Giving a helping hand

”I want something to do.”

This remark being addressed to the world in general, no one in particular felt it their duty to reply; so I repeated it to the smaller world around me, received the following suggestions, and settled the matter by answering my own inquiry, as people are apt to do when very much in earnest.

So begins Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, detailing her work as a Civil War nurse, which book I just picked up from the library this morning. However, it perfectly describes an inquiry that was two and a half years in the making. What started as a conversation on a metro bus with a church acquaintance, culminated in a potluck dinner for sixteen and a discussion on ways to serve.

I’ve never done much humanitarian work on my own. Possibly because I feel that every day I go into work, I’m actively helping someone. However, I’ve been amazed at the marvelous things that my friends have been doing, and decided that an evening to gather, eat and discuss was the best solution to find ways to lend a helping hand.

The following are some organizations that we talked about this past Sunday evening. Italicized portions are taken directly from the websites, with my comments written in plain type.

CHOICE Humanitarian
AH has traveled in Kenya, Guatemala and Peru to perform everything from school building to educational projects. CHOICE is based in West Jordan, UT.

On CHOICE expeditions, volunteers work side-by-side with villagers on specific projects the villagers need, want, and will be able to sustain after CHOICE participants depart. Typically, CHOICE projects include building schoolhouses, health posts, greenhouses, wells, pumps and water systems. CHOICE also provides training in literacy, health care, agriculture and small-scale enterprises.

World Servants
JS has worked with World Servants, based in Richfield Minnesota, in the past, and is planning a repeat trip to the African continent in 2008. World Servants is a non-denominational Christian group that organizes short mission trips for youth groups, families and adult groups.

What does a World Servants mission trip look like?
All World Servants short-term trips have 3 main components:
* Construction: building or repairing homes, churches, community centers, etc
* Outreach: kids club, sports camp, home visits, women’s ministry, etc
* A focus on helping participants process their experiences through reflection, experiential learning exercises and discussion.
The daily schedule will vary by trip type but will allow for quiet time, construction and outreach, 3 meals, evening program, small group break-out time, free time and any possible community events during the week.
(Info available on

Both AH and JS told stories about prepping (including the many vaccinations), the physical labor, and funny stories about outdoor bucket baths. Both also went on safaris after their tours, but couldn’t stop talking about their interactions with the villagers they worked with. It also helps to know as much about the customs of your destination as possible. TL pointed out that there are potential hazards of introducing foreign foods and products to other nations.

JS is extending microcredit through Kiva.

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on, you can “sponsor a business” and help the world’s working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you’ve sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back.

Kiva partners with existing microfinance institutions. In doing so, we gain access to outstanding entrepreneurs from impoverished communities world-wide. Our partners are experts in choosing qualified borrowers. That said, they are usually short on funds. Through, our partners upload their borrower profiles directly to the site so you can lend to them. (info available on and the BBB)

Heifer International
JB has donated animals for friends and family in lieu of giving traditional gifts. I found the video on empowering women in Nepal particularly moving.

Heifer International has programs that focus on community education and the gifting of animals (cows, oxen, goats, sheep, poultry and rabbits), along with the commitment to pass along progeny to others in need, thus ensuring sustainability and expansion. (info available on and at the BBB)

One Laptop Per Child
BH brought this up, and it seems like an amazing way to benefit not only the child, but the family as well. Through OLPC you can donate a durable and inexpensive laptop to a needy child (ages 6-12) in a developing country.

OLPC is not, at heart, a technology program, nor is the XO a product in any conventional sense of the word. OLPC is a non-profit organization providing a means to an end—an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.
What the XO looks like and does (info available at

Shropshire Music Foundation
Liz was my ward choir director before she found her true calling in life.

The Shropshire Music Foundation’s mission is to redress psychosocial trauma, advance emotional health, develop scholastic achievement, foster ethnic tolerance, promote peace, and improve the quality of life for war-affected children and adolescents through the establishment of on-going music education and performance programs. The foundation was conceived in 1999 by Liz Shropshire, a Los Angeles-based music teacher and composer. Since then this remarkable organization has touched the lives of over 9,500 children in Kosovo, Northern Ireland and northern Uganda. (info available on

Project Angel Food
When my sister lived in San Francisco, she would regularly volunteer with Project Open Hand. She took me along during one of my trips, and it was a fantastic experience to work with a bunch of other caring people cutting up vegetables during the prep phase of the cooking. Project Angel Food is the equivalent LA organization.

The Project Angel Food Program’s mission is to nourish the body and spirit of men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
The Project Angel Food Program prepares and delivers nutritious meals prepared with love.
We act out of a sense of urgency because hunger and illness cannot wait.
(info available on

L.A. Works
My good friend RL volunteered with L.A. Works while he lived in LA. There are many ways to get involved, without a lot of bureaucratic red tape or lengthy commitments.

