Gifts that warm the heart and offer glimmer of hope
So what would your aunt prefer as a holiday gift — another Mariah Carey CD, or the knowledge that she’s sending a little girl in Haiti to school for a year?
Unless you’re cursed with the oddest aunt ever, the answer is probably the latter. In that spirit, this column will serve as a sort of humanitarian gift guide: I’ll lay out some of the loftiest gifts of all, those that touch human lives and connect us.
As I did last year, I’m going to skip over the big organizations that most people have heard of. So by all means, buy your kids a $30 beehive (or an $850 camel) for a needy family through Heifer International, or write a check to the International Rescue Committee for its terrific work in Congo — but my focus today is on groups that never make the spotlight:
• Arzu (ArzuStudioHope.org) employs women in Afghanistan to make carpets for export. The women get decent wages, but their families must commit to sending children to school and to allowing women to attend literacy and health classes and receive medical help in childbirth. Rugs start at $250 and bracelets at $10. A $20 donation pays for a water filter for a worker’s family.
• First Book (firstbook.org) addresses a basic problem facing poor kids in America: They don’t have books. One study found that in low-income neighborhoods, there is only one age-appropriate book for every 300 children. First Book supports antipoverty organizations with children’s books — and above all, gets kids reading. A $100 gift will supply 50 books for a mentor to tutor a child in reading for a year. And $20 will get 10 books in the hands of kids to help discover the joys of reading.
• Fonkoze (fonkoze.org) is a terrific poverty-fighting organization if Haiti is on your mind, nearly a year after the earthquake. A $20 gift will send a rural Haitian child to elementary school for a year, while $50 will buy a family a pregnant goat. Or $100 supports a family for 13 weeks while it starts a business.
• Another terrific Haitifocused organization is Partners in Health, (pih.org), founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, the Harvard Medical School professor. A $100 donation pays for enough therapeutic food (a bit like peanut butter) to treat a severely malnourished child for one month. Or $50 provides seeds, agricultural implements and training for a family to grow more food for itself.
• Panzi Hospital (panzifoundation.org) treats victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, the rape capital of the world. The hospital is run by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who should be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. A $10 donation pays for transport to the hospital for a rape survivor; $100 pays for counseling and literacy and skill training for a survivor for a month.
• Camfed (camfed.org), short for the Campaign for Female Education, sends girls to school in Africa and provides a broad support We promise to be honest brokers. We believe in listening to and considering all sides. system for them. A $300 donation pays for a girl to attend middle school for a year in rural Zambia, and $25 sends a girl to elementary school.
• The Nurse-Family Partnership program (nursefamilypart nership.org) is a stellar organization in the United States that works with first-time mothers to try to break the cycle of poverty. It sends nurses to at-risk women who are pregnant for the first time, continuing the visits until the child turns 2. The result seems to be less alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy, and better child-rearing afterward, so that the children are less likely to tangle with the law even years later. A $150 gift provides periodic coaching and support for a young nurse by a senior nurse for a month.
• Edna Hospital (ednahospital.org) is a dazzling maternity hospital in Somaliland, an area with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Edna Adan Ismail, a Somali nurse-midwife who rose in the ranks of the World Health Organization and also served as Somaliland’s foreign minister, founded the hospital with her life’s savings and supports it with her United Nations pension. A $50 gift pays for a woman to get four prenatal visits, a hospital delivery, and one postnatal visit. Or $150 pays for a lifesaving C-section for a woman in obstructed labor.
• The Somaly Mam Foundation fights sex slavery in Cambodia and around the world (somaly.org). It is run by Somaly Mam, who was sold into Cambodian brothels as a young girl before escaping years later. For $50, you can buy a lovely silk scarf made by a trafficking survivor; $25 buys a necklace made by a survivor.
One of the paradoxes of living in a wealthy country is that we accumulate tremendous purchasing power, yet it’s harder and harder for us to give friends and family presents that are meaningful. In this holiday season, sometimes a scarf from a prostituted Cambodian girl, or a scholarship for a Zambian child, is the most heartwarming gift of all. Nicholas D. Kristof writes for The New York Times.
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