Center for Civilians in Conflict
From the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to the lawlessness in Somalia, many of the world’s regions experience violence and warfare. Countless civilians struggle to survive in war zones while terrorist groups, warlords and corrupt governments fight. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., seeks to be an ally to the innocent people surrounded by enemies. By helping to establish legal rights for conflict victims, the center holds warring groups responsible for their actions.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, began her efforts to help victims of violence in 2001, when she traveled to Afghanistan after the war began. She found that neither side kept counts of civilian deaths or helped injured noncombatants and formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict in response. Ten years later, her organization, now called the Center for Civilians in Conflict, works to get justice for people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other locations around the world.

Today’s conflicts have severe human and economic costs. The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have caused the deaths of at least 174,000 noncombatants, and several times more have died because of destroyed hospitals and infrastructure, according to the Costs of War Project. Marla Ruzicka herself died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2005; her colleagues continued her work.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict uses multiple strategies to ensure human rights for those affected by violence. One way the organization helps is by working with U.S. legislators to design aid policies that protect and provide critical resources to conflict victims. The Marla Ruzicka fund, a USAID branch modeled and named after the founder, has given more than $7 million to help Iraqi families affected by conflict.

The U.S. government is not the only one that receives legislative advice from the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The nonprofit also works with foreign governments to create legal frameworks for giving civilians protection and the right to reparations. Recommendations that the center made to the Pakistani government to improve assistance funding to individual provinces have already been implemented.

Along with advocacy and legislation in the U.S. and abroad, the Center for Civilians in Conflict also works within combat zones to assess civilian damage and better create policies to help those affected. One of the nonprofit’s first actions was to take surveys of victims of the Iraq war in 2003. The center continues these surveys in Syria and Somalia, and it was the first group to publish reports on civilian casualties in Somalia.

To make it easier for governments to track civilian deaths, the Center for Civilians in Conflict trains local military and police forces to record and respond to civilian casualties. The government of Afghanistan is working to implement these strategies and has already created an office to measure civilian harm.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict consistently works to help violence victims get assistance funding from their own governments and from abroad to make up for the damage they suffer in wars. It also make sure governments can properly track civilian casualties and establish legal frameworks that give them rights to protection and reparation.

The damage from war is difficult to undo, but the Center for Civilians in Conflict makes sure innocent people can get the justice they deserve.

– Ted Rappleye

Sources: Civilians in Conflict, Civilians in Conflict 2, Costs of War, Global Communities
Photo: Civilians in Conflict

world humanitarian day
“One person can make a difference and every person should try.”

On Aug. 19, World Humanitarian Day is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, recognizing the struggle and sacrifice made by aid workers.

World Humanitarian Day first began in 2003 in the wake of a terrorist attack that killed 22 aid workers who were working at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. Since then, the day has been set aside not only to shine a spotlight on those who often go unrecognized for their efforts, but also to remember those killed or seriously injured.

Since that first year, millions around the world have helped raise awareness of the real dangers that many aid workers face. The 2012 campaign – “I was here” – was one of the most successful reaching one billion people. It even included a song of the same name by Beyoncé in collaboration with the U.N.

In a video message about this year’s event, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Last year, more humanitarian workers were kidnapped, seriously injured or killed than ever before. This is an outrage,”

World Humanitarian Day provides a chance to honor the fallen and support those who continue to work despite the dangers they face. This year’s theme, ‘The world needs more,’ is a campaign meant to recognize humanitarian work and raise awareness about the great work being done and to offer support. The organization is highlighting different aid workers around the world, posting short excerpts of their stories and what motivates them to keep going on its website.

In honor of this day, the U.N. asked people to be a part of the conversation by tweeting #humanitarianheroes and listing someone they admire. This allows people around the world to show support for the workers that risk their lives everyday and whose efforts often go unnoticed.

The organization has also put out an interactive map that highlights the work taking place all over the world including Iraq, the Central African Republic and the Gaza Strip.

World Humanitarian Day is the rare opportunity to celebrate the unique spirit that undertakes humanitarian work. It is a chance to recognize thousands of people who face incredible odds and dangers to help those most in need.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: World Humanitarian Day 1, World Humanitarian Day 2, Vimeo, IB Times
Photo: Starmedica

how much to donate
Determining how to and how much to donate can be awkward. Finding both the sweet spot, that appropriate while not at all depleting amount of cash, and the most influential charities, preferably the ones that include a reasonable explanation of where your money goes exactly, may seem easier than it actually is. Luckily, a plethora of online resources like charity trackers, donation calculation machines and posts such as this one here are designed to help.

