donate to grassroots organizations or volunteer with them
donations Finding the right cause to donate to can be challenging. Many people don't want their money to get lost on administrative detours in large organizations, even though they might be inevitable. The thought of not knowing how much money actually seeps through to the grassroots can be frustrating and deter people from donating. Throughout my journey I have worked with grassroots nonprofits as a volunteer for stretches from two to eleven months. I can personally vouch for all the projects you find below, but you don't need to take my word for it. All these nonprofit organizations accept volunteers and visitors, so you could stop by any time and see for yourself where and how far the money goes.
volunteering Another form of engagement, other than donating, is volunteering. While the basic idea is simple – instead of money you invest your time and skills to contribute – finding a legitimate project to work with isn't always easy. The tourism industry has discovered social engagement at the grassroots as a bestselling vacation package that can be easily marketed; after all you're going on vacation and get to be a do-gooder. If you think about it though, the idea is counter-intuitive: you pay to work without pay. Moreover, the concept of making a charitable cause a business is ethically precarious for reasons I elaborate on below. The projects I introduce here don't charge any fees. Some might even have the means to provide you with board and lodging in exchange for your work, while others ask that you cover your own living expenses.
Escuela Katitawa is a school in Salasaca, an indigenous town in the Ecuadorian Andes. The project encompasses an elementary school and kindergarten as well as a library and a plant nursery. The idea behind the school is to offer Montessori-like education and to uphold indigenous Andean culture, which has little to no place in Ecuador's public education system. Besides books, internet access and computer classes for the children, the library also offers English conversational classes in the evenings. Whoever is interested in practicing English can stop by five days a week and converse with volunteers. Volunteers also help out at the school and in the plant nursery, which aims at generating a more self-sustainable source of income, when donations are sparse. In charge of it all until 2016 was Robert Jeffords, an 85 years old amazing visionary, who is missed dearly since his passing. Now the project is run by local and international volunteers. Most donations come from former volunteers or their relatives, but money is often short. Escuela Katitawa accepts one time donations and reoccurring monthly payments through Paypal. Volunteers live for free in a wonderful house named "Pacha Mama". Breakfast and lunch is included. For dinners volunteers chip in a dollar and take turns cooking their favorite dishes - great international cuisine! They leave a $ 10 donation per week.
For more information or to make a donation please visit Escuela Katitawa's website.
The library, where kids can use books and computers and participate in classes.
The plant nursery during construction. A project aiming at donation-independent sustainability.
Community center being built by a "minga," a local communal labor force.
Students graduating from elementary school.
Solar panels on the roof of the school providing electricity for classrooms.
The traditional clothes and weaving technique of Salasaka.
A recycling program implemented by a former volunteer. Kids collect litter throughout the year and compete for a prize.