Readers often ask me how they can help the people I write about, whether it's Iraqis who are endangered because they helped Americans, or Afghan women, or Israelis and Palestinians working for peace.
So, for those who haven't completed their end-of-the-year giving, I'm listing a few charities - some quite small - that are working hard, and sincerely, on these problems. These are organizations that are run, or staffed, by folks I've come to know in the course of my reporting. I admire them for their dedication, and because they keep on plugging away at problems that seem overwhelming at best or insoluble at worst.
Obviously, the list is not comprehensive. Among better-known groups, I admire the work of Care with women in Afghanistan - www.Care.org - and of Women for Women International - www.womenforwomen.org - which permits donors to sponsor an Afghan woman. I'm also a great fan of Seeds of Peace - www.seedsofpeace.org - which brings Israeli, Arab, and American Jewish kids together at a Maine summer camp and conducts programs to keep the dialogue going.
The four groups below are less known, and I think they deserve wider notice. I've included websites that detail their work and explain how donations can be made.
The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) - www.refugeerights.org. I've gotten many reader inquiries about how to aid Iraqis whose lives are threatened because they worked as translators or staff for the U.S. military or American civilian officials. I have written extensively on this topic, which I - and many U.S. military officers - consider a test of American honor. We have betrayed these Iraqis by promising in 2008 to issue them 25,000 special visas over five years and then delivering fewer than 4,000. The flow has slowed to a trickle, apparently because of new security checks, even though most of these people were already heavily vetted as part of their jobs. The situation is acute now that our troops have left Iraq; radical Shiite militias have pledged to hunt down everyone who worked for the Americans over the last eight years.
IRAP, based in New York City, offers free legal assistance on obtaining those promised visas - both to applicants inside Iraq and to those who have fled to neighboring countries. The legal advice is provided by top U.S. law firms and through projects at U.S. law schools around the country.
I've been in touch with some of IRAP's clients, including interpreters who accompanied U.S. forces on dangerous missions or helped U.S. investigators uncover fraud in Iraqi contracts. Many of them are now in hiding. Donating to IRAP is one of the few ways ordinary Americans can help.
The Linda Norgrove Foundation - www.lindanorgrovefoundation.org. This one is also very personal to me. Linda Norgrove was an experienced and dedicated Scottish aid worker who headed a large U.S. aid project in eastern Afghanistan. Unlike many such projects, this one was widely acknowledged to be a success. I drove around to remote Afghan villages with Linda in April 2010 and watched her in action. She loved the country, she knew the language and culture of the people, and she understood what kinds of projects they needed.
Linda was kidnapped by Taliban on Sept. 26, 2010, and killed 12 days later, during a botched rescue attempt by U.S. Navy SEALs (one mistakenly threw a fragmentation grenade that killed her). In a fitting tribute, her family, who still live in Scotland, have started this foundation in her honor; it has focused on small projects that help Afghan women and children affected by the war - just the kind of work that Linda did so well.
Traveling Mercies - www.travelingmercies.org. This organization is the brainchild of one Philadelphia-area businessman who travels to Afghanistan and Kenya building water systems for the poor (he has just finished setting up a water cooperative serving several villages in Kenya). I've watched Aldo Magazzeni at work in a slum in Herat, in western Afghanistan, where he used funds raised by Pennsylvania universities and churches to buy pumps and plastic piping, enlisted locals to dig the trenches, and is having a local water engineer design a system that linked the new pipelines with the city water main.
In a culturally smart move, he doubled the impact, using it to promote gains for Afghan women. Elders happy about receiving clean water were receptive to Suraya Pakzad, founder of the Voice of Women Organization (VMO), who pushes for girls' education and runs shelters for battered women. I've visited her shelters and seen the women whose lives she's saved. Donations to VMO can also be made via Traveling Mercies.
Intercultural Journeys - www.interculturaljourneys.org. This group of Israeli, Arab, Iranian (and other ethnic) musicians tries to bridge cultural divides through music. Its founders include Udi Bar-David, an Israeli-born cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Majid Alsayegh, a Philadelphia-based engineer who was born in Iraq. Its concerts - in the United States and abroad - have included an Arab-Israeli violinist, a Syrian-Venezuelan percussionist, and a Jordanian-Palestinian oud player, among others. At a time when sectarian divides are worsening in the Middle East, and anti-Muslim prejudice has grown in the United States, Intercultural Journeys promotes vitally needed cross-cultural dialogue through music and art.