At this time of year, who hasn’t thought at least a little bit about gifts? Shopping, wrapping, delivering, (and yes, paying) and perhaps returning…..it’s what happens here in the first world. No, this isn’t a screed about how we should all eschew buying presents and instead give the money to our favorite non profit. That’s a very noble and worthwhile plan. In fact, as insufferable as it may sound, I confess I have given those kinds of gifts to my friends and family. Heifer International (HI) is a favorite of mine. Heifer
Sidebar: HI works to end hunger and poverty and protect the earth. Through livestock–yes, they give animals to people who are poor– and training, Heifer has helped 15.5 million families in more than 125 countries improve their quality of life and move toward greater self-reliance. Heifer helps build strong communities because each project participant Passes on the Gift of their animal’s first female offspring to another family in need. This includes training the new person in its care and in sustainable agriculture, multiplying the benefit of your initial gift.
If you’ve ever experienced holiday hangover that is pocketbook instead of alcohol related, giving the gift of contributing to a good cause in another’s person name is a good way to steer clear of those headaches. You’re still going to get the credit card bill, but instead of a hollow, empty feeling, you know you did something that very well might make the world a better place. Of course, if you hang with the Kardashians or the Hiltons, then this is probably not such a great plan. Or maybe it is; I just don’t know anyone from either family. If you do, sound them out and let me know. I’ll gladly print a retraction. Oh, and back to HI for a moment. If you have vegan/vegetarian friends, you can specify that you want to give the gift of trees or honeybees with HI.
Another sidebar: Animals, or the gift thereof, may not be appealing to some folks. Who can’t get behind good health? Think for a minute and I bet you can come up with a well-known saying about how health is one of, it not the greatest qualities you can enjoy in life. And how if you have it, you ought to appreciate it more than you do. In case you are drawing a blank, let me help: That’s the ticket: health and hope. Wouldn’t you know, there’s a very fine group, PATH, out in Seattle that has been working on improving health around the world since, well, they go back to 1979 and a donated office with orange shag carpeting. Now they are in over 70 countries, saving lives and improving health. PATH transforms global health through innovation. As they tell it: “We accelerate innovation across five platforms—vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations—that harness our entrepreneurial insight, scientific and public health expertise, and passion for health equity.” Find out more about them here. PATH health
Of course, these are just two of many wonderful groups comprised of hard-working, committed people. Just writing about them makes me feel as if some of the darkness cast by recent world events has lifted a bit. The stories you can read about at their websites is not the kind of news that makes the twitter feeds or the national headlines. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important. I’d argue they’re more important in that they can inspire the rest of us, if even a little bit. The stories exist and are real; you just have to look for them. And once you do that, if you feel it would be a good thing to help out a little, you might find that your gift has a boomerang effect. Not just on the beneficiary. Consider the effect it can have on you–your heart, your soul, or if you’re a precision processor, that part of the brain that releases those feel-good endorphins. And dopamine. Not to mention serotonin. All those happy chemicals that get stimulated when we reach out beyond ourselves.
Got your own favorite cause? Not sure about their mission, or want to know just how many of your dollars will actually reach the people or place in need? Good thinking. To research a non profit group quickly, Charity Navigator is an excellent tool: Check your Charity.
My aim is simply to suggest an alternative to the mall and Amazon. Not a diatribe, not a lecture. Just an outline of how to begin to turn the focus on how we can connect with each other in a somewhat less traditional, but perhaps more meaningful fashion. Oh, and also a sort of advisory to my friends and family that they may be the proud conservators of sorts, of a lovely heifer or a few hives of honeybees before the year is over.