who receive education are more likely to educate their own children. Working with Ugandans, they’ve also started a sewing program, training women in marketable skills to make them financially independent, several wells for fresh water, and helped support a medical clinic in the village (they’re currently looking for a way to ship several donated hospital beds to the country). None of the organizers take a salary, and 100 per cent of all donated funds reach the various projects. With each project broken down by cost, you can see exactly where the money is going, and even earmark donations for specific projects. Check out www.omwaanaono.org for more information.
Project Mosquito Net
It’s estimated that if normal bed nets, sprayed with insecticide, were used regularly, we could save half the people who die of malaria each year in Africa—at least a million per year, many of them children. Project Mosquito Net works mainly in Kenya, distributing insecticide treated bed nets to the most vulnerable, children under five-years-old and pregnant mothers, to help prevent malaria infections. Many people in poor areas don’t have access to malaria treatment, and mosquito nets are a cheap and easy way to prevent needless deaths. Started in 2005 as a joint effort between two US non-profits and Akado Medical Center in Kenya, it started by providing orphaned and vulnerable children with nets in the township of Mbita, situated on Lake Victoria and vulnerable to mosquito infection. The nets are provided by African HEART, an organization in Kenya that supports women widowed by AIDS, as well as from London-based World Swim Against Malaria. None of the staff take salary, and 100 per cent of all donations make it to a child or mother in need. Each net costs only USD$5, less than a cup of coffee or a movie ticket, yet it can save a child’s life. Over 700,000 children die each year in Africa from this completely preventable disease, with more children dying from malaria than any other disease in the world. Check out www.projectmosquitonet.org
With projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana, Mama Hope has a vast number of projects, ranging from water and farming projects to schools and health clinics. In 2006, founder Nyla Rodgers lost her mother to cancer—in an effort to heal, she traveled to Kenya to meet the young man whose education her mother had sponsored since 2001. She didn’t just find him: she found hundreds of others whom her mom had helped. Nyla founded Mama Hope to keep her mother’s good works alive. Their goal is to help local people help themselves, and to date they’ve helped over 76,000 people. Projects are identified by the community, and they partner with local groups and individuals, who know what their own communities need most. Projects use 100 per cent locally supplied materials and labor, creating jobs and making it possible for locals to find parts and materials for the operation, maintenance and repairs without outside assistance. To date they’ve completed 15 projects, with seven currently underway, by asking communities what they need and helping them achieve it themselves. They’ve also created a powerful video series as part of their Stop the Pity: Unlock the Potential campaign. Its aim is to raise awareness that Africans are not victims, but people. One popular video does this by having nine-year-old Alex explain the plot of the movie Commando, which he does with the relish and sound effects of any nine-year-old boy. The film ends with a list of what Alex is (bright, bilingual, funny, a regular kid, etc) and what he is not (a child solider, an AIDS victim, hopeless etc). Check out www.mamahope.org
Where’s My Goat?
Filmmaker Christopher Richardson buys goats for third world families as ethical- gifts for clients. But he starts to wonder: do the goats exist? Do people need or want them? He heads to Zambia in search of his goat, and the answers, in this documentary.
What to watch for
When giving to any charity or organization, there are a couple things to ask before you hand over cash. None of them are bad things, but being aware of them will help you decide where to send your money.
Where does the money go?
Some larger groups work like businesses, with permanent office spaces and staff. A portion of money donated will go to keeping the lights on and paying salaries—this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you should know where your money is going! Good charities will have this information available (many will even have it easily accessible).
Who is helped?
Find out how they distribute the funds or goods donated. Many developing countries have a lot of corruption involved: you want to know that that soccer ball or bag of rice you donated is actually going to make it to people in need. Ask how aid is distributed, how beneficiaries are selected, and how donations are monitored once they’re in country, to make sure they stay with the people who need them.
Is it tied aid?
Instead of sending money directly to countries in need, groups and often governments will instead use pledged funds to purchase goods in their own countries, which are then shipped abroad. Often used to support donor-countries economies, there are downsides: often it costs more to buy abroad and ship, and there is the risk that the items donated don’t suit local tastes (i.e. sending shipments of wheat to rice eating countries). Many groups will use donations, instead, to buy items within the country the aid is going: that way not only do people receive needed items, the local economy is also stimulated. If done correctly, it can have a trickledown effect that means fewer people will need direct aid in the future.
Who’s running the show?
Does the group you’re looking at include locals in the planning and organization? Locals will be able to make sure the right kind of aid goes to the right people in the right ways: something groups based abroad with no local knowledge won’t be able to do as successfully. As well, groups that actively involve the local community in their own development have been shown to have more lasting success, as they empower the local population to create their own change, and change the system or issues from the root. Look for groups that actively involve the local community and you’ll do a lot more than just buy someone a meal!