It’s been a tough year. Tsunami. Hurricane. Earthquake. War. Poverty. Injustice. Here’s a list of extraordinary groups that are working to make next year better. Put them on your holiday list, right after the champagne.
Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq.
Incredibly, given the Bush Administration’s professed concern for Iraqi women, the small network of shelters founded by heroic secular feminist Yanar Mohammed offers the country’s only refuge for women fleeing domestic violence, rape, honor killing and forced marriage. As religious extremism and civil strife increase, the need grows ever greater. Help Iraqi women start new, safer lives by writing a check to MADRE, the women’s international social justice group, with OWFI (or Iraq) on the memo line. If you go to www.madre.org/holiday, you can honor friends and relatives with a donation; MADRE will send a beautiful card announcing your gift, and nobody will have to return a sweater (MADRE, 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001).
Women for Afghan Women/Afghan Women’s Fund.
Despite some progress, Afghanistan remains the poorest country on earth and one of the worst in which to be a woman. Tragically, much US aid to Afghanistan is lost to mismanagement and corruption. A donation to WAW’s Afghan Women’s fund, by contrast, goes straight to help poor women and children. (Full disclosure: I’m on WAW’s advisory board, but quite wisely they never ask me for advice.) This year its major project is building a girls’ school in Herat province. The land has already been purchased, so if you have a spare $50,000 you can fund the whole thing and transform the lives of more than 1,000 little girls in one swoop. Smaller donations will be warmly welcomed, too. (Checks made out to WAW/AWF can be mailed to WAW, 32-17 College Point Blvd., Suite 206, Flushing, NY 11354; www.womenforafghanwomen.org.)
University Scholarships for South African Students.
Founded in 1990 by philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, this need-based fund has helped educate more than 1,200 black, colored and Indian students. With the deepening of the AIDS crisis–a just released UNAIDS/WHO report estimates that one-third of South Africans are HIV-positive–USSAS has focused on supporting those committed to combating the disease and related social devastation. It currently finances almost 100 young people, including ten medical students, twenty students of social work and fifty undergraduates. You can help fund even more. (Send checks c/o Wolff to 107 Buffam Road, Pelham, MA 01002; www.ussas.com.)