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ASK THE KIELBURGERS

Ask the Kielburgers: Where should my charitable dollars go? Add to ...

Welcome to Live Better, a new weekly feature from Globe Life dedicated to giving back and socially conscious living

THE QUESTION

In terms of international development, do you think it's better to donate to an education cause or a health cause? Where would my donation have more lasting impact?

THE ANSWER

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That's a great question. They are both such urgent issues in developing countries.

The good thing is that a boost in either area of education or health can have a positive impact on the other.

On the one hand, a child who is not sick, not caring for an ailing relative, or not looking after the domestic duties of a disabled or deceased relative, can more likely go to school.

On the other hand, education in such basic health issues as nutrition, sanitation and maternal health (during and after pregnancy) can help prevent the disease, illness and premature death that cripple families and whole generations.

It’s a win-win situation.

For instance, the interconnectivity of education and health was powerfully illustrated to us in the days following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. We arrived in Port-au-Prince to utter chaos. The airport was non-functional and the main seaport severely damaged.

Prior to the arrival of the U.S. and Canadian armed forces, and the large-scale foreign relief organizations, there were local Haitian organizations and individuals valiantly acting as first responders. At a church that had been turned into a makeshift hospital, we met a young Haitian nurse in a very dramatic way. She was stepping over the bodies to reach us, and almost collapsed with sheer exhaustion. She said she was grateful to see a familiar face.

She explained that we had met about 10 years ago, when she was a student at a Canadian-funded primary school near her village. She reintroduced herself as Mona, and explained that she was now a nursing student. We learned later that, heroically, she ran into her collapsing home during the after-shocks to get her medical supplies to start treating the wounded.

Last week, Mona graduated third in her class and will soon start as a community health worker in her home village of Pandiassou.

You could make the argument that, dollar-for-dollar, health projects have the largest impact because they are long-term investments in a community’s physical, social and economic capacity. But interestingly, these are frequently education-based, with the local schools serving as community meeting, learning and health information centres.

If you want to donate in a more targeted way, there are inexpensive disease prevention materials with big impacts, such as mosquito nets ($5-$10 per net) that help prevent malaria. Or you can give to more costly infrastructure projects, such as water catchment systems ($5,000-plus per system), which provide access to clean water for hundreds of people.

One way you could help is to press your Member of Parliament to fix Canada’s broken Access to Medicines Regime, so that affordable drugs to treat and prevent deadly diseases can be more efficiently provided to those in greatest need.

This is not to say that straight-up education projects aren’t extremely cost-effective, long-term development boosters, from outfitting classrooms ($1,500-plus) and building classrooms ($7,500-plus) to funding teachers (varies by country, approximately $1,200 a year) or donating to scholarship programs to send village graduates to high school or college. Then there are school nutrition programs (typically $10 per child per month).

Unfortunately, there is a lot of need around the world. Your generosity or donation to any cause you believe in will have a positive impact, so long as you do your research. Look for a reputable organization that operates in true partnership with the communities in which they work.

Ask whether they have local staff in the country, and whether they have made a long-term commitment to the region.

(For help on picking a charity, please feel free to e-mail us.)

Regardless of the specific project, education and health are the fundamental building blocks of any community. The bang for your buck in either area is one that will echo for generations.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter.

Readers are invited to send questions to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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