A Gift Guide for the Whole Planet

My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago. Instead, we make donations and do something fun, like see a play. It’s great: no shiny new books to add to the teetering tower of unread tomes, no scarves to add to the overflowing basket of same, and especially no complicated kitchen equipment to gaze up reproachfully from next to that never-used air fryer I got from a neighbor on Freecycle. Whether or not you give presents to your loved ones, here are some suggestions for your end-of-year donations.

1. GiveDirectly. What do low-income people need? Money! That’s the idea behind GiveDirectly, which sends stipends of around $40 a month for three years to poor villagers in Uganda, Liberia, and other African countries. It is amazing what a difference this small sum makes. For the price of your weekly deli sandwich and soda, recipients can pay their children’s school fees, fix up their houses, start a small business, or get medical care.

2. The Bail Project. The cash bail system is completely unfair. Got the money? Go home. Don’t you? Stay locked up. Not only does this keep jails filled with people who have not been convicted of a crime, it prevents those people from effectively working on their cases, separates them from their families, jobs, and schooling, and can destroy their lives even if they are eventually found not guilty. The Bail Project is simple: It pays your bail, and after trial, the money goes back into the kitty to help the next person. So far, it’s bailed out more than 26,000 people. Help say help more.

3. Afghan Women’s Fund. Remember Afghan women? Despite vicious repression by the Taliban, which bans them from even visiting amusement parks, they continue to strive for education, health care, and basic fairness in one of the worst countries in the world for women. While it has to work carefully—two of its volunteers have been murdered and one was tortured—the AWF perseveres, sending school supplies for girls to use at home, helping women use their sewing skills to earn a living, and keeping local elementary schools going . Plans are in the works for a new program that could put education within reach for literally tens of thousands of Afghan girls and young women. “The struggle continues,” says Fahima Gaheez, AWF’s founder and leader, “and we shall overcome this brutality.”

4. Abortion-related funds. There are a lot of these, and the National Network of Abortion Funds has a list where you can find ones in your state. A few specific funds to check out are up next.

5. The Brigid Alliance helps women and others who need to travel for abortion. It pays for everything but the procedure itself: transportation, lodging, food, child care, whatever it takes.