How do you give back to your community, be it local or global?
Besides trying to lend a hand to neighbors when needed, my two favorite ways to give back are through Heifer International and Kiva. These two organizations are very different.
Heifer seeks to improve the livelihood of people all over the world, the US included, by giving those in poverty livestock and the education they need to raise the livestock and profit from it. For example, this might mean learning how to tend to and milk the goats, learning how to compost their manure to till into the garden, learning how to milk the goat to improve the family's nutrition and how to safely sell and make cheeses from the goat's milk to sell at market AND every April to pass the gift on - to give an offspring, a baby goat, to another family in the community and to teach them what you know about raising goats (or whatever the livestock happens to be). Through agriculture (bees, chickens, ducks, cattle, rabbits, goats, yaks, water buffalo, sheep, trees, etc.) Heifer teaches people how to raise themselves up out of poverty and then asks them every April to continue this gift so their entire community may benefit from the knowledge and prosperity that caring for livestock and farming the land can bring. If you ever want to give us a gift, please do so through our online gift registry with Heifer. We LOVE this gift! I can no longer give someone "food" at food drives because that helps them for what, 1-2 meals? Giving through Heifer lasts a lifetime or more and teaches someone how to help himself or herself. The Chinese Proverb rings true: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Kiva is also a wonderful organization through which you can give microloans to people all over the world. I like being able to choose who to loan money to because mainly, I care about improving the lives of women and their children around the world. I also love the randomness of being able to help a complete stranger who will never meet me but will hopefully feel how small a place the world really is by asking for help and receiving it and how good people are, despite the governments under which they live, to want to help them prosper peacefully. My Kiva profile is here and as I receive money back from a loan, I find someone else to lend it to. $25 is the minimum amount you can lend but that goes a very long way in some countries. 100% of the money you lend goes to the person needing the loan, however, I recommend donating an additional 10% of that amount to help Kiva maintain the rest of its costs so that in the future, Kiva can continue to do the same.
Most of all I love that these two organizations help me see people from other cultures as just ordinary people who want to improve their circumstances, usually for their children's sake. I think it is important to have a lens through which to view others that is devoid of any government's filter. We are all human sharing the same basic biological needs and we are all citizens of the world.