“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” ― Benjamin Franklin
🎉 Happy New Year! May your new year be filled with happiness, health and prosperity.
Today I continue a tradition started four years ago, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy causes, organizations, and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. Last year was a particularly daunting one for those, who like myself, believe in and fight for the advancement human rights, civil rights, social justice, environmental justice and the rule of law.
Every hour of every day, it felt like my sensories were constantly being overloaded by a deluge of “Breaking News” stories. Add to this the seemingly endless number of unprecedented natural disasters that struck almost every continent on the planet: torrential rainfalls, flooding, mudslides, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. These disasters were responsible for thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in property damage, scarity in resources, and social instability.
Perhaps the only silver lining to a year fraught with upheavals and tragedies was the ingenuity and indefatigable spirit of human beings. We rose to every occasion and proved (yet again) that we are stronger when we respect, support, and uplift each other. This truth as well as the organizations and individuals highlighted below give me great hope and a renewed sense of purpose for the year that lies ahead.
So, without further ado, here are 10 human rights causes worthy of your support in 2018.
1. Unidos Por Puerto Rico (United For Puerto Rico) is an organization created by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s wife Beatriz Rosselló in collaboration with the private sector, is providing a way for anyone to help victims in Puerto Rico. The initiative aims to provide aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the impact of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. The organization also has a list of needed construction materials and other supplies for those who would rather donate goods instead of money. Some of the pressing supply needs in Puerto Rico include bottled water, baby wipes, diapers, baby formula, pain relief medication for adults and children, canned milk, mosquito repellant, stomach relief and diarrhea medication, first-aid kits, blankets, and pillows. People can also donate through One America Appeal, a fundraising campaign originally launched by all five living former U.S. Presidents. The campaign lets donors contribute funds to Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the Virgin Islands, a non-profit organization that was established 25 years ago by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands for relief efforts.
2. The Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) is a nonprofit humanitarian agency and member of the Islamic Relief Worldwide group of organizations. IRUSA was founded in California in 1993. In addition to international relief and development initiatives, Islamic Relief USA also sponsors and funds domestic projects ranging from emergency disaster responses to assisting the American homeless population and supporting those who cannot afford basic healthcare. In 2005, IRUSA aided the victims of Hurricane Katrina by providing over $2 million in assistance and sending field workers to distribute aid and assess the needs of the victims. Partnering with IRUSA for the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake that struck Indonesia, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated $1.6 million worth of emergency supplies. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, IRUSA staff and volunteers worked at shelters in New Jersey to house displaced residents. In 2014, IRUSA’s disaster response team assisted Alabama residents affected by tornadoes. In 2015, IRUSA gave $50,000 to assist Detroit residents whose water had been turned off due to difficulty paying their bills.
Recent international emergency projects include assisting displaced Syrians in Syria and neighboring countries, and assisting refugees arriving in Greece in 2015. In 2016, IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team responded to emergencies in the United States including the Flint water crisis, Louisiana flooding, and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. Recent non-emergency projects IRUSA have implemented or supported in the U.S. include after-school meal programs, a prison re-entry program, food aid on American Indian reservations, and assistance for victims of domestic violence. Besides the Virginia headquarters, IRUSA maintains regional offices in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and two in California. In 2015, IRUSA was named a Top-Rated Nonprofit by Great Nonprofits. In 2016, IRUSA was awarded four out of four stars by Charity Navigator.
3. The International Organization for Migration is an intergovernmental organization that provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers. In September 2016, IOM became a related organization of the United Nations. It was initially established in 1951 as the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) to help resettle people displaced by World War II. It is the principal intergovernmental organization in the field of migration, with 166 member states and eight observer states. IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people.
The IOM Constitution gives explicit recognition to the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement of persons. IOM works in the four broad areas of migration management: migration and development, facilitating migration, regulating migration, and addressing forced migration. Cross-cutting activities include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration. In addition, IOM has often organized elections for refugees out of their home country, as was the case in the 2004 Afghan elections and the 2005 Iraqi elections. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
4. The Global Fund for Women is a non-profit foundation funding women’s human rights initiatives. It was founded in 1987 by New Zealander Anne Firth Murray, and co-founded by Frances Kissling and Laura Lederer to fund women’s initiatives around the world. The Global Fund for Women is an international grantmaking foundation that supports groups working to advance the human rights of women and girls. They advocate for and defend women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world. Funds that support the Global Fund for Women are raised from a variety of sources and are awarded to women-led organizations that promote economic security, health, safety, education and leadership of women and girls. The Global Fund for Women accepts grant proposals in any language and in any format. It also publishes “Impact Reports” which focus on specific issues impacting women and girls. The Global Fund for Women headquartered in San Francisco, California. Since 1988, the foundation has awarded over $100 million in grants to over 4,000 organizations supporting progressive women’s rights in over 170 countries.
