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.