Before anyone decides how much of their annual income to give away to charity, he or she should look at the statistics. About 65 percent of households in the United States give some percentage of their earnings to charities. Many give due to religious obligations, but religion-influenced donations in total make up less than a third of annual giving. It’s the norm to be generous, as religious or as secular as one may be.

More data, found by a McClatchy analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reveals that in 2007 the poorest quintile of Americans gave a higher percentage of their incomes to charity than the richest quintile did. While the poorest Americans donated 4.3 percent on average, the richest donated less than half of that, 2.1 percent. Of course, 2.1 percent of a large income dwarfs 4.3 percent of a small one.

Looking at income is a good place to begin to gauge how much one can feasibly give to charities. Instead of giving a fixed amount, try giving a percentage of that income. If 4.3 percent is too high, try 4 or 3.5 percent. If it could be higher, try 5 or 6 percent. As long as a household can still afford the irrefutable necessities and maybe simple luxuries, it’s probably not giving too much.

“You should be able to pay your bills, cover expenses without the use of credit cards and put some savings away for retirement before you make a donation to charities,” says Laurie L. Dove of How Stuff Works, an online educational site.

Paying off mortgages, grocery bills, electricity and heat bills, insurances, etc. is all deemed essential. Other expenses such as snacks at the movie theater or Diet Cokes from Stop&Shop are not. To increase the size and impact of donations, try withholding from hedonist pleasures, the costs of which add up. The more one restrains oneself, the more one saves, and the more one will be able to donate. And, let’s be clear, not having a Diet Coke never hurt anyone.

Even if a household cannot donate what it deems a substantial amount, maybe only 1.5 percent of its annual income, there are certain tricks to facilitate efficacy. One idea is to only give to a single charity. Having significant impact in one area will probably be more rewarding than having little to no impact in many. Good charities can be found at sites like Charity Navigator, BBB and Charity Watch.

Finding highly rated nonprofits is a good bet. As John Stossel from Fox News puts it, the less transparent a charity is, the less one should want to give it money.

“The definition of ‘charitable work’ is rarely clear. How should the board of a nonprofit’s first-class hotel expenses during a trip to Africa be classified?” he asked. “That’s why I give to charities I can watch.”

Another idea is to give monthly. If each donation seems measly, try thinking in the long term: donations are cumulative and in a year, the small monthly donations will coalesce into a larger one. In ten years, the annual donations will coalesce. Not everything has to be given immediately or in the present. Donation schedules help.

It’s understandable if a household living on a limited income can only donate a small amount of money. And fortunately, there are other ways to donate: one can give time by volunteering or canvassing; one can give attention by studying the issue and one can raise awareness by hosting living room forums. These things help, almost as much as a percentage of annual income does.

Adam Kaminski

Sources: Fox News, How Stuff Works
Photo: moils

desmond d'sa
Desmond D’Sa is the co-founder of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and is one of six 2014 Goldman prize winners for global grassroots environmental advocacy.

The Goldman award is one of the most honored international recognitions for environmental work and comes with the largest monetary reward – a lump sum of $175,000. The first Goldman prize was awarded in 1991 by philanthropists and environmental advocates Richard and Rhoda Goldman as a way to draw attention to the critical nature of international environmental issues. The award recognized ordinary individuals who made outstanding impact.

Many of the families that live and work in South Durban, including D’sa’s family of 13, were forced to migrate during the apartheid era.

“I was 15 and we lived in Cato Manor, the biggest community of mixed folk in South Africa. It was a very radical place in the apartheid era. But mum and dad were brutally forced to move by the army and security forces.”

Now the survivors of that dark period in South Africa’s history, and their children and grandchildren, continue to fight a daily battle against the heavy pollution.

Durban is a coastal industrial city in South Africa, infamous for its terrible air quality and the deteriorated health of its inhabitants, giving it the nickname “cancer alley.” South Durban contains nearly 70 percent of all South Africa’s industrial activity and has over 300 facilities. Oil and gas refineries, chemical plants and paper mills are among the hundreds of industries that pump toxins into the air and into the lungs of the area’s 300,000 residents.

