New Site!

Please go to the new site, This site is no longer going to be updated or kept current. All posts and information will be on the new site.

Come join us on the new site!

Hey all. Just so you know this will now be the only place for these blog posts.

As we transition Change You Can Afford into a charity, that site will be dedicated to the charity and no longer host the blogging archives.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Help Vs. Charity

This last week, I had an interesting comment on my Prosthetics in India post relating to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti - a charity who manufactures and provides prostheses for disadvantaged individuals in India. They are one of the most impressive organizations I have seen recently, very impressed by them; if you haven't read the post yet, you should read it or check out the website.

One of the aspects which I appreciated was their philosophy on helping. One aspect of which was: "HELP NOT CHARITY - while the assistance is being given free it is ensured that BMVSS, its donors and its beneficiaries recognize such assistance as help and not Charity. Psychologically it is recognized that assistance given as charity demeans both the giver and the taker. The recipient particularly looses his self-respect. The constant effort of BMVSS is that the support given is treated as one provided to a brethren rather than a charity to a poor person."
I got the following comment relating to this point from Maureen "Yes, help not charity! Thanks for putting into words what I had been thinking." My quick reply was "I use the word charity a lot on this blog, but I get so frustrated by that. Because it takes a way a person's autonomy. It implies they could do nothing without our help, but that's not so, the important thing is how much they can do with a bit of assistance. None of us would get anywhere without some help from someone along the way..." 
But I keep have been thinking about this a bit more and wondering how this impacts my blog. How do I go about donating money to organizations without supporting organizations who merely give food. Do I emphasize the helping aspect and stay away from the word charity?

I remember when I was younger and learning about the work of Heifer International, the volunteer explained it using the old phrase - Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for life. The idea behind this phrase has always appealed to me. Rather than giving someone food, organizations can help them have a livelihood. Giving them chickens will give their family sustenance from the eggs and they can earn money by selling the extras. Or help someone to become mobile again with protheses and aids so they can work to help support themselves and their family.

Merely giving charity and giving food does not alleviate the problem, it makes them dependent on you. And while it is nice to help someone, wouldn't it be nicer to give someone a chance at self sufficiency? When I think about charities, programs which do this are the ones who truly appeal to me. Ones that work with a community to improve it long term, instead of just bringing aid by now and again.

Maybe we need a different word than charity, one which addresses the idea of helping others, without the connotations of that other person being helpless. If you have suggestions, let me know. And as always, please comment and leave your thoughts.

Thanks all, and while you are enjoying your three day weekend, remember Martin Luther King and all he stood for, as well as how far we still have to go to make his dream fully a reality.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rebuilding Haiti

I wanted to highlight another organization which I think is doing good work in Haiti and that is Architects for Humanity. They have been working on rebuilding the infrastructure of Haiti, including many schools. They are working on a number of projects in Haiti currently.

I think this is very important as their are still over a million people living in temporary camps, under tarps and sheeting, without adequate protection from the weather or a safe pace to store their belongings. What I really like about this organization is that they do not just build a building without thinking it through. They focus on thoughtful design, with an emphasis on: "Alleviating poverty and providing access to water, sanitation, power and essential services, Bringing safe shelter to communities prone to disaster and displaced populations, Rebuilding community and creating neutral spaces for dialogue in post-conflict areas, Mitigating the effects of rapid urbanization in unplanned settlements, Creating spaces to meet the needs of those with disabilities and other at-risk populations, (and) Reducing the footprint of the built environment and addressing climate change." I really appreciate an organization that worry about the larger impact of their projects and try to help rebuild Haiti in a conscientiousness manner.

In addition, they are a four star charity according to Charity Navigator.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Haiti and Partners in Health

I have talked about Partners in Health in health previously (Haitian Inspiration), I think they are my favorite organization working in Haiti and one of my favorite charities overall. One of the reasons, is that they seem to actually engage with the communities they are helping, not dictate, and truly understand their needs. They have been in Haiti helping for decades and really stepped it up after the earthquake to provide even more help to the people of Haiti. Here is a video of talking about the current situation in haiti and what needs to be done.

Their Stand With Haiti page is full of information on the work they are doing in Haiti and the work that still needs to be done. They have released a one year later report and in their summary they discuss their “Stand with Haiti” plan to help "Haiti recover and rebuild over the long term (...). Key elements of the plan include:
These are all very important issues to address and fix, they have always been focused on health and the country has to have a health system to combat illnesses so that people are able to rebuild their country. Also Haiti had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and it is very important that those people receive their medication in a timely manner and from good facilities, and the previous clinincs run by Partners in Health were some of the best in the country, to my knowledge.

