The stockings have been emptied, gifts torn into, packaging (oh, the amount of packaging!) broken down for the recycling bin. Christmas dinner has been consumed, dishes washed, and we all sit on the living room floor in front of a glowing fire, enjoying our new possessions as chestnuts roast and festive music plays low in the background.
I think the time is right, so I launch into a short speech that starts something like this. “All right, you spoiled little bastards.”
No, let me start again. “What was your favorite present this year?” I ask. And then we discuss and debate. I continue, “I think it’s awesome that you guys got all of these amazing things, but you know what?”
“I know, I know,” our oldest cuts in. He thinks I’m going to harangue them again about how there are lots of other kids and families who are struggling and have little or nothing at Christmastime or any other time, something he’s heard a lot lately since we’ve been going to supermarkets to shop for food banks.
“No, you little bugger, that’s not what I was going to say. What I was going to say was that I think it would be nice to sit down and give someone else a gift today.”
And then I tell them about the organization Heifer International.
Dan West, the organization’s founder, spent time during the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. One of his jobs was to distribute milk to hungry and weary soldiers. Then he had an epiphany. What if instead of giving these people a cup, we gave them a cow?
From Heifer’s website:
“We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.
When many families gain this new sustainable income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural cooperatives, forming community savings and funding small businesses.”
Simple as that. Heifer provides families and communities with animals, training, and materials, and those people in turn help support others. “The core of our model is Passing on the Gift. This means families share the training they receive, and pass on the first female offspring of their livestock to another family. This extends the impact of the original gift, allowing a once impoverished family to become donors and full participants in improving their communities.”
Sitting down with your kids to make a monetary donation to a charity is great, but depending on their age it’s probably all a bit abstract to them when you say you’re donating $30 to a charity. With Heifer they can browse the catalog and choose animals to give as gifts, which you must admit is way cooler to a young child. Popular in our household are gifts of bees, which for $30 “includes a bee package, hive, box and training in beekeeping techniques. When you buy bees for a family in need, your gift:
- Boosts income through sales of honey, wax and pollen
- Stimulates growth of the family’s crops through pollination
Healthy beehives can can double fruit and vegetable yields of small farms. Let your honeybee donation turn a family’s struggle into a lifetime of opportunity.”
Thirty dollars is about what we spent on a single Lego set; makes you rethink your spending choices a bit.
This Christmas day, though, the kids opted to give a flock of ducks. Perhaps they had ducks on the brain simply because they had duck in their bellies, I don’t know, but once we’d read about all of the benefits a flock can provide, we were sold.
Heifer also has gifts besides animals, including packages that promote sustainable farming, help empower women, and provide basic needs such as clean water and cook stoves. What makes the organization different is that instead of chucking money at a problem, they help create real solutions by providing materials that have long-term impacts.
So it may be a little late to get the kids on the act this holiday season, but sitting down at the computer after a birthday party, on Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, whatever, and involving them in the process of helping make other people’s lives a bit better I think provides a bit of perspective and teaches them something about the world, and themselves.