“Leukaemia is 24 times the normal there. My mother was ill for years,” said D’sa. “Eleven of the 12 families in the council block where I live have asthma. In every block you have around 50 percent of people who have respiratory problems. I still look out my window and see refineries. I am a victim as much as anyone. We pay the price.”

Yet instead of acquiescing to his disadvantaged position, D’sa has spent the better part of his life fighting for the community’s health and environmental rights. D’sa work is not attributed to a single initiative or event, but to 20 years of activism involving legal battles, community education, civil rights advocacy and worker representation.

One of D’sa’s most celebrated achievements was implementing a method for gauging the harmful pollutants in the air through smell, for lack of capable scientific equipment. He compared the smells of each chemical in the air to commonly recognized household items, such as the smell of sulfur to rotton eggs, and distributed the Smells That Kill chart throughout the community.

D’sa’s goal was to educate the public so that they could better advocate for their rights. In 1990 the Westman waste management company opened a landfill near residential neighborhoods in South Durban without regard for the community. Their unsafe practices plagued nearby residents for almost two decades until the landfill reached capacity in 2009.

When Westman applied to extend its lease, D’sa took the opportunity to lead a community campaign against the extension and knew their efforts would fare better if the public had a better understanding of what they were up against. When the media caught wind of the foul behavior and citizens knowledgeably pled their case, D’sa’s efforts ended successfully and Westman was denied its lease. The company was eventually ordered to end all operations in November 2011.

Desmond D’sa is an example of human dedication and the power of one’s spirit to help others, even against the odds. Although already a Goldman prize winner and having fought the hard fight for many years, D’sa is only becoming more involved. He remains relentless in his fight against future battles, including the proposal to expand the Durban port to ten times its current capacity, which would bring devastating consequences to surrounding neighborhoods.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: Goldman Prize, The Guardian, Climate Reality Project
Photo: The Guardian

With the end of one of its most unproductive sessions in history, the United States Congress began its five-week recess on August 1. The break – mandated by a 1970 law – means that many representatives will be returning to their home states to campaign and meet with locals.

Here are a few ways to take advantage of the next five weeks:

1. Try to Meet Your Congressmen

Today, many congressmen have a portal on their websites where constituents can request a meeting – usually two weeks in advance. It helps to focus on a specific issue and to meet the congressmen on behalf of, or with,  an organized group. Of course, this will be much more difficult if the congressman is up for election.

To maximize their outreach while on recess, politicians are finding other methods of meeting with voters, like Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California who will hold a town hall on August 16, or Congressman Kevin Yoder of Kansas who has held a series of telephone town hall forums.

2. Send an Email 

Depending on the issue, certain activist groups and charities have pre-written emails that require no more than the sender to fill in his or her name and address and click send. Groups like Amnesty International, Bread for the World and  The Borgen Project use the address information to determine the sender’s representatives and automatically connects the user to his/her congressional leaders’ contact information.

Senders can even personalize the message. The entire process can take 30 seconds or less. Send an email with The Borgen Project here.

3. Make a Quick Call

Congressional offices keep track of how many people call in and for what they request of the congressman. A 30-second phone call to an office, explaining you are a constituent and you wish the congressman to support a certain issue, will likely be filed under a call report.

If a congressman receives a high number of calls regarding an issue, he or she is likely to consider this in making a decision. Activists can program the phone number for the office in his or her phone and call on a weekly basis. It helps to know exactly what you plan to say before making the call. Encouraging friends and family to make the same call can increase support for a cause.

4. Advocate on Social Media

Following back-to-back presidential wins for President Barack Obama, many political experts pointed to the emergence of the social media presence as a major factor in the success of his campaigns. While several other factors also help explain his wins, the fact remains that one month out from the 2012 election, Obama led Governor Romney on Twitter by some 19 million followers and Facebook by over 21 million likes.

Similarly, members of Congress are attempting to use social media to their benefit, which provides constituents another venue through which to contact their congressmen. Sharing articles relating to your issue of choice not only informs your friends and followers, but also reminds your leaders to take action.

Even if you are not quite ready to start a movement, a small effort can spur big change.

Erica Lignell

Sources: Time, Facebook 1, Facebook 2, Amnesty USA, Bread for the World, Iowa Food Systems Council, NY Times
Photo: Wikimedia

There are many great charities out there doing much-needed work to reduce global poverty. Here are some tips on deciding which charity you should give to.