Another factor which is really important in their success, and one of the reasons I like this organization, is that they try to engage with the local community through employing the Haitian people, it "strengthens public institutions and governance, and works not just to repair the damage caused by the earthquake, but also to address the extreme poverty and lack of infrastructure that greatly worsened the disaster’s impact and weakened the country’s ability to respond." By giving Haitian's paid employment in their hospitals and building their hospitals, not only are they rebuilding school and infrastructure, but also the countries economy. Giving a person a job might be one of the best, and simplest, humanitarian approaches to rebuilding the country, because it allows peoples to care for themselves and their families and gives them a sense of self worth again. I imagine, it must be very disheartening to have so little one can do to change your circumstances and to rely on others for everything, being able to work again must be very rewarding and helps the economy of the country recover.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the work of Partners in Health in Haiti and that you will consider helping them as well. Real quick, I wanted to point out the fact that they are a four star charity from Charity Navigator and 94.7% of their expenses goes to program expenses, which is just amazing for a charity whose headquarters are located in the USA, so they really focus on getting their money to the programs that are on the ground helping people around the world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haiti: A Year Later

Hey all,

I decided to do a second post today, because it is the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. While there was immense support of the Haitian people, the devastation caused by that tragedy was so monumental that it will be years before the economy and people fully recover. There are still millions of people living under tents, inadequate access to food for many, and little work for people. These, and others, are all very serious issues and need to be addressed.

However, the issue I want to discuss today is the increase in rapes, violence, and sexual abuse of women in Haiti.This is especially heartbreaking if you think about the situation of these women; they are living in makeshift camps, the majority of most people have lost members of their family, if they had business or a livelihood the quakes destroyed it... These women lost their loved ones, homes, and business all in one swoop and know face the constant threat of violence and being violated. 

"More than 250 cases of rape in several camps were reported in the first 150 days after January’s earthquake" according to the Amnesty International report, Aftershocks: Women speak out against sexual violence in Haiti’s camps. The report goes into more depth than the first link in the story, so if you want the long version download the report. The report also has the stories from some women impacted by this violence in their own words, which can be difficult to read, but I think it is important to

The women's safety and sanctity of their bodies is not a priority of the government and that has to change in order for women to be free from the constant possibility of violence. "“There has been a complete breakdown in Haiti’s already fragile law and order system since the earthquake with women living in insecure overcrowded camps,” said Gerardo Ducos. “There is no security for the women and girls in the camps. They feel abandoned and vulnerable to being attacked. Armed gangs attack at will; safe in the knowledge that there is still little prospect that they will be brought to justice.”"

The report is calling for the new government to work with humanitarian agencies to develop a plan to address the violence women are facing, they also stat that "women in the camps must be fully involved in developing any such plan. Immediate steps include improving security in the camps and to ensure police are able to respond effectively and that those responsible are prosecuted."

From the report, it was made clear that the police do not bother to investigate or prosecute rapists properly, instead of being ignored as cases are currently.

A survivor of the violence and an advocate for change says it better than I can. In an address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Malya Villard-Apollon, leader of the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV):
“I am a leader of KOFAVIV, a grass-roots women’s organization that works with victims of sexual violence. I, myself, was a victim of rape in 1992 and again in 2003.
I live in a tent in a camp. I have witnessed violence against women and girls. And, I have also witnessed the completely inadequate government response. KOFAVIV has recorded at least 242 cases of rape since the earthquake. But, we have yet to see a case prosecuted…
Voices like mine are often not heard in forums like these…”

We owe it to Malya and the hundreds, if not thousands, of other victims to support the organizations like Amnesty International who are supporting the the women on the ground.

And a few more prostheses

Obviously, I really like the charities that distribute and make prostheses around the globe, I think it is because the organizations are helping people to be whole again and to be able to support themselves. It is the opposite of some charities which bring food and just hang out food. Rather it enables people who have been disabled, often landmines or other war related issues, to work again and care for themselves. I imagine it to be a transformative moment in their life and I want to support organizations that support getting people prostheses and care.

Today we will be talking about Limbs of Hope and their mission: "The collection of prostheses, both new and used, to be distributed to those in need. Provision of recreational opportunities for amputees with emphasis placed on individuals in developing countries. Funding construction on sufficient rehabilitation clinics and also improving existing clinics. (...) We are working to become established throughout the world, that we might become a permanent force in the war against human suffering. The Limbs of Hope Foundation is composed of volunteers who strongly support our cause. With help, we are capable of changing the world for the better. In these times of fear and instability, we choose to offer a ray of light, a limb of hope…"

 They accomplish their mission through four different programs. Project Limbs aims towards fundraising for new prostheses and rebuilds used prostheses for new recipients, as well as medical referrals and financial assistance. Project Hope (Helping Others Play Equally) provides sports/recreational opportunities by creating more places to play and  distributing equipment, hoping to help improve self-esteem as well. The third project is Project Foundation, which is focused on improving existing clinics and constructing new rehabilitation clinics. Their last project is Camp Amp, which is a summer camp for those who have experienced the loss of a limb and is meant to be both a fun recreational time as well as to help counsel those who are struggling, they want to have financial aid available so that any who wants to attend can.

Their website is not specific about exactly where they run programs except it does say in over fourteen countries, including photos on their site showing a program in Cambodia. While I would like more information on their website, what I do see I approve of and support.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And even more prosthetics!

