Thanks to globalization, the Internet, and improved systems for communication, it is now easier for small, non-profit organizations to contribute to social improvements elsewhere in the world.
Many people in Basel, using their specialist backgrounds, have decided to become involved in charitable initiatives, to tackle the social issues that they feel most strongly about.
A tale of two charities
The charitable trust EACHSA (Educational Aid to the CHildren of Southern Africa), has steadily been making inroads into tackling educational inequalities in South Africa through its book donation program. Its Basel connection comes through one of its founders, Professor Max Bergman, who is based at the Institute of Sociology, Basel University and also serves as Visiting Professor at the Universities of Johannesburg and and Witwatersrand, South Africa. The charity's core team and partners in Switzerland, the UK and South Africa, have jointly launched a number of educational projects.
EACHSA has been working with schools in South Africa, supplying them with books, to help children learn English. The children speak any one of nearly 100 languages, and although they hope to learn English at school, they have little in the way of English books to read. EACHSA has been collecting undamaged children's books in English and shipping them to the University of Johannesburg, after which they are then distributed to the South African children who need them most. Its latest shipment has made a huge difference to two local institutions.
Philile Preschool is situated in Diepsloot informal settlement, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The principal, Lauren, started this school two years ago by converting three shipping containers into two classrooms and one storeroom. The school has access to a communal tap for water and septic tank toilets but no electricity. Two years down the line the school has three teachers and 60 energetic and happy students age 2 – 6 who all come from the surrounding area. The books donated from EACHSA have provided very needed resources as well as teaching aids to students and staff alike.
The remainder of the shipment has assisted the Foundations School in Melville, Johannesburg. This school serves more than 300 hundred children aged 7 – 14 each year and is part of the Sparrow Schools Foundation. The EACHSA donation will create a library as well as provide resources and tools to be used during play therapy, the rest of the shipment was distributed to the rest of the Sparrow Schools Foundation.
Another Basel-based charitable organization is Cielo Azul, headed up my Monika Senn, who by day works as a primary school teacher. In 2000, she initiated an intercultural exchange project in Ecuador, which has expanded into a fully-fledged association with collaborators in Switzerland, the UK, Mexico and Ecuador.
Cielo Azul works to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged children and families in Ecuador. Its philosophy is based around enabling indigenous people to help themselves. It works closely with two coordinators in Ecuador to understand the needs of the local population and schools. The coordinators examine incoming requests by visiting communities and talking to inhabitants to get a picture of the situation in general.
Every September Cielo Azul runs an Ecuadorean lunch in Basel where people can sample local cuisine and hear more about the organization and how to get involved. Cielo Azul's projects are always run as an official collaboration with teachers, volunteers and the local community. In addition, local expertise is used wherever possible. For example in one sanitation project to set up composting toilets in a number of locations, a local carpenter and two bricklayers were involved.
Other projects that Cielo Azul has worked on in Ecuador, include restoring infrastructure of schools, setting up of mobile libraries, collaborating with a local health care centre, developing courses to further teacher education and a land cultivation project.
Cielo Azul also runs a volunteer program, whereby those interested in the organization's goals can get hands-on experience in Ecuador. Cielo Azul's website has information on volunteering opportunities and write-ups of the personal experiences of people who have worked on projects in Ecuador.
The Basel Benefit
An increasing number of professionals are finding that non-profit organizations offer them an opportunity to use their skills in a new and fulfilling way outside the work place and to collaborate with other like-minded people. Their involvement has helped non-profit organisations to become more sophisticated in how they operate. Basel's thriving international community is proving to be an enthusiastic supporter of these worthy organizations.
Photo: Faiz Kermani