1. Clarify your beliefs

Before you start looking for a charity to give to, be sure you know what you believe. Figure out what missions matter the most to you and your family. Do you care the most about protecting the environment? Fighting human trafficking? Providing education? Once you have selected the category that you care about most, you can begin to research the different methods of solving that problem.

2. Start broad

Use websites like, or to learn how different charities in the category you picked spend their money. Sites like these aggregate tax information and other records you can use to learn how different charities spend their money.

3. Do your research

Find a clear description of the charity’s mission, programs and achievements. Figure out what their goals are, how they measure their success and how they use that information to function better. If you can’t find this information easily, be wary. But be aware that some problems are hard to solve. Don’t place a dollar sign on a human life. Some organizations invest thousands of dollars rescuing women and children from slavery because, simply put, extracting slaves is hard and expensive.

Nancy Lublin CEO of  knows that “Low overhead doesn’t necessarily mean an organization is awesome at fighting poverty, or that its turnover is low and its people productive. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the group is spending wisely.”

Lublin cited Apple as an example from the for-profit world of a company with high overhead but incredible products.

“According to Apple’s Q4 2008 report, 78% of its expenses were sales, general, and administrative — the corporate equivalent of overhead. Seventy-eight percent! Yet nobody flinches,” she wrote.

4. Contact the charity and become personally involved

If you’re going to establish a long-term relationship with an organization, take the time to call them, or at least email them about your interest. Best of all, take the time to become personally involved in the charity you donate to allows you incomparable insight into how they operate.

“Be very reluctant to give to strangers,” Dan Moore, vice president of public affairs for GuideStar, an online source of financial information on charities told NBC. “If you know the organization and you know their work, you will know with some degree of confidence that your gift will be put to good use.”

5. Trust your gut

If an organization seems questionable, don’t give. Find a group that you feel comfortable supporting and give what you can.

Picking a charity to support can be daunting but taking the time to give well is incredibly rewarding.

– Sally Nelson

Sources: Fast Company, NBC
Photo: Infiniti

quotes about helping
Here is a list of 10 quotes about helping others, compiled by The Borgen Project:

1. “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” – Booker T. Washington

3. “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” – Maya Angelou

4. “Many small people, in many small places, do many small things, that can alter the face of the world.” – Unknown

5. “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn

6. “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” – Charles Dickens

7. “Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain.” – Helen Keller

8. “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

9. “I know of no great men except those who have rendered great service to the human race.” – Voltaire

10. “No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

Hannah Cleveland

Sources: GoodReads
Photo: The Motion Machine

emotional responses to global poverty

What is more valuable: $55 given now or $85 given in three months? Obviously, $85 has a higher monetary value than $55, but peoples’ perceptions of value take more into account than the number itself—for instance, people consider the value of getting paid immediately. What’s more, peoples’ emotional states also influence their perceptions of value.

For example, research has shown that people who feel sad tend to act impatiently, so sad people would more often choose the instant $55 over the delayed $85. As it might be in one’s best interest to wait for more money, sadness hinders one’s ability to make wise financial decisions.

So when making financial decisions, one should suppress all emotion! Right?

Not necessarily, argues a new study published in Psychological Science. One emotion, gratitude, actually improves our ability to factor long-term options into decision-making. This study found that people who felt gratitude chose the delayed $85 unless the instant payment was $63, rather than $55. By contrast, people who felt neutral or happy needed only the $55 to choose the instant cash option.

How do these psychological studies relate to philanthropy and emotional responses to global poverty, though?

Ending global poverty requires people to philanthropize, but philanthropy comes in different varieties. Consider two: On the one hand, a person can donate money to, say, have a freshwater well built for people who lack access to clean drinking water. This method of philanthropy—”direct aid,” for lack of a better name—gets real results quickly.

On the other hand, a person can donate money to policy groups that work to mobilize the resources of national governments. This is advocacy, a method of philanthropy that sees results less quickly but often sees bigger results than direct aid. Both methods of philanthropy have been indispensable in the fight against global poverty. Yet, advocacy seems to be a less favored method for givers; for instance, the revenues of the International Rescue Committee were roughly 29 times greater than those of the Center for Global Development, a major policy-shaping organization, in 2013.

