You’ve seen the television specials, heard the news, and seen the pictures: children dressed in rags, mere skin and bones and starving in refugee camps, hundreds of thousands of refugees wandering from country to country in search of safety, the reports of famine and war, small children carrying machine guns almost as big as them–the list can go on and on. It’s very common to feel like there’s nothing to be done, but there are real options and organizations that you can be involved in, whether from a distance or in Africa yourself.
How do you know your money is going to be utilized in the right way or that you’re working with a legitimate organization? Money donated to corrupt governments in the past has been squandered away quickly and used for different purposes than it was intended. With a little bit of research or a quick internet search, you’ll find hundreds of charity groups and NGOs or non-governmental organizations dedicated to making a change. Check out charity watch to make sure the group is reputable and can give a good accounting of funds, then choose one and get involved.
A common sight across Africa is women and children walking along a dusty path, hauling large containers called jerrycans. They are either headed to get water or carrying it back. Over and over, often multiple times a day. Water for cleaning, water for cooking, and most importantly, water for drinking. Many of the places where water is collected are just small ponds filled with murky brown water. Dirty water spreads disease. Hundreds of thousands of people, most often children, die in Sub-Saharan Africa every year. This is entirely preventable, and there are a number of NGOs and other groups dedicated to building wells and providing clean water to villages. Again, do your research and make a donation. Some groups might even give you the option of traveling there and helping to dig the well yourself. Once a well is dug, this frees up access for education among children who are no longer needed to fetch water.
Education is a big problem in much of Africa, especially education for girls. Girls are needed at home to carry water, watch over the younger children, and help out with chores so education isn’t valued for them. Some children even must walk miles to school every day and some schools are simply a bunch of children meeting under an acacia tree. There are groups that are dedicated to building schools and groups that will send volunteers to teach subjects such as drama, english, and math to the understaffed schools. Here again, you have a choice whether to simply donate or become an active participant.
If the pictures of small children carrying weapons have touched your heart, know that there are resources available to rehabilitates rescued children abducted from their families and forced to participate in terrible atrocities. There are groups and organizations that focus on reintroducting them to society and providing extensive psychological care. Many of these children have been orphaned while they were in captivity and they’re given a place to live and the opportunity to go to school. Again, a little research will find you a NGO or other group dedicated to helping these children and you can contact them to find a way to get involved.
There are a number of ways to get involved and help the people of Africa. You can choose to go to a country in need and work in orphanages, travel with a trusted organization and build schools, wells or infrastructure, or donate from your own home. The need for aid is great, and even the smallest effort will be appreciated. Next time you see heartbreaking photos or listen to news broadcast about the suffering, you don’t have to feel helpless. Whether you want to build a well, help a former child soldier, give access to education to girls and women, or get food to starving people in Ethiopia, there are a number of groups and resources available to you to get involved with. Take some time, do your research, and find a way to serve that works for you.
The Ever Present Need
Some parts of the world are incredibly fortunate. Known as industrialized nations, these places are often the most sought out places to live. They are the places that refugees and immigrants flock to if they are able to reach them. From the United States to Western Europe to some countries in South America, industrialized nations are the ones that are the envy of the rest of the world. However, many countries in the world are not as fortunate. Countries that are known as third-world countries are some of the ones in the most need. Many of these countries are found in Africa, and several of them are in dire need of help.
Parts of Africa in the Biggest Need
- Ethiopia. This populous country located in the Horn of Africa is home to approximately 82 million people, but only 11% of them have access to water that is safe for drinking by Western standards. The lack of clean water, coupled with malnutrition and often unstable conditions, have led to Ethiopia having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Since acceptable drinking water is so hard to find, women and children often have to walk several miles a day, carrying heavy buckets on their head or shoulder to carry water in. These long treks mean that few children are able to attend school, which lowers the overall education level of the population. There are also many deaths from curable diseases due to a lack of effective medical facilities.
