Nicholas D. Kristof: Give Christmas gifts that transform lives

12/08/2012 12:00 AM

12/07/2012 5:33 PM

Looking for an unusual holiday gift? How about a $60 trio of rabbits to a family in Haiti in the name of someone special? Bunnies raise a farming family’s income because they, well, reproduce like rabbits – six litters a year. Heifer International arranges the gift on its website (heifer.org).

Or for $52 you can buy your uncle something more meaningful than a necktie: Send an Afghan girl to school for a year in his name, through the International Rescue Committee (rescue.org).

The question I most often get from readers is: “What can I do?” This column is an answer. I’m highlighting small organizations because you’re less likely to know about them.

Shining Hope for Communities (shininghopeforcommunities.org) was started by Kennedy Odede, a slum-dweller in Nairobi, Kenya, who taught himself to read. A visiting American gave him a book on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and it inspired Odede to organize local residents to fight against social injustice – particularly sexual violence, because his 16-year-old sister had just been raped.

Odede now runs an outstanding girls’ school in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, along with a clinic, a water and sanitation program, and job-training classes. That slum school is one of the most hopeful places I’ve ever visited. Another nearby slum, Mathare, has invited Odede to start a girls’ school there if he can find the resources.

Hawa Abdi (vitalvoices.org/hawafund) runs a hospital, school and refugee camp in war-torn Somalia. She became an obstetrician-gynecologist partly because her mother had died in childbirth, and she has focused on helping rural Somali women.

The land around her 400-bed hospital, outside of Mogadishu, has become an encampment serving up to 90,000 people made homeless by war. Adbi has provided water, health care and education, and when students transfer to Mogadishu they are up to three grades ahead of children there. Adbi also is battling female genital mutilation, and she runs a jail for men who beat their wives.

Vital Voices, a Washington, D.C., organization supporting women’s rights, has set up a tax-deductible mechanism to keep Abdi’s work going.

Polaris Project (polarisproject.org) is a leader in the fight against human trafficking in the United States. One of its most important projects is a nationwide hotline, with interpreters on standby for 176 languages, for anyone who sees people who may be trafficked. It’s 888-373-7888. This year alone, Polaris says, it has helped more than 3,200 victims get services through the hotline.

Polaris has also been a powerful advocate for tougher laws around the country – those that target pimps rather than just the girls who are their victims. Polaris says that this year alone it has helped 17 states pass laws on human trafficking.

Fair Girls (fairgirls.org) fights sex trafficking at home and abroad. Its founder, Andrea Powell, braves dangerous streets and disgusting websites for hours in search of girls enslaved in the sex trade, and she is fearless about confronting pimps and prying girls from their grasp.

Fair Girls also trains trafficking survivors to make jewelry, which makes nice gifts and is available on the group’s website.

Another possible gift: Tell a university student to apply for my annual win-a-trip contest. I’m hereby announcing the contest for 2013: I’ll take a university student, undergraduate or graduate, with me on a reporting trip to Africa next summer. Together we’ll shine a light on neglected issues. Information about how to apply is on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground.

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