A few of my favorite things…

Christmas at Lanier HouseHaving just flung the Christmas monkey off my back (mailing out 16 packages yesterday and earning the wrath of everybody behind me in the post office line), I’m spending today doing my favorite holiday thing (besides stuffing my face with my own too-good-to-be-true almond toffee)… and that’s giving away money to causes I love!

Here are my Eight Great Places to Give, based on the passionate integrity of their leadership, mission and values, and my own experience of the awesome work they’re doing out there in the world — and I’ve linked each to longer stories I wrote on the organizations when I first discovered them. If you’re looking for someplace good to give, you can’t go wrong with these.

woman at well

Heifer International tops my list because I spent an entire year visiting its projects focused on ending poverty and hunger around the globe, and I’m so in love with this organization – and such a believer in its methodology — I just can’t say enough. Suffice it to say that when you give a community in need the tools, teachings, and gift of animals, miraculous things happen! (And if you give here in the next 24 hours, your gift will be doubled by a Secret Santa!) GulzarPAKSBAB (Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building) was started by whip-smart, Stanford-educated engineer Darcey Donovan with the mission to build earthquake proof, energy-efficient, and agriculturally-sourced straw bale houses in northern Pakistan, where 86,000 people died and another 4 million were made homeless by a giant tremor in 2005. Now, PAKSBAB is also building a handicapped-accessible version of their straw bale homes for those paralyzed in the catastrophe. Given the tragedy that occurred today in northern Pakistan in the Taliban school attacks, I can’t think of any better way to affirm a caring solidarity with the people there.IMG_2604Having just spent three days packing Christmas bags for inmates with HeartBound Ministries, my friend Andrea’s amazing organization that supports chaplains, literacy and parenting programs in Georgia prisons, I can testify that this is profoundly moving work and well worth a donation. Here in Georgia, we put more people in prison than anywhere else on the planet — and yet, there is precious little done to help the incarcerated prepare for a different way of life once they get out. HeartBound walks the walk of Christian-based forgiveness and love in this toughest of environments, and offers a helping hand and hope to the most forgotten among us.

Photo by Peter DiCampo for MSF.

Photo by Peter DiCampo for MSF.

Doctors Without Borders (or the much cooler Médecins Sans Frontières) has always been one of my favorite organizations. Since its inception in 1971, it has practiced a new form of neutral, impartial and ethical humanitarianism: a band of now more than 3,000 international doctors and healthcare workers dedicated to help people suffering in the midst and wake of major disasters, no matter what the political, physical or medical risk. This year, DWB has shown incredible resilience, courage and leadership in responding to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa — and that alone earns my gratitude and year-end contribution.

In my 2010 year of giving away $100/day on this blog, I met some incredible, inspirational people. Two of them started my next two favorite organizations: African Library Project and Nyaka AIDS Orphanage.

Lesotho children carrying their new library the last leg of the journey.

Lesotho children carrying their new library the last leg of the journey.

Chris Bradshaw was motivated to begin the African Library Project by her travel in Lesotho, where she realized there were no lending libraries in the entire country. Using her dauntless creativity and YMCA-honed organizing skills, she put together a plan to enable anybody who could collect 1,000 books and raise $500 for shipping to start a library in an African community that had committed to providing the space, bookshelves and staff to sustain its free lending library. And voila! In 9 years, ALP has enabled schoolchildren and servicemen, businesses and churches to send 1.5 million books and create 1,411 African libraries for children who would otherwise have no access to their beloved books. And she’s done it all with a bare bones staff of 3, and thousands of volunteers. What a story!

My portrait of Frank B!

My portrait of Frankie B!

Twesigye Jackson Kaguri grew up in rural Uganda but by 1996, he had established a good life for himself here in America. Yet when his brother and sister died of AIDS back home, leaving 4 children behind, Jackson realized that his entire village of Nyaka was filled with AIDS orphans struggling to survive. So he took the $5,000 he had saved to buy a house and built a school for orphans in Nyaka. Today, that school has turned into a holistic endeavor to foster community development, education, and healthcare–with a clinic, 2 elementary and secondary schools, grannies program, farm, library and technical school. I visited Nyaka in October, 2011 and completely lost my heart to the place… and every time I think of those gorgeous children, I long to go back and see how they all are doing. (But at least my money will get there soon!)

Photo by Joe Molieri for Bread for the World.

Photo by Joe Molieri for Bread for the World.

There’s been so much bad news this year, it’s easy to overlook the good news. Bread for the World, a stellar agency advocating for policies and legislation to end hunger, is a founding member of the ONE campaign and announced this startlingly positive fact on its website: Worldwide, 1.29 billion people still live in extreme poverty—on less than $1.25 per day. This is 650 million fewer people than in 1981. But lest we get complacent or figure somebody else is going to do the heavy lifting, let’s remember that even in this ridiculously affluent country of ours, almost one in four children still lives in poverty (and most likely is at risk of hunger). Bread for the World is trying to do something to change that, citing that “as an electorate we haven’t shown our politicians that we care about hungry kids. It’s a lack of organized give-a-damn.” Well, I give a damn and am giving some dough to back it up. Here’s where to go to pitch in.SELF-Panel-Pic-for-Losotho-Project-Parent-Page-310x160

Finally, the Solar Electric Light Fund’s mission is to design and implement solar energy solutions to assist the 1.5 billion people living in energy poverty with economic, educational, health care and agricultural development. With a promise that “Energy is a human right,” SELF has completed projects in more than 20 countries and pioneered unique applications of solar power in drip irrigation in Benin, health care in Haiti, telemedicine in the Amazon rainforest, online learning in South Africa, and microenterprise development in Nigeria. I’ll leave you with this short video titled “My Fat Baby.” It’s a charmer!

HAPPY HANUKKAH, HAPPY GIVING, HAPPY LIVING, y’all!