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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 seeps through to the grassroots can be frustrating and deter people from donating altogether. 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 idea is simple – instead of money you contribute your time and skills – 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.

overview of nonprofits



SKY Foundation

Salasaka, Ecuador

SKY Foundation is nonprofit based in Salasaka, an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Andes. The project encompasses a Montessori-style school (Escuela Katitawa) and kindergarten as well as a library, and a plant nursery. SKY’s mission is to secure the education of kids from kindergarten throughout elementary school, and maintain indigenous culture, identity, and heritage (including the local language, Kichwa, which has no real place in Ecuador's public education system). Besides books, internet access and computer classes for the children, the library offers conversational English classes with volunteers in the evenings. Volunteers also help at the school and in the plant nursery – a sustainable source of income, when donations are sparse. In charge of it all until 2016 was Robert Jeffords, an 85-year-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 and their relatives, but those financial resources are limited. SKY accepts one-off donations and reoccurring payments via Paypal. Volunteers live in a wonderful house named "Pacha Mama." Food is also included with a small weekly donation.

For more information or to make a donation please visit SKY's website.

Escuela Katitawa
Villa Santa Martha

Villa Santa Martha

Picapiedra, Peru 

La Villa Martha is a children’s home outside Lima, Peru, operated with the financial support of the Santa Martha Foundation. Around a hundred kids, ages 2-17 live on-site, divided into smaller groups according to age. Every group has its own facilities (like dormitory and bathroom), and a designated caregiver. Several psychologists oversee daily routines and have one-on-one conversations with kids and caregivers. Founder Papa Roberto visits regularly, while the day-to-day is run by Tio Tom and his helping hands. A typical day starts with the kids getting up early, preparing for school, cleaning their dormitories and bathrooms, followed by a communal breakfast with the other groups. School and the communal lunch are followed by tutoring sessions and leisure, before it’s time for dinner. On weekends, some children enjoy visits from family members and occasionally the team organizes trips to the nearby countryside. Volunteers sleep for free in the same dormitories as the kids and are provided three meals a day. They help with daily routines, tutoring sessions, or whatever else might be needed at a given time. They are also encouraged to come up with their own ideas to implement individual projects.

For more information or to make a donation please visit Villa Santa Martha's website.

La Esperanza Granada

La Esperanza Granada

Granada, Nicaragua

La Esperanza supports schools in underprivileged areas of Granada, Nicaragua with funds and volunteers. Guided by local volunteers (ayudantes) whose work is compensated with university scholarships, international volunteers assist teachers in the classrooms. The project reaches more than 2.000 children and has recently started to operate its own learning centers. Ayudantes help with organizational processes and visit the schools to supervise the international volunteers. Most funding for the project comes from individuals, service groups, and schools. Oftentimes, whole groups travel to Nicaragua to provide not only funding but also manual labor, helping with the construction of new classrooms. International volunteers, who assist in the classrooms or tutor small groups of children, stay with La Esperanza Granada for days, weeks, or even many months at a stretch. They cover their own living expenses but are provided with very affordable rooms at a variety of volunteer houses in the city center.

For more information or to make a donation please visit La Esperanza Granada's website.

AID India

AID India

Chennai, India

AID India is an NGO based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, translating a vision to uplift the most marginalized communities into action across a wide array of areas – from disaster relief and shelter to nutrition programs. Via its ELF initiative, the organization promotes and supports education in rural villages, reaching 25.000 children state-wide. Lately, AID India expanded its operations to other states. The Eureka program ensures high learning standards in countryside schools by providing new materials, methods, teaching assistance and evaluation tools. The staff of this award-winning nonprofit consists of highly decorated and enthusiastic people, often widely renowned in their respective fields of expertise. AID India also works with international volunteers and interns, who help with a variety of projects and tasks. They cover their own living expenses.

​For more information or to make a donation please visit AID India's website.

Big Brother Mouse

Big Brother Mouse

Luang Prabang, Laos

Based in Luang Prabang, Laos, Big Brother Mouse is a small publishing house on a mission to make books accessible throughout the country. So far, many villages have little or no access to any kind of literature and few books are published in the local language. Determined to change this status quo, Big Brother Mouse prints its own books and distributes them to rural villages. Communities with better financial means cover the costs in parts or fully, while the remaining expenses are covered by donations. The distribution to more impoverished villages is covered entirely by donations. Besides the distribution of books, Big Brother Mouse organizes workshops and runs a library in Luang Prabang, which offers conversational English practice twice a day, seven days a week. The program is popular with high-school and university students who come in to practice their English with foreigners looking for cultural exchange during their time in Luang Prabang.

​For more information or to make a donation please visit Big Brother Mouse's website.


Greensleeves Children's Trust


East London, South Africa 

Greensleeves is a children’s home outside East London, South Africa, providing holistic residential care for abandoned and abused children. It was founded by a local family, namely Aunty Di and her husband Ian. Initially taking care of one child whose mother had asked the couple for help, Greensleeves is currently home to almost 30 kids. With a lot of love, generosity, and support from the local community, Aunty Di and Ian managed to construct several buildings on their farm – the main hall with kitchen, classrooms, bathroom facilities, and computers as well as a separate school building and two safe houses with dormitories for the children. Except for some of the older kids, who study at a local high school, all the children attend classes at the Greensleeves school. Volunteers spend time with the children to assist the onsite nannies and engage in activities and workshops for the Greensleeves kids. The atmosphere resembles a family setting more so than an institutional facility. In that vein, one core vision is to build cluster homes where children can live together as families with a house mother. Volunteers have their own quarters onsite free of charge and are given three meals a day.

​For more information or to make a donation please visit the Greensleeves website.

Imagine Scholar

Imagine Scholar

Kamhlushwa, South Africa

Imagine Scholar is a unique after-school program in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, reaching out to the most ambitious children in the local schools. Together, students and facilitators create a nourishing environment emphasizing personal growth, the finding and fostering of passions, and the upholding of core moral values. Although Imagine Scholar has a record of outstanding academic achievements (like students attending the Yale-Program, the African Leadership Academy or United World Colleges), the main focus of the community enrichment program is character-building aimed at the empowerment of leaders; one day those leaders will be the vanguard of social and economic change in their community and even today many of the students engage in charitable activities, business contests and science projects. As founder Corey Johnson puts it: “I’m incredibly proud of all the huge successes, but the real goal is to create good people. I’d be more proud if they become good mothers, fathers or coworkers, just good people; because that’s what the world needs.” Imagine Scholar’s dynamic approach to education takes student-centric methods to the next level: students are involved in all crucial decision-making processes, from crafting the curriculum to the selection of new aspirants. The vision is to have (former) Imagine Scholars run the entire program within the next years. Think tanks, TED-talks, creative and critical thinking exercises, communal reading sessions, communication classes, academics, chess and meditation are some dimensions of the holistic framework. Volunteers help with the day-to-day and act as mentors. They live on site for free, are provided food to cook for themselves and receive a small allowance in exchange for a minimum commitment of two months (shorter stays are possible in some cases).

To get to know the amazing Imagine Scholars, have a look here

For more information or to make a donation please visit Imagine Scholar’s website.