Living in a dorm for the past year and a half, where all my worldly possession fit in half a room, has shown me that it is indeed possible to live without the latest iPhone, the big TV, the huge closet space, or the extensive book collection that most of us in America have grown accustomed to. I've also seen how hard it is to get by on the bare essentials in a classroom, when the professor turns to the class and says, "Let's pretend our spectrophotomers work and that we were able to get good results from them." It's frustrating when you know what is supposed to happen and it doesn't, but it is infinitely more frustrating when you don't know what was supposed to have happened because that spectrophotometer has never worked. You don't know what to pretend, because you don't know what a good result is. It's not a huge problem when you're in a big university because you've presumably learned enough before then that you're able to get by. But for a fifth grader who doesn't understand fractions, or a kindergartner who doesn't have any new books to read, or a high school sophomore who has lost interest in his studies because he doesn't get to use the skills he's supposed to be learning, there are far greater consequences.
For my birthday this year, instead of sending me gifts (because honestly, there's no way anything else will fit in this dorm room), please take what you would spend on me, and put it toward a classroom project in need of funding. Most teachers have to pay for enrichment materials on their own dime, and they don't have a lot of income to spare.
I've selected a few of my personal favorites below, but if you see something that catches your eye, go ahead and donate to it instead.