5. FACE Africa is a nonprofit organization founded by Liberian national Saran Kaba Jones in 2009 that provides access to clean and safe drinking water for rural communities in Liberia using an innovative social enterprise model to fund water projects. In 2003, Liberia emerged from a long and devastating civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. The country suffered massive destruction and the very fabric of society was torn apart; infrastructures were in ruins – roads, buildings, health clinics, communications networks, schools, farms and factories were almost totally destroyed. With an 80% unemployment rate; extreme poverty with average earnings of $1 a day; no electricity; no running water or sewage system; and an inadequate education system, the country had enormous needs.
It was a conflict that forced Saran Kaba Jones and her own family to flee the devastation when she was just 8 years old. In 2008, a then 26 years old Saran, returned to her home country and saw the remnants of war and its attendant ills. She promised herself that she would work to contribute to the improvement of the human condition of her people. Saran, along with many others including FACE Africa’s Country Manager Emmett G. Wilson, began the difficult process of trying to rebuild their society… one piece at a time.
FACE Africa was born from the ashes of this conflict, out of a need to help others reclaim the means to build a better life and prosper. It began with Fund a Child’s Education (FACE) but Saran quickly realized that one of the major impediments to education was the lack of access to safe drinking water. In a majority of cases, children contracted one of the many illnesses caused by unsafe water or that the school’s facilities were inadequate to attend to a child’s sanitation needs. Overall, the social and economic consequences of unsafe water penetrate into realms of education, opportunities for gainful employment, physical strength and health, agricultural and industrial development, and thus the overall productive potential of a community, nation, and/or region.
FACE Africa, which relies on fundraising events and donations for its projects, focuses on implementing low-tech water solutions in the country’s hard-to-reach rural areas. The organization is currently working as part of the WASH in Schools (WinS) Initiative, which the Liberian Government identified as the first step to recovery from the Ebola outbreak. FACE Africa’s first target has been Rivercess County’s Central C1 Education District, where only 9 of the district’s 26 schools had access to safe water before the initiative was launched. Thus far, FACE Africa has completed 5 additional safe water points and are stepping up their efforts to ensure that the remainder of the district’s 2,300 students gain access to safe water for drinking, cleaning, hand washing and hygiene purposes. Over the next few months, FACE Africa will be working with the county’s education authorities to conduct a comprehensive WASH assessment of all other education districts, with the eventual aim of rolling out its initiative throughout the county.
6. Charity: Water is a non-profit organization that provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. The organization was founded in 2006 and has benefitted over 7.3 million people. Based in New York City, Charity: Water uses both mainstream and social media platforms to raise awareness, including annual galas and events arranged via Twitter. The initiative, which has received donations from 300,000 individuals, provides GPS coordinates and photos of the wells it builds. The organization has 70 full-time staff members, 10 interns and more than 800 volunteers. 100% of its public donations are used to fund clean water projects, as its operating costs are funded by private donors, foundations and sponsors. Charity: Water has raised more than $252 million for more than 24,537 water projects in 24 countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Malawi. As of May 2017, Charity Navigator rates the organization among their highest-rated charities, with a full 4 out of 4 stars, and an overall rating of 92.29 out of 100 – with an ‘Accountability & Transparency’ score of a maximum of 100.
7. Re-Plate is a nonprofit and technological innovation that matches surplus food from local businesses to communities in need. A technology company at its core, Re-Plate has developed an app through which companies (mostly tech ones so far) can alert the organization when they have food leftover from meetings or company provided meals. A driver is dispatched to safely collect the often gourmet meals and deliver them to willing shelters or pantries, or sometimes even provides them directly to those living on the streets. The organization was founded in Berkerly, California on January 1, 2016 by Maen Mahfoud. Mahfoud grew up in Syria and saw the effects of poor access to food nearly every day. When he immigrated to California, he was surprised to find similar disparities within San Francisco. Mahfoud believes food is a great way to bridge the gap between income levels and become more aware of problems in our communities. To datem Re-Plate has rescued close to a million of high-quality meals for low-income communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has created 833,000 meals, saved 277,000 gallons of water, and diverted 13,770 pounds of CO2 from the environment. By 2020 Re-Plate projects it will recover 30M pounds of food a year.
