They were there after the tsunami hit Asia last year. They were there when Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast. They were in Afghanistan, providing aid to that war-torn country and losing five of their members to attacks by Taliban remnants. And they're there now, in Pakistan, providing aid and shelter to the approximately 3 million people who are spending the winter in tents after the devastating earthquake that killed at least 83,000 people and left millions at risk of freezing and/or starving this winter.
They are Doctors Without Borders, known throughout most of the world by the French Medecins Sans Frontieres -- or, if you prefer the Dutch, Artsen Zonder Grenzen. The fact is, Doctors Without Borders works all over the world, delivering emergency aid to people in more than 70 countries. They go anywhere and everywhere they're needed. And that's why they were chosen as one of the five organizations we are highlighting in this year's Foolanthropy campaign.
Teaching a man to heal
Founded in 1971 by a group of French doctors and reporters in the wake of a famine in Nigeria, Doctors Without Borders has grown into an international network with sections in 19 countries. Its staff of medical and non-medical professionals embarks on 3,800 missions a year, providing medical care to those affected by war, natural and man-made disasters, and a lack of health-care infrastructure.
But they don't just apply bandages. While a nonpartisan, independent agency, Doctors Without Borders does take strong and vocal stances on specific issues. Recently, it has been fighting on behalf of the poor in Africa so that they can have access to AIDS drugs, for the development of more effective treatments for malaria (which kills approximately 150 people an hour), and for nutrition and immunization programs worldwide. The organization has also begun providing mental health care to victims of trauma and neglect, such as street children.
When we at The Motley Fool decide which organizations we'll highlight in our annual Foolanthropy campaign, we look for charities that are creating sustainable solutions -- not just quick fixes. Doctors Without Borders fits the bill, through its advocacy work, as well as its education efforts. As described in Dan Bortolotti's book, Hope In Hell: The World of Doctors Without Borders, in many cases the medical volunteers spend more of their time training local members of the community than they do providing care.
They still make house calls, even if you no longer have a house
Want to know what it's like to be a refugee? Then take a virtual tour of a refugee camp, available on the Doctors Without Borders website. Refugees don't have homes. They may be separated from their family members. They may no longer even have a country. But many thousands at least receive medical care, thanks to Doctors Without Borders. Just in Sudan alone -- the tragedy that everyone knows about but no one seems to know what to do about -- 180 international volunteers and 3,000 Sudanese staff are working for Doctors Without Borders in 29 locations throughout Darfur.
As we here in America get ready to celebrate the holidays with presents and feasts, we can't help but think of those who struggle to secure food, shelter, and medical attention for themselves and their families. Doctors Without Borders' mission for more than three decades has been to help these people. And you can help, too, by making a donation.
Robert Brokamp is editor of Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement . He is also a member of the Foolanthropy 2005 committee.