Give a goat, a shovel, a toy … or an engineer

Written by  //  December 1, 2012  //  Aid & Development, Nicholson musings and messages  //  Comments Off on Give a goat, a shovel, a toy … or an engineer

We first posted this five years ago and added to it in 2009. It is worth reposting every year as a reminder to us all that giving stuff  that neither giver nor  recipient needs (or even wants)  is a very shallow way of celebrating the holiday season.  There are so many causes – local, national and international – that need our support to make the world a better place. We have listed a few below in previous years and would add Emerge Global, founded by Sauvé Scholar Alia Whitney-Johnson, which sells beautiful jewelry crafted by young women in Sri Lanka who have survived abuse and thanks to Emerge are building new lives for themselves. We each have our own list of deserving causes and organizations – this is a time to act on that list.

One could, however, argue that the stuff is produced by workers who need their jobs – so perhaps a little stuff is not a bad contribution to the global economy.

December 2009
Gifts, Glitz and Guilt
As requests for help arrive daily – if not hourly – from all kinds of meritorious groups, we have christened this the season of the three Gs – Gifts, Glitz, and Guilt. How often do we give or receive gifts that are glitzy, amusing, but have little meaning and less longevity?  How often do we give gifts to unknown beneficiaries that may indeed be gifts of life?

Choices must be made and often they are agonizing – which food bank most deserves our support and will do the most good – the one at the Church,  the local high school drive, the food bins at the super market or the one supported by our local newspaper (a case in point, Beryl Wajsman has just announced the Suburban Drive). Much as we might wish otherwise, there must be triage.  Do we support the local community drives, the much wider city or national ones, or the work of international organizations in far-away places where we have a friend, may never have been, or long to return to? There are some easy solutions that cost you nothing. At the international level, a number of sites let you click daily to help your cause(s) obtain donations from major sponsors – Here is one – there are many others. Is your cause a medical one? Because a  friend, family member or someone you know is suffering from a disease or needs a transplant?

Everyone has their favorite causes, often it is because we have a personal link to someone who works in the organization, or has benefited from it.  One of ours continues to be Engineers Without Borders (EWB), whose young co-founders we know, whose mission and methods we admire (See below).  This holiday season, you might consider joining EWB’s online campaign to raise $500,000 and help build a World of Opportunity for the next generation of rural Africans.

Each year, World Vision offers a catalogue of treasures for Third World countries; as does UNICEF

The Greater Good website has a wide range of inexpensive gift items and handicrafts made in the developing world. Purchases assist local artisans and reputable local charities.

Our daughter-in-law has introduced us to Arzu rugs a not-for-profit organization that provides sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. ARZU, meaning ‘hope’ in Dari, helps weavers and their families break the cycle of poverty by providing them above market compensation, access to education, health care and community infrastructure improvements.

Ginette Sauvé Frankel has brought to our attention 2nd Act, an endeavor at the local level that we are happy to endorse and urge you to do likewise. She writes:
2nd Act is in the Semi-Finals of the AVIVA Community Fund —
2nd Act offers a great program using theater to help kids in high school who are at risk of dropping out.
It helps to engage and focus them, and contribute to other students. (More about 2nd Act at
This non-profit organization based in Montreal needs all the support we can give it. It surely could use the funding.
Please vote from all your e-mail addresses every day. (Use the link above) You only need to register once per e-mail address; then sign in every day to vote.
Let’s create a tsunami of support for 2nd Act.
PLEASE ask everyone in your network (colleagues, friends, family) to support them and vote everyday.

December 2007
This is a great story and we certainly endorse the thought. In fact, we have been doing this for several years . All of the organizations mentioned in the Gazette article are extremely worthy and deserving of support. However, we would like to call attention to one wonderful NGO that has a special relationship to Wednesday Night: Engineers Without Borders (ENB) and the message we recently received from the co-founders and co-CEOs,
George Roter & Parker Mitchell (son of David), both of whom have participated in Wednesday Nights.
“This year, you can turn your holiday shopping into an opportunity to help people in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. We invite you to give the Gift of Opportunity – the opportunity for clean and safe drinking water, for irrigated crops, and for people to work their way out of poverty.
By making a donation to Engineers Without Borders in your friend’s or family member’s name, you can give a gift that is truly meaningful – helping people in the developing world gain access to technologies that are changing lives.”

What to buy the person who has everything? How about a goat or a low-flush toilet? Charity gifts are finding their way under more and more Christmas trees as major international charities find new and innovative ways to fundraise.
December 08
The charities are responding to surveys showing that, increasingly, donors want to know how their money is spent and what it accomplishes.
Besides, most of us already have what we need. Seventy-one per cent of Quebec respondents to an Ipsos Reid poll undertaken for the international aid agency World Vision last month said they didn’t want anything this Christmas. Eighty-six per cent said they would prefer to have a gift given on their behalf to help someone else rather than receiving a traditional gift, such as a sweater or a pair of socks.

Lisa Hartford, communications manager for Imagine Canada, an umbrella group for Canadian charities, says the charity gift trend has boomed over the past four years, with many charities publishing Christmas catalogues. Among the most popular items, especially with children, are adopted polar bears, pandas and other endangered species. Under the World Wildlife Fund’s adopt-an-animal plan, the gift-giver pays $40 and the federation sends a stuffed animal and an information kit about wildlife conservation to the young recipient.
The money goes to fund the WWF’s work protecting endangered animals and their habitats. Hartford says it’s an easy-to-use formula and a great way to get young people started in philanthropy.
Karen Snider of UNICEF Canada agrees. Her organization’s Gifts of Magic have been bestsellers. ….
World Vision Canada‘s Most Meaningful Gifts catalogue features hundreds of gifts from under $10 to $5,000 – everything from vitamins, textbooks, fruit trees and farm animals to chicken coops and irrigation pumps. And there must be at least one person on your list who would appreciate a llama stable.

There’s this little minefield, too: The British animal rights organization Animal Aid has asked poverty relief agencies to stop providing living animals to farmers in poor countries, citing inefficiency, unsustainability and animal cruelty.
Still, a little goes a long way in the developing world – and for worthy causes closer to home – and Christmas is when charities do most of their fundraising for the year. Most charities dispense with the doo-dads altogether, sending only a card to the recipient explaining how the money will be used. People like knowing that their donation will go to cover the full cost of a measurable thing, Hartford says.

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