Yesterday's post was so inspiring to me, I immediately googled other charities doing similar work out of curiosity at how they function. And, of course, I liked some of them, so I have to share them with you. Today I am focusing on Sandy Gall's Afghanistan Appeal, an organization who works to provide prosthetic's and other aids for over 20,000 patients and therapy for over 50,000. The 25 years of warfare that has plagued the area has created many people in need of the a prosthetic limb.

The charity focuses are: "to treat the disabled people of Afghanistan by the provision of prostheses, orthoses and physiotherapy care; to train students in these professions to carry out the work themselves; to prevent further disability and promote better referral in the local community by providing health education and disability awareness information; to upgrade the skills of the technicians already trained with further education and to provide administrative training and management courses for senior staff."

For those of you who do not understand the impact warfare can have on a population, I have included a link to an article discussing the impact of landmines, which are present in Afghanistan as well. To truly understand the horror of landmines, one needs to read about it and see the pictures of victims. Warfare causes so many horrifying issues, even in areas where the fighting is over, there are huge amounts of land that still have landmines from previous wars.

Any cause which helps victims of such a horrible event should be supported. If you know of other organizations  that do work like this, please let me know, I would love to feature them as well.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Prosthetics in India

Today we are focusing on amazing organization in India, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) or the Jaipur Foot Organization. They are the largest organization working to fit those who have been handicapped with artificial limbs and calipers. The organization focuses on providing "all the artificial limbs, calipers, crutches, ambulatory aids like wheelchairs, hand paddled tricycles and other aids and appliances totally free of charge to the physically challenged." The average cost of a limb is $35, compared to the $8,000 in cost in the USA (according to the BMVSS website). This organization fits over 17,000 - 20,000 artificial limbs a year; they have sixteen branches and run over 40 mobile fitment camps to reach the disadvantaged in the distant areas of India, as well as running some programs in Asia and Africa.

While this work is extremely valuable, I think it is more their social outlook and policies that I approve of and really value.  "The first and the foremost concern of BMVSS is that the dignity and self respect of the patients must be maintained and if possible enhanced:
  • FREE ASSISTANCE:- The assistance in form of limbs, Calipers, and other aids & appliances are being given totally FREE OF CHARGE. At times we face criticism for pursuing this policy. The argument is that if any assistance is given free it is not appreciated, but our situation is that almost 90% of our patients are below poverty line and cannot even pay 5% of our cost of appliances incurred by us. By insisting the payment of even US$ 2 or Rs. 80/- from the patients would literally tantamount to their being told that since they do not have even this small amount they must get out. BMVSS being a social organization cannot subscribe to or become a part of such an in-compassionate system. For BMVSS money is not the measure of everything.
  • HELP NOT CHARITY:- while the assistance is being given free it is ensured that BMVSS, its donors and its beneficiaries recognize such assistance as help and not Charity. Psychologically it is recognized that assistance given as charity demeans both the giver and the taker. The recipient particularly looses his self-respect. The constant effort of BMVSS is that the support given is treated as one provided to a brethren rather than a charity to a poor person.
  • EQUALITY:- The assistance is being provided without any distinction of  caste, creed, religion or region. Among our other beneficiaries are Hindus (including Scheduled Castes and Tribes), Muslims Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and others. Handicapped persons from all parts of the country visit our centers. Our centers at Jaipur and other places have been described as ‘mini-India’ with all its diversity and underlying unity.
  • PROPER TREATMENT - Patients are treated with respect as human beings. They are attended to individually and cordially."

Their patients will be treated with respect, do not need to schedule in advance, are fed and housed until their prosthetic can be fitted and the administrative cost of BMVSS has been worked out to be only 4%, (amazing compared to to 30 to 50 % I see in many organizations. To be completely honest, I am very impressed with this organization; they seem to be doing an amazing job of helping individuals without disempowering them and doing it in an extremely cost effective manner. This is an organization that has completely blown me away. On every page of their website I found more to like about this organization. I know I talk like this about every charity, but this one really stands out of the many organizations I have seen. I can't imagine an organization in the USA could operate anywhere even close to that low a number, unless all its staff were volunteers. Just an all around amazing group.... I hope you agree and will donate to them as well.

While looking them up, I found an article discussing a collaboration between the Bhagwan Mahavir Viklang Sahyata Samiti or the Jaipur Foot Organization and MIT Engineering students. The students are working with the organization in order to make the fitment more precise, as well as design machines that are hand powered, which means they could work in the remotest villages of India. The people at the charity are too busy to refine their designing process, they are always working on fitting more individuals for prosthetics, but the students got a grant to support their work and they will be field testing their design this summer. If you want to read about their work, here is an MIT article about the student project. Enjoy.

Please consider supporting this amazing, amazing charity.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Suggestions!

Good morning,

Happy Sunday! Today is our first of our suggestion Sunday's, so I am counting on y'all to make it an awesome beginning to this section. Let me know of any events I should commemorate with a blog post. Or an amazing charity that you want to share with me or some ideas for the blog, just share them below.