Charitable donations are subject to the same time value of money questions that arose in the experiment on emotions and decision-making. “Is it more useful to take the $55 or $85?” becomes “is it more useful to build a well now or to shape policy that secures water for millions of people?” The answer to these questions depends on a number of factors: the desperation of those without the well, or the likelihood that policies will be changed, to name a few.

Philanthropists should probably consider both options, but certain emotions such as sadness seem to inhibit their ability to do so.

People are inundated with images or facts concerning poverty calculated to make them feel sad. To feel less sad, people then donate. However, by nature people want sadness to diminish quickly, which seems best achieved if their donations get quick results. Might this fact then cause them to overlook the potential of advocacy?

In the interest of preserving both direct aid and advocacy philanthropy, perhaps the potential philanthropist must approach global poverty in a certain way. Responding to the grim realities of poverty with gratitude for one’s own fortune might indeed be more useful than responding with sadness—to philanthropists seeking to make the best financial decision, at least.

-Ryan Yanke

Sources: PsyblogHarvard Psychological Science Magazine, The Borgen ProjectCenter for Global Development, International Rescue Committee
Photo: Huffington Post

END7, an international advocacy campaign, aims to end seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDS) by 2020. It is currently raising awareness of the seven most common NTDs, and the easy and cheap resources available to eliminate them.

Cheap is not an understatement — it takes only 50 cents to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDS.

While 2020 may seem like an overly optimistic date to have eliminated seven diseases, treatments for all NTDs exist — it’s just a matter of getting them to those in need. The seven diseases include Hookworm, Roundworm, Whipworm, Elephantiasis, Trachoma, River Blindness and Snail Fever.

Nearly one in six people worldwide, including over half a billion children, have these diseases living and breeding inside their bodies. The effects of these diseases can be devastating, causing blindness, massive swelling in limbs, severe malnutrition, pregnancy complications and anemia.

Apart from the horrific effects of NTDs, these diseases makes it increasingly difficult for affected families to lift themselves out of poverty. They prevent children from going to school.

In order to spread the word about their cause and the work being done to help victims of NTDs, END7 utilizes social media outlets, hoping to target young activists who will then share the word with others. The goal is to get the general public involved, not just doctors and health care professionals.

The campaign asks the community to donate to NTD prevention and treatment programs. These programs deliver the medications to schools and poor communities all over the globe.

How can it be so cheap? Drugs to treat NTDS are donated by pharmaceutical companies, allowing for the remaining cost to come only in distributing the drugs to those in need.

Bill Nighy, who provides a voice for many of the END7 videos, describes his astonishment in the opportunity at hand, stating, “I’m shocked by how much devastation these diseases cause. But what shocks me more is how simple the solution is.”

If pocket change can provide a cure for seven diseases, it seems that a cure in 2020 may not seem so far out of reach after all.

 — Caroline Logan

Sources: END7, TwitChange
Photo: Northeastern

child labor
Right now more than 168 million children ages 5 to 18 are victims of child labor practices. Of these children, 85 million work in conditions that endanger their health and many are exploited in varying ways.

It is these shocking truths that have motivated the likes of Travis Barker, Pharrell Williams, Mike Einziger of Incubus and world-renowned composer Hans Zimmer, to collaborate on a song titled, “Til Everyone Can See.” The song features Minh Dang, a survivor of child trafficking.

The inspiration for the anti-child labor tune originated from their visit with the International Labour Organization. The ILO is the oldest agency of the United Nations, and their child labor program is the largest in the world. Following the visit, the artists joined the ILO campaign, Red Card to Child Labour.

The campaign’s use of the red card is intentional, as the timing of the campaign lines up with one of the most highly viewed sporting events in the world; the FIFA World Cup. This global symbol of a red card is known for being synonymous with the concepts of wrong and stop, making it an ideal symbol for the campaign.

The song was released on June 12 of this week, which is also the World Day Against Child Labor. The music, written by Einziger of Incubus and the violinist, Ann Marie Simpson, has a global vibe. However, this is not the first time musicians have used such songs to take a stand against child labor.

Similar musical initiatives include Global Music against Child Labor, through which musicians of all genres have dedicated events and concerts to the movement. The awareness these artists raise undoubtedly plays a key part in ending child labor practices.

As the heartfelt song declares “no one can be free when there is slavery…its time to do our part, give children of the world a brand new start.”

— Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: ILO, Look To The Stars, Music For Good, USA Today
Photo: Flickr