Education Is Like a Beautiful Garden

This article is part of Times Opinions Holiday Giving Guide 2021. Read more about this guide in a note from Katie Kingsbury, the Opinion editor of The New York Times.

Nicholas Kristof has left The Times to run for governor of Oregon, but his annual holiday guide to charitable giving lives on in new forms. We columnists and newsletter writers have been asked to suggest charities that we think can change lives. I’ve picked four, all related to education. Two are household names, one less so but I have a personal connection to it, and one quite small but close to my heart. (Hint: There is a dog named after me in Kenya.)

I chose education because it produces positive externalities, which are benefits that accrue to others — in this case, future employers and fellow taxpayers. A flower garden you plant for yourself that also pleases passers-by is another example of something with a positive externality. If people had to pay the whole bill for their educations they would acquire less than the socially optimal amount, because they would reap only part of the reward. The existence of a positive externality is the economic justification for government funding of education — or, in this case, charitable funding.

The Wikimedia Foundation is my first choice for giving. I use Wikipedia, which was born 20 years ago, just about every day. I hugely admire the hundreds of thousands of people who write and edit its pages. They selflessly give their time and knowledge for the benefit of others. Wikipedia has more than 55 million articles in 300 languages, including Ripuarian, Samogitian and Zamboanga Chavacano. The Wikimedia Foundation correctly calls the site “the largest collection of open knowledge in history.” How cool is that?

Sure, Wikipedia has to wrestle with politically motivated vandalism and editing wars on some of its pages, but it has a culture of openness and self-healing that helps keep those problems in check. And I love that almost every factual assertion has a link to its source so I can evaluate its reliability. (That said, I don’t rely on Wikipedia as the final word in my stories.)

Although most of what makes Wikipedia work is the free labor, the Wikimedia Foundation needs money for technology and initiatives such as WikiProject Women in Red, WikiGap and AfroCROWD, which aim to create more and better pages by and about women and other underrepresented groups. Here’s a link to give.

Another brilliant and beneficent online educational source is Khan Academy, which provides free lessons in subjects ranging from the basic (counting to four by putting squirrels in a box) to the abstruse (partial derivatives of vector-valued functions). There’s biology, art history, chemistry, law and personal finance. And of course economics! I linked to a Khan Academy video on the minimum wage in my first newsletter for Times Opinion in August.

I love that Sal Khan, its founder, a polymath who has three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard Business School, does so many of the teaching videos himself, including teaching children to count to four. He is a prince of a guy. And Khan Academy works: Independent studies have shown gains in learning not only in the United States but also in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Sri Lanka as a result of its programs.

As of 2019, Khan Academy material had been translated into 43 languages (true, not as many as Wikipedia), was being used by a quarter-million teachers in more than 50 countries and had staff members on the ground in Brazil, India and Peru. All that doesn’t come cheap. Khan Academy’s annual budget is more than $50 million. Here’s a link to give.

My third charity pick is Children International, which fights poverty by investing in children. Donors are assigned a child, make automatic monthly contributions and correspond with the child, receiving adorable handwritten letters with drawings of rainbows and doggies. The donations go toward after-school extra help, as well as other critical needs, including medical care, life skills and, for older recipients, job training. Children International calculates that 97 percent of its participants finish fifth grade and 90 percent finish 10th grade, rates above those of nonparticipants.

I have been contributing to Children International for several years, and sponsor two brothers who live in the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador. By coincidence, we have family friends in Guayaquil, so on one of my visits to the city I was able to meet with the younger of the boys and his mother at Children International’s local office. It was a heartwarming experience. His mother gave me an ingeniously designed box she made that folds open to reveal a Garfield doll and photos of the family. Here is a link to sponsor a child.

Lastly, I recommend the International School for Champions, a tuition-free private school in rural Busia County, western Kenya, that educates more than 300 male and female students. Many are orphans. The school was founded by a dynamo named Catherine Omanyo, who recounts on its website that she had to sneak into school as a child because her widowed mother couldn’t pay the fees. “The teacher would beat me and throw me out of class,” she writes. When she tried tutoring for free as an adult, she was nearly jailed for running an unauthorized school. So she got the necessary permits and started Imprezza Academy, since renamed the International School for Champions.

I got to know Omanyo and her husband, an American-born pastor named Daron Kendrick, through our mutual friend Kate McKeown, an educator in New York City who used to teach entrepreneurship at Fordham University. McKeown sits on the school’s board and persuaded me to donate a little bit, which is why today the school has a dog, Pete, named after me.

The International School for Champions operates on a shoestring. The bricks for dormitories are made on site. There are solar panels for electricity and a newly dug well, but no pipes to carry water to the buildings. (Still, that’s an improvement from when water had to be carried a mile from a seasonal stream.) Omanyo and Kendrick are seeking money for everything from hygiene products to computers and salaries for teachers ($350 a month). Here is a link to give.

Number of the week

9.2 percent

The increase in the U.S. Producer Price Index in the 12 months through November 2021, according to the estimate of Action Economics, a bond and foreign exchange commentary service. The official number will be released on Tuesday. Action Economics says the rate of increase in the Producer Price Index looks “poised to peak” in November. On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said consumer prices rose 6.8 percent in the 12 months through November 2021, a 39-year high.

Quote of the day

“Despite multiple technological breakthroughs in the fight to control Covid-19, twice as many people died from it in 2021 compared to 2020. The Omicron variant is a stark reminder that effective vaccines are merely the first step toward ending the pandemic.”

— Mariana Mazzucato and Jayati Ghosh, “Health Innovation for All,” Project Syndicate, Dec. 9

Have feedback? Send a note to [email protected].

This newsletter is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2021. If you are interested in any organization mentioned in Times Opinion Giving Guide 2021, please go directly to its website. Neither the authors nor The Times will be able to address queries about the groups or facilitate donations.

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