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How to Do Charity in the Caribbean: Don't Send Money, Bring Crayons

Sometimes making a big difference is as easy as stuffing a box of crayons in your carryon.

Melody Wren rarely goes on a trip these days without stuffing scores of diapers, books, crayons, and Teddy bears into her luggage. Wren, a Canadian travel journalist, hand-delivers supplies directly to the neediest, for her a deeply satisfying alternative to writing a check to a charity. In Wren's forays around the world, she has found that if each visitor can put a little something back at a destination, "it can make an enormous overall difference."

In the brave new world of responsible travel, charitable giving has gotten personal. Many travelers are finding real-time ways to practice front-lines philanthropy -- whether volunteering, traveling sustainably, or, in Wren's case, packing a bag full of essentials for people in need. It's a concept that's gaining in popularity: The British website Stuff Your Rucksack (, directs travelers to organizations and projects around the globe for which they can "stuff their rucksack" and hand-deliver much-needed supplies.

You don't have to travel halfway around the planet to make an impact, though. For North Americans, the Caribbean is one of the world's loveliest destinations, with some of the most glamorous resorts on the globe. It's also a region bedeviled by poverty, a reality that many travelers are rarely exposed to -- or have little inkling how to help. The most vulnerable of the disadvantaged are children, and nearly every island has a handful of children's homes or orphanages: generally small, locally operated organizations that receive little or no government assistance. If a Caribbean holiday is in your future, consider packing a little something extra for the following organizations, listed below with their current needs. (For other islands, contact tourist boards or Unicef [] to hook you up with local charities.) Keep in mind that it's always a good idea to contact the home before you come calling.

In the Bahamas, the Ranfurly Homes for Children (tel. 242/393-3115;, on Mackey Street in Nassau, New Providence Island, has provided a safe haven for children who have been abandoned, abused, or orphaned since 1956. Located next door to the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts, it's currently home to 32 children ages 8 to 18.

If you're going to the Bahamas, bring along:

  • Basic toiletries (lotion, deodorant, soap)
  • Towels, facecloths
  • Scissors, pens; school supplies
  • Underwear (ages 8Â?18)
In Jamaica, the SOS Children's Villages, a private, nondenominational and nonpolitical welfare organization (and a Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate), operates a children's home in Montego Bay (tel. 876/953-7845). The home houses 99 children ages 1 to 18 and desperately needs basic supplies.

If you're going to Jamaica, bring along:
  • Children's underwear
  • School supplies (notebooks, pencils, crayons)
  • Basic toiletries (soap, shampoo)
  • Diapers
In the Dominican Republic, the DREAM (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project ( accepts hand-delivered educational materials and books at its headquarters in Patio Plaza, Calle Principal, Cabrete (tel. 809-571-0497).

If you're going to the Dominican Republic, bring along:
  • Spanish-language books (not above the sixth-grade level) -- the project even has a "Dream List" of books on Amazon (
  • School supplies (notebooks, construction paper, pencils, scissors, rubberbands, markers, masking tape, chalk)
  • Art supplies (glue, balloons, paint and paintbrushes, pipe cleaners, molding clay, Playdough)
  • Educational toys (puzzles, Legos, dominos)
  • Band-aids, soap, Q-tips, mosquito repellent
In Grenada, the nonprofit Queen Elizabeth Home for Children, in Tempe St. George (tel. 473/440-2327), run by Marion Pierre, is the home to children 2 to 10 years old. (Its book and video needs were recently amply met by the New York-based REACH Grenada.)

If you're going to Grenada, bring along:
  • Children's underwear
  • Basic toiletries (soap, toothpaste)
  • Bath towels/bath curtains/bath mats
  • Crib sheets
In Barbados, the official Child Care Board (tel. 246/429-3961) oversees 10 children's homes inhabited by some 100 children, many of whom were abandoned or pulled from abusive homes. The children's needs change seasonally; please contact the board before you leave home to get the latest list of necessities.