I have supported only one charity over the past several years that focuses exclusively on humans vs. animals or the environment, and that is the International Rescue Committee. I have seen some of their work on the ground in Africa, and they have excellent ratings for using donations for programs, not administration and fundraising. They go places other aid organizations won't.
A few months ago I decided to take a break from volunteering with the Idaho Humane Society as a foster parent. After losing two kittens this summer and going through a really bat bout of kitty illnesses, I desperately needed a break. Even though work and life get very busy though, I like to have some amount of volunteer activity going on because, in the big picture, I want to make as many small differences as I can and not use the all too common excuse that "I'm busy" to justify not doing work that needs to be done.
Recently I watched two documentaries on refugees from Sudan trying to settle into the U.S. and the problems they encountered in adjusting to the American way of life. The challenges ranged from learning how to cook and dispose of trash to learning the language, mastering mass transportation, and dealing with racism. The biggest challenge seemed to be accepting the independence of America as opposed to the community style of life in Africa. It got me thinking that volunteering to assist refugees new to Boise might be a good way to lend a hand. I learned that the International Rescue Committee has opened a Boise chapter in the last two years, so I volunteered and was assigned a family from Africa.
So far I have been working with them on language and customs and getting to know them as best I can across the language barriers. I know a few Swahili words and they know some Swahili though it's not their primary language. They know a teeny bit of English and we are working on more. I really like their kids, especially a little girl of nearly two who likes my exotically light and straight hair and likes to fall asleep more or less petting me. I really like going to the store with them and seeing how they make decisions in an environment where they can't understand most of the language. I tried to explain the difference between tomato sauce and whole peeled tomatoes and diced tomatoes, but this was clearly a little of a mystery to them as all the cans had photos of tomatoes on them. So far it's been a little bit of an adventure, but rather fun, and I feel like it's time well spent. The language barrier is great practice for travel in a foreign land, and I am hoping to learn more Swahili and a bit of their native language along the way if I can. It's very clear that coming here, with nothing (not even any education to speak of) is a true challenge and if I can make that a little easier, I'll be glad. I have always felt welcomed on mainland Africa and if I can make some displaced Africans feel welcome in my own country, I'll be glad.