donate to grassroots organizations or volunteer with them

donations   Finding the right cause to donate to can be challenging. Many people don't want money to get lost on administrative detours in large organizations, even though they might be necessary and 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 several 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 legit project to work with isn't always easy. The tourism industry has long 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 questionable and precarious for reasons I will elaborate on below. The projects I present 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

Salasaca, Ecuador

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.


Villa Santa Martha

Picapiedra, Peru 

Villa Martha (Santa Martha Foundation) is an orphanage in Picapiedra, a little village outside of Lima, Peru. Around 80 children live here and the age span ranges from babies to 17-year-olds. The kids are separated into boys and girls as well as into age groups, which all have their own dormitories and bathrooms. Each group has its own caregiver, while several psychologists oversee the daily routines and have personal conversations with kids and caregivers. Founder Papa Roberto visits regularly, while the day to day business 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. After school and a communal lunch there are tutoring sessions and leisure, before it’s time for dinner. On weekends some children have visits from family members and sometimes trips to the nearby countryside are organized. Volunteers sleep for free in the same dormitories as the kids and are provided three meals a day. They help out with the daily routines, tutoring sessions or whatever else might be needed at a given time. They are also encouraged to come up with own ideas and can implement individual projects for the children.

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


La Esperanza Granada

Granada, Nicaragua

La Esperanza Granada is an NGO based in Granada, Nicaragua engaged in children’s education. The project sends volunteers to schools in impoverished areas on the outskirts of Granada, to assist teachers in the classrooms. The project reaches more than 2.000 children and has recently started to operate its own learning centers. Ayudantes, local students who help out with the organizational processes, are rewarded with scholarships. They engage in office work and visit the schools and learning centers to supervise international volunteers. Most funding for the project comes from individuals, service groups and schools. Oftentimes whole groups come down to Nicaragua to provide not only funding but also manual labor, helping e.g. 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 live in volunteer houses in the heart of Granada and pay a very reasonable fee for their accommodation. Volunteers cover their own living expenses.  

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


AID India

Chennai, India

AID India's mission is providing high quality education for children in Tamil Nadu, a state in India’s south. Based in Chennai, AID India operates state-wide and reaches 25.000 children in 500 villages. Lately, the organization has expanded its operations to other Indian states too. AID India's Eureka program ensures high learning standards in countryside schools by providing new materials, methods, teaching assistance and evaluation tools. The staff of this reward winning nonprofit organization consists of highly decorated and enthusiastic people, often widely renowned in their respective fields of expertise. While the main focus of AID India is education, many other projects have been implemented, ranging from agriculture to relief efforts during the devastating 2015 floods in Tamil Nadu. AID India also works with international volunteers and interns, who help out with various tasks within the organization and cover their own living expenses.

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


Big Brother Mouse

Luang Prabang, Laos

Big Brother Mouse, based in Luang Prabang, Laos, is a small publishing house on a mission to make books accessible all throughout the country. So far, many villages in Laos have none or little access to any kind of literature and there are few books published in the local language in general. Big Brother Mouse tries to change this by printing its own books and distributing them to countryside villages. Communities that have better financial means cover the costs partly or completely by themselves, while the rest is covered by donations. The distribution to poorer villages is covered completely by donations. Besides the distribution of books, Big Brother Mouse organizes workshops and runs a library in Luang Prabang. The library is very popular with local students also because of the conversational English practice that is offered twice a day, seven days a week. High school and university students come in to practice their English skills with foreigners, who stop by during their visit to Luang Prabang.

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


Greensleeves Children's Trust


East London, South Africa 

Greensleeves is an orphanage outside of East London in South Africa, aiming at providing holistic residential care for abandoned and abused children. The Children’s home was funded by a local family, namely Aunty Di and her husband Ian; initially taking care of one child whose mother asked the couple for help, Greensleeves is currently home to almost 30 children. With a lot of love, generosity and the assistance of the local community, Aunty Di and Ian managed to construct several buildings on their farm, among which the main hall with kitchen, classrooms, bathroom facilities and computers as well as a separate school building and two safe houses with lovely dormitories for the children. Except for some 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 various activities and workshops for the Greensleeves kids. The atmosphere at Greensleeves does resemble more of a family setting rather than an institutional facility; to further enhance this family environment, one core vision of the project is to build cluster homes where children can live as a family 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.