NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the year winds down with holiday gifts behind usand the necessary tax provisions made, it's a nice time to give a little something back. By virtue of the American dollar's exchange rate, our donations can have a huge impact worldwide. Through the Internet, it's incredibly easy to reach out from Brooklyn and touch someone's life in Cambodia.
For anyone looking to give back this holiday season, here are some charities where your money will go to good use and let a few dollars change someone's situation.
#1. The DEPDC/GMS
Focus: Child Trafficking
The Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Centre in the Greater Mekong Subregion may be a mouthful to say, but its work is extraordinary. Under the leadership of Sompop Jantraka, the DEPDC fights trafficking of girls across Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, facing down violence with little more than absolute faith in the power of education and community.
While human trafficking is a major problem the world over, it's particularly grim in Southeast Asia, where a combination of first-world demand and third-world poverty has led to an exploding market for young girls. The DEDPC attempts to fight this at a grass roots level, sending its people out to local communities and villages to help victims escape cycles of slavery and abuse, and to rescue at-risk children before the brothel owners find them.
The DEDPC also offers a shelter for girls who have escaped the sex trade and a school which helps girls get a basic education and learn the vocational skills necessary to build a real life outside of someone else's control. Donations to this program will help expand the DEDPC's programs, allowing it to reach more children in the coming year.
Kiva allows you to become a microfinance banker, lending out small increments of cash to parts of the world where it will do the most good. It works by direct lending, much like the U.S.-based Donors Choose. Instead of giving money away blind and hoping, with Kiva you select from a series of proposals and choose the best one.
As Nicholas Kristof once wrote, "you, too, can be a banker to the poor."
In parts of the world where $50 can buy a goat, it doesn't take much money to build a business and start a life. Kiva allows you to loan out that money directly, then do so again and again once it gets repaid. With a staggering 99% repayment rate, odds are pretty good your gift won't just become a one time donation. You could find a whole new hobby helping to change people's lives.
Get started here.
#3. The Somaly Mam Foundation
Focus: Sex Trafficking
For most of us, our knowledge about human trafficking comes from reading articles and thanking God it ends there. Somaly Mam has firsthand experience. As a child in Cambodia, Mam was sold to a brothel where she worked, was tortured and eventually escaped.
Today she runs the Somaly Mam Foundation, one of the world's leading organizations to fight human trafficking and sex slavery. The SMF works in Southeast Asia to help girls and women escape their captors and build new lives for themselves. The group offers safe houses, rehabilitation, counseling and job training to help keep girls from slipping back into the only life many of them have ever known. Although there are many different trafficking organizations working worldwide, Somaly Mam's is one of the most extraordinary.
Because the Somaly Mam Foundation is based in Cambodia, where $1 buys 4,000 local riel, a little bit can go a long way. It's not often we have the chance to save someone's life over the Internet, but this one will actually work.
#4. Oxfam Unwrapped
Remember that $50 goat I mentioned earlier? I wasn't kidding.
Much like Kiva, Oxfam is a charity dedicated to helping people to help themselves. Through Oxfam you can donate livestock, seeds, soap, job training and many, many other tools that people around the world can use to build happier, more stable communities. Each donation goes to someone who will use it to build a sustainable life so that the gift keeps on giving.
After all, it's one thing to give $50 that's spent then gone again. It's another to send out a goat that will provide milk, labor and maybe eventually offspring far into the future. You can purchase irrigation for one farm, mosquito nets to help fight malaria, kick start a farmers' market or plant a grove of trees. Any of which mean a world of difference to one lucky person.
Oxfam is one of the world's oldest and most well respected charities. Your money will go to good use, and someone, somewhere, will thank you for it.
#5. Rotary International
Focus: General Philanthropy
The Rotary Club was first started in 1905 by four friends who started a club that would meet on a rotating basis in each other's offices. Out of something as simple as a conflict over scheduling, and possibly who would bring the snacks, one of America's oldest civic organizations was born.
Contrary to their image in the United States as a suburban holdout that mostly gives book prizes to high school students, Rotary International is an extraordinarily powerful force for good in many countries across the world. I personally have worked with several of their chapters across south Asia and can attest to not only the reach of this organization, but also to its commitment in helping to eradicate poverty and disease. There are at least two schools in northern Cambodia that would never have gotten built without the local chapters' help.
Rotary is a great organization with a wide ranging mission. You can read more about their diverse work here.
#6. Doctors Without Borders
First, do no harm.
The guiding principle behind Doctors Without Borders is to deliver medical care and assistance to anyone, anywhere regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. It has become well-known as an apolitical organization, and as such enjoys nearly unprecedented access to many of the world's most underserved populations. That does not stop it from speaking out about humanitarian crises, however, and DWB has helped bring numerous issues to light since it was formed in 1971.
Doctors Without Borders exists to do one thing and one thing alone: save lives. It has no other mandate, and is usually one of the first groups to respond to disasters like the earthquake in Haiti or the typhoon in the Philippines. As a group well-known for efficiently using its money, as well as one that relies heavily on expert volunteers, Doctors Without Borders is a great way to see that your donation is well spent.
Support them here.
Special Note: USAID
One of the best things you can do to help people worldwide is to support US AID. This is the foreign aid branch of our government, a group that brings medicine, food, education and disaster relief around the world.
On a dollar for dollar basis, this is the most fundamentally decent thing that we as a people do. US AID saves lives every day and its impact cannot be overstated. It costs a tiny fraction of the federal budget, well under 1%, and for that money brings immeasurable benefits to people in need.
The old stereotype is occasionally true that some people overseas, the simple and the small, will insult you just for being American. A drunken Italian once split my nose for having the wrong accent at a bar. But he was nothing compared to a man in Battambang who heard my accent and turned around to wrap me in a very un-Cambodian bear hug.
You see, a U.S. AID doctor had saved his sister's life.
At this time of year there can be no higher calling than feeding the hungry, clothing the cold and tending to the sick. Readers can write to their Congressional representatives here in support of this remarkable program. It's worth every penny.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.