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 (ArzuS­tu­ 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 (first­ 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 ( 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, (, 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 (panz­i­foun­da­ 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 (, 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 ner­ 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 (ed­na­hos­pi­ 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 (so­ 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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