Saturday, December 12, 2009

"A Cycle of Giving"

Over the last few weeks I've been browsing for appropriate gifts to send home to my immediate family members, weighing a lot of factors such as: Will this be useful/appreciated? Is it the right size/style? Will they think I'm bananas for sending this to them? Will it fit in a postal box size 3?? I think I have to kiss that box away after the gifts I got yesterday but we'll see.

I'm also about to spend a substantial portion of money on myself. This Wednesday I meet with the landlord of the beach apartment to pay the next 2/3 of February's rent, and then Friday I leave for an excursion-and-nice-hotel-filled vacation. While I'm white water rafting down the border of Chile, I hope I pause for a moment to thank my lucky stars that this is, in fact, the incredible life I lead.

Part of leading a great life means having the resources to help others. I don't do as much as I should or could in the way of charitable donations of time and money, but I do try to support several organizations that are important to me throughout the year. I am most consistent with Kiva, a microfinance system that allows you to choose which projects to fund and then reinvest that money once the loan is paid off. During the holidays, though, when everyone who has money to spend on gifts should have some money to share with a charity, I always choose Heifer International.
Every Christmas, in addition to agonizing over finding the Perfect Gift for everyone in my family, I also make a donation to Heifer International in their honor. Three years ago I bought a sheep (pictured above, too cute not to buy); Two years ago I bought flocks of ducks and chickens (also unavoidably adorabe); last year I bought bees (in bee solidarity against CCD and as a celebration of finally getting over my fear of these amazing creatures). This year, I bought trees (for obvious reasons since everyone knows I am a tree hugger; sorry for the spoiler, family).

I just can't say enough good things about Heifer. I am often skeptical about international aid programs because so often I hear from friends who have lived and worked abroad in developing nations that a lot of this aid goes to lining people's pockets and never makes it to the people it was intended to serve.
Heifer is different because it doesn't send money; it builds community. Their primary focus is on providing regionally appropriate animals (also trees and seeds) to people in developing nations. But, these animals come with training: how to care for them, how to sell their products at market, and how to help restore their land to create a profitable but sustainable future for their families and a better world for all. I'm tearing up just writing this, it's so fantastically well-rounded!
And as if I couldn't love them any more, one of the principles of Heifer is that you must pay it forward (hence "a cycle of giving"). So, if your family was given a flock of ducks and they thrive and procreate, you must then give a few baby ducks to a neighbor, and pass along all the same training you received. They have other admirable initiatives as well, such as gender equality, microfinance, and HIV/AIDS education. Plus, they like puns and alliteration, so my English nerd is also stoked. For example, the two photos I posted were captioned "Shear joy" and "Light up a life with a llama." Awesome.
If you already have an organization that you support during the holidays or all year round, that's great and I salute you. But if you are looking for a worthy organization to share some of your own lucky stars with (or feel like you want to after reading this), I highly recommend trying on for size the warm fuzzy feeling that donating to Heifer provokes.

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