Our Calendar Program offers up to 150 team-oriented volunteer projects each month that impact the most pressing social issues in L.A.. Projects include repairing wheelchairs, serving meals to the hungry, helping children with special needs, reading to kids, mentoring at-risk teens, providing companionship to seniors, landscaping parks and planting trees. The list is endless. (info available on

Food on Foot
This organization, which provides food and clothes for the homeless in Los Angeles, also is easy to get involved with. Every Sunday, they get together to distribute food and clothing. You can donate either money, clothes, or time to help out. (info available on

Midnight Mission
I don’t remember who brought up this organization, but it seems like an excellent way to get inovled. Midnight Missions is a human service organization serving those in the Skid Row area in downtown Los Angeles
* Meal service in the Midnight Mission kitchen.
* Special event preparation.
* Sorting clothing and assisting in distribution.
* Making food boxes and hygiene kits.
* General clean-up and painting.
* Tutoring for all age groups and levels.
* Professional services, i.e., tax preparation, legal services and motivational workshops.
∑ Internships and student projects.

(info available on and at the BBB)

AC pointed out that working within an organization is a safer and more effective way to help local homeless. Not only does it offer volunteers the safety of working in a group, but it also help get those who need medical and mental health into the system.

As always, please be careful about who you donate your time and money to. Check with an independent source to determine that organizations are and do what they say they are and do. For this piece, I’ve noted those organizations that are listed or notated on and the Better Business Bureau. If you are planning on deducting donations for tax purposes, make sure that the organizations have the appropriate tax code, and that you are able to obtain the needed forms.

I would love to hear about any humanitarian efforts that our readers have been involved in. Are there any experiences you can share? Are there particular organizations you’ve worked with that you can recommend to others? How about efforts in your own communities? What has worked, and what hasn’t? Do you have any tips for those who are just getting started in giving a helping hand?


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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  1. a spectator says:

    There’s a great book called something like:
    that, last I looked, was out of print but still available on places like It contains hundreds of organizations through which you can volunteer internationally. You can look opportunities up by field (education, housing, medical, etc.) or by time commitment ranging from weeks to years. Some cost money, some don’t. Anyway, it is a great resource.

  2. Ryan says:

    Great list. Think it’s great your all focusing on service here. Great to see positivety on this website. You femenist aren’t a bad lot after all…

  3. Adam says:

    I recently helped start a non profit called, we are focused on building a community of people interested in social justice, the environment, health, fair trade and microfinance, with its goal of starting a microfinance fund by raising money through online purchases. The funds objective is to loan money to people all over the world who have a desire to start a business to achieve a better life for them and their family.

    Not everyone has money to donate to causes but need to buy a pair of shoes for their kids. Now they can do both. That money that you generate wont help one person one time, it will help people for years and years as the same money gets loaned again and again. A few dollars doesn’t seem like a lot but it does have a huge impact on people in other parts of the world who make less than a $1 a day.

  4. Dora says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation AS. I’m hoping to do some work in south america in 2009.

    Har har RL. After our chat a couple weeks ago, I think you might be more feminist than you want to admit. And … your grizzled friend who haunts the Overland entrance to the 10E sends his love.

    Adam ~ I love the principles of microcredit, and yours sounds like a fantastic project. Do you deal with people just in your local community, or is your scope much broader? How do you assess for need and reliability? How has the response been so far?

  5. Adam says:

    Dora – Thank you. The goal is to be as broad based as possible. I only learned about microfinance a few years ago, and thought it was such a good idea that I wanted to find away to be apart of it. So I thought I could bring what I call a twist on capitalism where people who regularly buy stuff could get some good deals on products and the money we make will do something good, and maybe make you feel good. That even your unnecessary indulgence actually might help some people who have a hard time just getting by. Thought it was a win-win.

    The majority of my friends and family unfortunately are not the most proactive people, but they use the site. I am however looking for more than people who think it is a good idea but really only use it because they know me. I want people who actually care and want to be apart of the community, I do appreciate people using the site to help create the fund, but I want an active user base. Users who will play an active role, who provide input, ideas, and recommendations on how it should grow and even who should get the loans. That I must admit has been hard for me to find, I am always looking for advice and feedback so if you have any I am all ears.

    As for the need and reliability that all would end up being effected by the community and how much money we actually could raise. If it is a small amount it can always just be loaned to a larger and more established microfinance firm at a very small rate. If it took off and the fund grew to a reasonable size the community could help in finding people or they themselves could apply. Someone who might have decent credit and wants to start a Fair-trade chocolate business might not be able to get a loan from a bank, especially now with the credit crunch and mortgage problems in the U.S That we can easily determine their reliability. As for overseas I do know someone who runs a charity in Ethiopia for orphan children. He I am sure could set me up with plenty of people who require assistance and would be able to vouch for their reliance.

  6. Vada says:

    Having a dinner to talk about different things you can do sounds like such a fun idea. Right now I’m time-challenged (being pregnant and having 2 toddlers who can’t yet help), but I have loaned money through Kiva. I loaned a bunch at the beginning of the year, and all the loans have been getting repaid on schedule. A few of them have been all the way repaid, and I re-loaned the money to other people. It’s a great way for me to help right now, since I can’t do much in my own community.

  7. Deborah says:

    Heifer makes a great holiday gift — they let you design computer cards to send to your loved ones with pictures of the animals you’ve donated in their names (they will also send you “real” holiday cards if you request).

    And KIVA is my new favorite organization — which I first read about right here on this blog. My first set of “loans” are now half-way repaid. I look forward to redistributing this money again in a couple of months.

    My husband and I have recently gotten involved with a community soup kitchen. We are in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and they feed nearly 300 people a day — daily operational costs average $2000 a day . . .

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