Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday Gifts

Jerusalem – The best gifts this season are being given by unofficial ambassadors who are using their resources – both financial and human – to make the lives of strangers better. Their efforts are providing hope not just for the people who they are helping, but for us all.

I decided that I’m not giving gifts to family and friends this year (and this is the first time that I’m sharing this information with them). Instead, I’m donating money to several organizations that are doing inspiring, humbling, and wonderful work with and for children. For family, friends, and other devoted Live from … readers, if you were trying to figure out what to buy me for Hanukkah, please make a contribution to one of these organizations instead:

No More Victims
is a non-profit organization that assists American communities in providing direct assistance and medical treatment to Iraqi children war victims. In the process, the organization -- which has an all volunteer staff -- creates personal linkages between the Iraqi children (as well as their families) and the community that has sponsored the treatment for the injured child.

I found out about No More Victims by way of a front-page story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about Abdul Hakeem, a nine-year old boy from Falluja, Iraq who returned to Pittsburgh this last week for follow-up medical treatment. Doctors at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh volunteered their services to repair his jaw, face, mouth, and eye. Prior to the original surgery, he couldn’t chew food well and had stopped going to school because other kids were making so much fun of him.

You can watch videos about Abdul Kareem and other similar stories from No More Victims by clicking here. Frankly, I wasn’t able to watch without getting choked up – not just from the beautiful story of a life saved, but also from pride in the Pittsburgh community. Regardless of your views on the war in Iraq, a donation to No More Victims – and even better, an offer from your community to take on a case and to help – can go a long way.

Another way to help child victims of war is by addressing the issue of landmines. I raised the landmine issue a few months ago on this blog and we tried to get a golf accessory company to donate to the cause. They never responded to our encouragement. Obviously, my Uncle Ed is not getting their product as a Hanukkah gift. Instead, $169, the cost of the product, is going to landmine victims.

Landmines maim or kill 15,000 – 20,000 people a year. Many of these victims are kids at play. Other times, these are family breadwinners, trying to work or access drinkable water. Landmines Blow and Adopt a Mine Field are two organizations that are making a difference on this problem. Follow the links for each to donate.

In one of my Live from Jordan radio interviews, I met Ali el-Hajj. Ali is an Arab-American, about my age, living in South Florida who came up with the idea of the Bethlehem Christmas Project after a recent visit to Israel. He, other Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians will be delivering Christmas gifts to Palestinians in Bethlehem from December 7 - 15. The project is bigger than just the individual gifts, though. On their website, they have a blog that details the experience as it happens and they are also working with Code 81 Films to put together a documentary that will hopefully take this great effort by a few individuals to a larger audience and promote mutual understanding.

I want to mention another great project working with children that is worth your attention and donations. This one is domestic, but it is an idea that would be wonderful to take abroad. Critical Exposure is a U.S. non-profit organization that buys cameras for inner-city kids, trains them in documentary photography, leadership, and advocacy, and gives them a platform and the tools to raise awareness about the conditions in their public schools. Critical Exposure has worked in four states as well as in Washington D.C. They have a terrific website that has more information as well as students’ pictures.

You can donate online at Critical Exposure's website and you can also participate in Jared and Stacey Schwartz’s project to raise money for them. All you have to do is go to their Audio Exposure website, and add your favorite song to a mix that they are making. They are donating $1 for each song added.

So, my holiday message is to be an unofficial ambassador and to give your time, your expertise, or a financial contribution. Whether it is one of the causes listed above, Darfur, or something else, it makes a difference, both on an individual and communal level. As everyday Americans, there is a lot that we each are able to offer to not just improve our standing abroad, but to make our shared future better.

Happy Holidays!


Anonymous said...

A few years ago I started cutting down the number of people I buy gifts for. It was surprisingly easy, and freeing. I suggested we'd actually be giving each other the gift of one less person to buy for. It worked. And, not coincidentally, I am able to donate more money to the Red Cross, a local shelter, and Toys for Tots (toys as well as a monetary donation, because I read an article some time ago about how they give gifts to teens too). This year I decided to also contribute to the USO.

Thanks for the links to the other organizations. I'll look in to them.

In addition to donating money at the end of the year, there are things we can do throughout the year, that don't cost a thing, or very little. If you're able, donating whole blood helps save 4 lives each time you do it, and it really doesn't take much time. This time of year would be a great time to donate, as blood supplies usually drop during the holidays and summer. Also, food donations to a local food bank are pretty easy, and it is helping people in your community stay on their feet. And your suggestion about giving your time is an important one. It doesn't cost a thing, and can have a considerable impact on others and yourself. I don't do this as much as I should, but when I have given my time to a soup kitchen, it's been a very rewarding experience, and it left me with a much deeper appreciation for what I have (health, friends, family, a roof over my head and enough food to eat), and makes me see that the things I don't have aren't really all that important.

Ben said...

Thanks, KC. Nice suggestions on donating blood and your time. That's a good stat on donating blood, I'd never heard that before.

Anonymous said...

This is very inspiring. All these suggestions are great.

When we consider how busy our lives are, the true gift at the end of the year comes not from something bought at a store, but for time given to others, family, friends and strangers. It is time to relax and also reflect on our lives and what surrounds both in our inner circle and outside.

Making an effort about others feels good.

Happy Holidays!!!

Ben said...

That's great Maria, thanks for supporting these efforts.

Jared S said...

Thanks for the AudioExposure shout out Ben. We love your blog and are honored to be on your holiday list!

Stacey & I hope that all of Ben's readers and friends will check out - the Web site we created where you can share your favorite music and help a wonderful DC non-profit!

Thanks again Ben. Still waiting for the "I am un-retiring from basketball" blog post from you...

Ben said...

My pleasure, Jared. Critical Exposure, Audio Exposure, it is all great stuff.

PS, still wearing the headband, but I've replaced bball with squash.