Sandra and Sean were the first to give me a Christmas present from Oxfam Unwrapped, a few years ago. They gave me 10 chickens, on a card that said something like:
10 chickens have been given on your behalf to a family in the developing world that really needs them. Happy Christmas!
It made me cry. It was the perfect present. I have enough stuff. I don't need anything. And for a greeny liberal hippie like myself, giving a gift to someone who doesn't have much, and whose life can be improved by that gift, is absolutely the best thing ever.
I think Oxfam Unwrapped is a genius idea. I see other charities like Tear Fund have picked up on it now, and that's great. Oxfam's always been one of my favourite NGOs, because it's not affiliated with any religious group or faith, and because it helps people in need all over the world, regardless of who they are, their ethnicity, religious beliefs or whatever.
Oxfam International works in the developing world in very sensible ways - providing useful, practical solutions on a small scale, working alongside and in harmony with local people, and listening to their specific needs before thinking about solutions. Oxfam doesn't "throw money at the needy" - they work to empower people, and to give them the help they need to help themselves. They also advocate and lobby Governments and international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank on behalf of the world's poor.
Hence the Oxfam Unwrapped website is full of practical gifs - like a goat or a baby buffalo, 3 ducks or 25 trees, safe water for 25 people, school books for the whole class or Fairtrade Certification for a whole plantation.
I've been buying Oxfam Unwrapped gifts for my nearest and dearest for a couple of years now.
Last year I bought a goat for my older niece and nephew, and a goat care kit for my younger niece. My sister told me it was one of the best presents they received - because I'd told them the story of how I'd taken care of a goat when I lived at the Ahu Ahu commune on the Wanganui River, and it had been one of their favourite WebWeaver stories.
My goat-gift encouraged them to use their imagination, and make up more stories, and talk about me and my goat - and my sister said it was such a relief not to get yet another "thing" for the kids to play with, get bored with, and discard.
Another cool thing about Oxfam is that they do an event called Oxfam Trailwalker to raise money. Four people, one goal: 100km in 36 hours to help overcome poverty and injustice. Teams enter, raise funds to do the walk, and the money raised goes to Oxfam. A team from Shift Auckland is entering, and if you buy stuff from Oxfam Unwrapped via their team page then they get more funds added to their total. Kewl!
Shift's been getting ethical with their gift-giving this year too. We support the Worldwide Fund for Nature New Zealand (WWF-NZ), and this year we built them a new website and CMS for a tiny fraction of what it would normally cost.
We decided that this Christmas we would give each of our clients a Hector's dolphin - or rather, we would send them a Hector's dolphin adoption kit from WWF-NZ. We sent them out on Thursday, and soon the emails started coming in from clients - they loved the idea - and are all now busy thinking up a name for "their" dolphin.
Brian, Rene and Dom put together a Flash animation for the Shift homepage which continues the Hector's dolphin Chrismas theme - I think it's absolutely wonderful. Check it out!
Happy Christmas, Eid al-adha, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, and Winter/Summer solstice to you. I hope I've given you some ideas on how to move away from the commercialism of Christmas, and into ethical gift-giving. You know it makes sense!
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