By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

There are a thousand ways to provide a lift to those in need, from donating to your local food pantry to buying Fair Trade apparel.  Helping people in need to “go green” might seem like a frivolity for further down the list. But bringing strategic green technologies and ideas to places and people in need turns out to be an especially effective way to address poverty.

Green power is helping developing communities across the planet to leapfrog fossil fuel dependence and move directly to solar and wind power. In communities in Asia and Africa, villages are benefiting from some of the latest developments in sustainable energy, agriculture and water purification practices.

Here are three donation-worthy groups (which accept online donations) that are targeting immediate needs:


Help light up Africa with solar energy by helping Solar Sister, a program that empowers local women as the business distributors for solar lights and solar electricity-generation. Solar power helps villagers reduce their use of polluting kerosene lamps that create harmful indoor air pollution.

About three-quarters of a billion women and children breathe these fumes daily, the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, according to the non-profit. The lamps also emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening climate change.

Solar Sister works through local networks to both empower women as entrepreneurs and solar distributors and relieve them of their outmoded lights.

In addition to providing a source of income and clearing the air, the new solar lights are more affordable than kerosene, a triple win for families in off-grid byways. (See more stats at Solar Sister.)


Converting old-style wood-burning and charcoal cookstoves to newer technology can reduce indoor and outdoor pollution by two-thirds or more, curbing respiratory illnesses and saving the lives of an estimated 1.6 million people who die every year from indoor soot-related pollution,  according to the World Health Organization.

Cutting back on soot pollution also reduces the black carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Black carbon in the atmosphere absorbs solar radiation, amplifying the greenhouse effect that’s responsible for global warming.

People can help hasten the transition to cleaner cookstoves in developing countries by donating to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Clean, whose spokesperson Julia Roberts has embraced this cause. Clean Cookstoves, is developing standards for the cookstoves in an effort to promote the very best technology (entrepreneurs are developing ever more efficient stoves that use far less wood than traditional ones).

Like Solar Sister, Clean Cookstoves aims to foster manufacturing and connect suppliers with those in need to strengthen local economies.

Like solar lights, cleaner cookstoves help the wider environment by reducing the use of traditional fuels (usually firewood or charcoal) and thereby helping curb climate change.

But for the villagers, the impact is immediate: improve health and safety.  Women, who are typically tasked with collecting the firewood, are sometimes assaulted in warring regions as they travel miles from home in search of fuel.

Securing a cleaner cookstove means fewer trips into the bush, peace of mind and renewed family time.

The Nature Conservancy  also has begun microfunding programs in developing nations to provide cookstoves from local manufacturers. One project that’s up and running helps people in Tanzania buy cook stoves that use about 50 percent less fuel. You can donate toward that effort by contributing to the Nature Conservancy program . The Tanzania project (we wish they’d publish more about it) is just one of the Nature Conservancy’s  nature-supporting gifts, which come with a mailed, emailed or printed gift that you can present to the recipient.


The International Rescue Committee, known for intervening in dire situations across the globe, has developed a program called New Roots that helps refugees settle in the US.

New Roots has established community gardens in several cities, the Bronx, Dallas, San Diego, to help refugees grow their own vegetables and in some cases sell extra produce. The gardens help the newcomers become self-sufficient more quickly and provide a link back home by giving them space to grow fresh, familiar foods.

For refugees from agrarian backgrounds, the move into an urban environment can be jarring. “This really helps them find their footing. It’s therapeutic in a way,” said Ruth Fertig, online coordinator for IRC.

The gardens also have proven to be a great community base for new Americans, where they can talk with others in their native language, a respite from the rigors of establishing a new residence, finding a job and situating kids in new schools.

While it seems like the garden might be an extra, it actually helps anchor the families and enhances their sense of belonging, and the produce saves them a few dollars on groceries, Fertig said.

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