8. Plant-for-the-Planet is a children’s initiative that aims to raise awareness amongst children and adults about the issues of climate change and global justice. The initiative also works to plant trees, and considers this to be both a practical and symbolic action in efforts to reduce the effect of climate change. In 2011, it reached a goal of planting a million trees. The idea for Plant-for-the-Planet was first developed in Germany in 2007 by Felix Finkbeiner, a nine-year old boy, who was instructed by a teacher to prepare a school report on the issue of climate change. While conducting his research, Finkbeiner came across the story of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who had worked to plant over 30 million trees across Africa as part of her ‘Green Belt Movement‘. At the end of his presentation, Finkbeiner shared the idea that the children of the world could plant 1 million trees in every country on Earth. On the 28th of March 2007 the first tree was planted at Finkbeiner’s school, thus marking the official launch of Plant-for-the-Planet. Students in Bavaria and across Germany also got involved and continued to plant trees under the initiatives name. Colin Mummert helped spearhead the Munich campaign for Plant-for-the-Planet. After one year 150,000 trees were planted and, in 2008, Finkbeiner was able to reach a larger audience becasue he was elected to the UNEP children’s board during the International UNEP Children’s Conference in Norway.
Since its creation in 2007, Plant-for-the-Planet effectively developed into a worldwide movement. In August 2009, when Finkbeiner spoke at the UNEP Tunza Children and Youth Conference in Daejeon, South Korea. There he promoted Plant-for-the-Planet and was able to gain support from children all around the world, who also promised to plant the 1 million trees in their own countries. Plant-for-the-Planet participants see each tree as an act of social justice as well as a contribution towards environmental and climate protection. The goal of planting 1 million trees was reached in 2011 by children in 93 countries. As the organization has grown so has its main goal. As of December 2017, children have planted 15,205,240,958 trees around the world.
9. Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that traces its official launch back to October 11, 2012 – the first International Day of the Girl Child. Dignitaries from around the world gathered at the United Nations in New York City that day and, surrounded by photographs of child brides as young as 5, pledged to do whatever it took to end child marriage. But the campaign’s roots stretch back another decade, to Herat, Afghanistan, where visual journalist Stephanie Sinclair was working on a story about girls and women who set themselves on fire. There, she discovered a disturbing pattern among the scarred patients in the hospital’s burn ward: Most of them had been forced into marriage as children. Horrified to learn that child marriage was common in communities throughout the world, Sinclair dedicated the next 10 years of her life to documenting the practice in the hopes of inspiring change. Sinclair joined forces with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to create a transmedia campaign aimed at raising awareness of the problem, supporting girls who are already married and ultimately halting the practice that affects one girl every two seconds—or an estimated 142 million more girls over the next decade. In addition, child marriage is inextricably linked to many of the world’s ills: child and maternal mortality, poverty, gender inequality, and the spread of HIV/AIDS—and ending the practice will help stamp out many of these problems.
Too Young to Wed’s traveling photo exhibit is the centerpiece of its advocacy effort and features the haunting stories of child brides from Nepal, India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and yes, even the United States. The exhibition continues to travel the world and partner with the UNFPA as well as other organizations such as Equality Now, the Population Council, Timret LeHiwot Ethiopia and the Canadian and UK governments. Together, Too Young to Wed not only advocates for an end to child marriage, but provides on-the-ground support to the girls in the communities where these pictures were made. Its first pilot project is a livelihood initiative in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia that employs women who have escaped child marriage and/or have been trafficked. By producing and selling high-quality soaps, these women generate a sustainable income for themselves and their families. By increasing the visibility of child marriage, Too Young to Wed hopes to provoke thoughtful dialogue and ACTION to end the practice and eradicate its consequences.
10. Life After Hate, Inc. (LAH) is U.S. nonprofit created in 2011 by former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement. Through powerful stories of transformation and unique insight gleaned from decades of experience, LAH seeks to inspire, educate, guide, and counsel. Whether working with individuals who wish to leave a life of hate and violence or by helping organizations (community, educational, civic, government, etc.) grapple with the causes of intolerance and racism, Life After Hate works to counter the seeds of hate we once planted. Through personal experience and highly unique skill sets, the organization has developed a sophisticated understanding about what draws individuals to extremist groups and, equally important, why they leave. Inspired by the organization’s work, Former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernnick donated $50,000 to Life After Hate in May 2017.
Before leaving office in January, the Obama administration announced that it had awarded $400,000 to a Chicago-based organization dedicated to combating right-wing domestic extremists. Jeh Johnson, then the Homeland Security Secretary, singled out the work of the group, Life After Hate, when the announcement was made. But days later, the incoming Trump administration reversed course, stopping the grant pending a review. In June 2017, when the Trump administration announced its own grants to fight extremism, Life After Hate was not on the list. The move to pull back the money from LAH received renewed scrutiny after the violent, deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia left dozen injured and one dead. It also prompted more than 8,000 supporters of LAH to donate more than $500,000.
Use the Contact form to submit corrections or to nominate a cause, organization, or individual you believe should be acknowledged and featured in next year’s edition. All nominations must be submitted by November 15, 2018.