Back in the dark days before Ravelry, there were a few lists for knitters, and that was how we informed each other about vital wool-related developments. The problem with this format, as any veteran Internet user knows, is that information that was useful or interesting to even a fraction of the several thousand subscribers was often swamped by the stream-of-consciousness of every over-sharing knitter in the English-speaking world.
One of the more common useless questions came up when someone posted some form of "My [blank] doesn't like handknits. What can I knit for him/her?" You get bonus points for extra-impossible requirements: I want to do it all with half a skein of worsted yarn, her birthday is tomorrow, she's allergic to every known fiber and refuses to hand-wash, I don't know how to purl yet.
There's a crucial mistake the aspiring giver is making. When one gives a gift, the gift should be _for the recipient_. It's not about what I _want_ to give. It's about what my recipient _wants_. Giving him or her a gift that I knit, just because I enjoy knitting, is missing something very crucial. I engaged in my hobby for you! How ridiculous is that? I might as well get a card that says, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM. I went skiing!"
This same error in thinking resurfaces in charitable donations. People give donations based on what makes the giver feel good and not based on what the recipient needs. Since people receiving charity are people with pressing needs, it's a bit more important a mistake than giving your brother a pair of mittens he hates.
Let us review three things that almost no one needs:
1. Hand knits. Especially people in hot climates. Most homemade clothing is of poorer quality than what is available for a lower price, premade. People in Afghanistan have many needs, but knit hats is not in the top ten. This is a very inefficient way of getting hats on the heads of babies.
2. Short term visitors to their country or area performing manual labour. Unless you have some highly valuable skill (i.e. you are a doctor), visiting a foreign country is always something you do for you, not the residents. That's fine -- might as well make yourself useful if you're going to travel -- but if your object is to get orphanages built, use your airfare to hire local labour. This goes double and triple if your purpose in traveling is to blog for charity.
3. Awareness. Yes, yes, I know. White people like it. But with
relatively few exceptions, people are already "aware" of whatever it is
that is causing them misery.
When I was growing up, my mother was overwhelmed sometimes raising an autistic son. I could think of forty things that would have been useful to her, none of which involved knit hats. Do you want to be of direct service? DON'T KNIT. Mind someone's child. Cook food. Clean their house. Walk kids to school. Walk kids home from school. Change diapers. Give money, and not to anyone whose purpose is "promoting awareness."