- Chad. Recently hit by one of the worst famines and droughts in recent history, this other country located in the Horn of Africa has been struggling to provide enough food and clean drinking water to its population. Over a million children have been reported to be at risk for severe malnutrition, which adds to problems with education and healthcare that are always present in this French-speaking nation. Since children are often unable to get the education they need, many are stuck living lives like their parents did, which leads to an incredibly cyclical life. Since children are often unable to get out of their home situations, they are stuck in the horrible living conditions that many people from Chad are forced to tolerate.
- Ghana. This poor country in Africa usually suffers from a lack of clean drinking water, but there has been a recent water shortage which has only aggravated the problem. While the entire country suffers from a lack of clean drinking water, the regions bordering Burkina Faso and Togo have been especially hard hit. These areas are poorer than the rest of the country, which means that access to clean water had already been less than optimal. The constant exposure to non-potable water has led to many illnesses being pass around, most of which could be completely eradicated by simply providing the people in these areas with easy access to clean water that is safe to drink. The issue of disease is further compounded by the fact, especially in the poor, remote areas, access to medical help is incredibly limited.
Getting the Help They Need
With so many areas in such dire need, it can sometimes be hard to decide who gets help and who does not. In a perfect world, everyone would get the help they need and there would be no starvation or waterborne illness spreading. However, before the world becomes perfect, it is important that people do their part in helping these nations. If everyone works together, the problems that these countries face can be stopped in their tracks.
The African Challenge
Running an NGO is hard work. Running an NGO in a place that lacks infrastructure is even harder. In many places in the world, the things that change lives are the simplest things. But getting the right tools into the right hands requires a level of ingenuity that nobody can prepare you for. On a continent as vast as Africa, with its varying and often conflicting languages, cultures and traditions, it is easy for the job of an NGO to seem overwhelming.
Helping requires NGOs to identify real world problems and then partner with locals on a state by state, or even village by village basis to find solutions. It may seem like the barriers to aid are high, but there are ways to effect real change in Africa. Below are five cases studies of NGOs that are making a difference, and how they are doing it.
The END Fund
This NGO works to treat and cure Neglected Tropical Diseases such as river blindness. Using proven methods they have battled against common diseases that devastate entire communities. Many of the victims of these diseases lack access to clean drinking water. The secret to their success is CHEAP and EFFECTIVE treatment options. Most of their work costs the NGO less than $0.50 per person.
Against Malaria Foundation
Many people find it hard to believe that malaria is still a major killer on the African continent. But the lack of infrastructure and clean running water, make this disease a major concern. Luckily, many cases of malaria can be prevented with the regular use of a bed net treated with insecticide. AMF works to distribute this low-cost, life-saving device all across the regions most affected by malaria. The secret? Bednets are cheap AND low-tech. At $3 a piece, once this net is set up, there is no training necessary. Remember that technology can be a barrier so opt for the low-tech option whenever possible.
Room To Read
Room to read exists across Africa and Asia. They encourage local authors to produce children’s books in their mother tongue in an effort to encourage over-all literacy. They focus, specifically on supporting girls during their education and encouraging them to complete primary and secondary school. By funding libraries, assisting teachers and providing books to underserved communities, they are putting the tools of change in the hands of the local population. The secret to their success? Thinking locally and partnering with locals for success.
Give Directly does exactly what it says it does. Instead of a microloan, they distribute cash to impoverished people. Studies showed that when they put cash in the hands of those who needed it most, they bought food, made repairs to their homes, sent their children to school, or took care of other necessities with it. Rather than dictating to the recipients what they must do and how they must do it, they approached them as friends lending a helping hand. Letting the people function with dignity has produced great results.
African Medical and Research Foundation
This NGO tackles everything from women’s health to clinical research. Its vast network of doctors, clinics, and outreach programs make it effective across many borders. The secret to their success is their multi-pronged approach. There is nothing they won’t try. Mobile clinics, street performers who deliver health education, lobbying officials, they do it all. Whatever it takes. In Africa, flexibility and innovation are key.
Only The Brave
Fighting the issues that plague the continent of Africa requires dedication and skill. The most successful NGOs are able to achieve results because they keep the people they are serving foremost in their planning. Providing simple, effective, locally sourced solutions is paramount when thinking about aid in Africa.