I found out about Kiva when I read the completely humbling and eye-opening book, Half the Sky: How to Change the World in early 2011.
The brainchild of two Americans recognizing a gap in grassroots financial aid to individuals in foreign countries, Kiva is an organization that allows you (a potential loaner) to read the stories of people all over the world who need microloans to help finance their small businesses. Once financed, these businesses are the primary and, in many cases, only income supporting their families and communities. The best part? You can loan as little as $25 to the business owner of your choice and in a few months, that money will be paid back, at which time you can fund a new business (if you choose to do so… but who wouldn’t?). $25 is probably what you spend on a nice dinner out. Maybe skip the dinner out this one Friday night and help start a new business in Africa, Asia or South America.
It was Morgan’s work with eTV in Durban, South Africa that led me to learn about Umthombo.
Started in 1998, Umthombo addresses the large, but often neglected population of street children roaming the streets of Durban. Orphaned by family members dying of AIDS and/or a number of socio-economic factors plaguing many families in South Africa , these kids generally wander the streets addicted to glue and begging for food as cars drive past. The aim of Umthombo is to empower street children through a four-step approach: engagement (through programs such as surfing, art and outreach), therapeutic intervention (counseling with social workers to address trauma in a child’s life), an alternative to street life (reintegration into their families if possible or integration into a Child and Youth Care Center), and aftercare (the follow-up process after children begin living an alternative to street life).
It’s an incredible sight to see: these kids at the beach, smiling as they learn to surf alongside an Umthombo volunteer. At the same time, volunteers can only do so much. Donate to help give an opportunity to a child who has never had one.
I had read short blurbs about the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project online and in various Lonely Planet travel guides, but it wasn’t until I visited the project in June 2011 that I realized how remarkable it actually is.
The ultimate goal of the project is to successfully rehabilitate gibbons that have been abused and/or raised by humans to the point where they can be reintegrated into the wild or, for some gibbons, introduced to the wild for the first time. Many of these gibbons worked as tourist attractions for photographers in Thailand, often neglected and mistreated. Some are beyond the point of re-integration into the wild and can only hope to live a happier life at the GRP facilities.
In both cases, volunteers clean, feed and help rehabilitate the gibbons (there is no permanent, paid staff at the GRP and the organization relies completely on donations). The best way to help ensure the livelihood of what is in some cases, a dying species of gibbon, is to visit the site in Phuket, Thailand and drop a few baht in the donation box or commit to the 3-week volunteer program at the GRP where you help fulfill the daily duties of cleaning, feeding, advocacy work and rehabilitation. Not in the area? No problem. Why not adopt a gibbon? For $60 (about 1800 Baht) you can ensure that the gibbon of your choice will have food, water, a clean cage, vaccinations and no worries for an entire year! When you ‘adopt’ one of the gibbons, you receive an adoption pack which contains a picture of your gibbon, their history, a monthly newsletter informing you of how he/she is doing at the GRP and a t-shirt. A great gift idea if you know someone whose heart would melt at the sight of Phi Phi.
I found out about Lanta Animal Welfare after seeing fliers in local coffee shops during my first visit to Ko Lanta, Thailand in December 2011. I went back three weeks later to visit the facility, walk some dogs and learn more about the organization as a whole.
Lanta Animal Welfare was founded in 2005 by a local business owner who not only recognized the problem of stray dogs and cats on Ko Lanta, but decided to do something about it. She uses the proceeds from her restaurant, Time for Lime, and any money generously donated by animal lovers visiting the island to keep the shelter running. At the time I visited, there were 29 dogs, 11 cats and one injured hawk currently calling the place home.
Ideally, all of these animals will be adopted, but the primary goal of LAW is to keep the number of stray animals on the island down by spaying and neutering. There are generally one or two volunteer veterinarians available to perform these operations, while the rest of the shelter responsibilities fall upon a handful of other volunteers.
From my limited experience in southern Thailand, there really aren’t many other shelters like this – or shelters at all, for that matter. Most of these dogs end up as ‘street dogs’ which, I will admit, is part of the charm of visiting… especially when you see one of said street dogs actually look both ways before crossing the street. Still, the grim reality hits after you’ve seen a few of these cute and charismatic pups end up as roadkill.
An alternative for them is your help. Visit the website and spread the word! Donate money or medical supplies (much needed)! Better yet, take a month or two to visit a beautiful island in the Andaman Sea and work as a volunteer! The owner of Time For Lime/founder of LAW will provide accommodation, a free Thai cooking class and a discount on food and drinks at the restaurant. The only question on your mind now should be, ‘Why not?’
I found out about the Phuket Sunshine Village in March 2012 while I was searching for a local organization that might appreciate donated goods that Morgan and I could not take with us when we left Phuket. Upon dropping off the goods at the orphanage, we quickly learned that the staff at Phuket Sunshine Village are incredibly resourceful and can find a use for anything.
The Phuket Sunshine Village officially opened on June 29, 2007 after beginning as an aid project for children left homeless in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Currently, the village is home to over 120 children ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old. The overall foundation aims to provide each child with a good education, social skills, family values and and a general knowledge of Thai culture and tradition.
In order to continue day-to-day operations, the village and its children are completely dependent upon the donations and support of volunteers from across the globe. The Phuket Sunshine Village keeps an updated list of items most needed, although judging by how appreciative the staff were to receive our bags of party hats, board games, empty cookie tins and once-used raincoats, the PSV staff can find a use for just about anything. Nonetheless, they can and do appreciate even the smallest monetary donation in order to pay the bills and make sure there is enough food on the table each evening. If you’re looking for a great cause to donate a few dollars to, this is by far one of the most deserving.
I first learned about African Impact in February 2012 when I began searching for a post-Thailand job on idealist.org. I’d always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and upon being offered a job at African Impact in Vilanculos, Mozambique, this dream became a reality.
African Impact started in 2004 as a family-run organization with only a small number of staff and a single rehabilitation project in Zimbabwe. Today, African Impact advertises projects in 15 African countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. The company is the largest on-the-ground facilitator of volunteer projects in Africa and won the South African Imvelo Responsible Tourism Award in the Best Social Involvement Programme category in both 2010 and 2011.
As of May 2012, I’m completing my first month as the Project Coordinator for African Impact at our Preschool/Orphanage/Adult Education project in Mozambique and I absolutely love it. Like any other position in our company, my job requires long hours and complete dedication to the projects and local community, but it’s hard to imagine a profession more rewarding.
African Impact connects volunteers from around the world with African communities who need assistance in terms of wildlife rehabilitation, marine life research , HIV/AIDS awareness and community development. Our long-term goal is to make each of these projects self-sustainable, creating jobs and fostering development for and through local people. If you are looking to visit Africa and are inspired to volunteer, I can guarantee you will love working with African Impact.