An increasing number of Australians are choosing to buy Christmas gifts which support struggling communities overseas in the name of their loved ones. Many aid and community organisations now offer such philanthropic opportunities for those who prefer to see their Christmas money stretch that little bit further. Nigel Tapp looks at what opportunities are available this year.
FOR the past five years, retired Uniting Church minister Kel Benn and his wife Dawn have given their children and grandchildren a house for Christmas. But, it is not located in a leafy Australian suburb, rather an overseas country. Nor is it the family’s to occupy, it is gifted to a local homeless family in their name.
The Benns see the gift as a way of giving something tangible which can help others at Christmas rather than providing presents for people who already have enough.
They came across Homes for Humanity Australia (HFHA) after Mrs Benn’s granddaughter volunteered with the organisation. After some research the couple decided it was an organisation they wanted to support.
HFHA believes a stable, secure home creates the foundation for change by giving people the opportunity to be healthier, happier and more secure and for children to be better nourished and better educated.
“We believe building a decent home provides much more than bricks and mortar – it provides real hope for the future,” HFHA’s website states.
Mr Benn was struck by the ongoing nature of the project and how each occupier not only assisted to build their own home but helped build the one after theirs.
“We thought this was a terrific idea because one, it is giving people a home who do not have one; two, it is self-help and three, it is ongoing because once a person’s home is paid off that money is used to build another one,” Mr Benn said.
Mr Benn said the couple had no complaints from family members when they opted for the gift giving with a difference. In fact several family members have also become involved in similar programs.
Mrs Benn said the cost of each home was about $2000, but she did not see that as an overly expensive burden for the couple.
“You do not get much for $100 now, so with four children, their four partners and nine grandchildren and their partners that soon adds up,” she said.
“We just feel we are doing something worthwhile. We are giving people something they really need.’’
And that, Mr Benn said, felt very satisfying. HFHA is only one of several aid and development organisations which allow you to provide a gift which has the potential to benefit an entire community rather than just an individual.
Along with a well-placed pig, theological textbooks or a couple of chickens, Australians have many opportunities to celebrate Christmas this year with gifts that do more than simply make stockings bulge.
One such program is the work UnitingWorld is doing to develop young leaders in Zimbabwe.
Its partnership with the local Methodist Church can be supported through the Everything in Common gift catalogue this Christmas.
The next generation of leaders in Zimbabwe are survivors of years of turmoil, a generation razed by HIV/AIDS, barrow-loads of money exchanged for little more than an apple and unemployment rate of 85 per cent.
The Methodist Church offers practical training for young leaders – entrepreneurship and business skills, HIV/AIDS education, conflict resolution and environmental awareness. The training changes lives.
Tairo Nehonde has taken part in youth leadership with the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe over many years. His belief is that the church exists to minister to the whole person.
“When you come to church you need to benefit spiritually and economically,” he said. “I did wonderful training (when I was younger).
We learnt about how to protect (ourselves) from HIV. We learnt about entrepreneurship so that youths can learn how to do good.
“And if we get support from our neighbouring countries – if we get the funding we need as well as the knowledge from the training – then I am quite sure we can do something good for our whole nation.”
Tear Australia’s Christmas catalogue offers supporters a wide range of options beginning at $5 for chickens to $10,000 to support farming projects in Africa. Its 2013-2014 Useful Gifts catalogue focuses on gifts which support food programs, education, safe water and sanitation, health and community development.
For only $25 supporters can provide people in a developing country with the opportunity to not only access good food but also potentially create a small business with the excess production.
The money may be used to buy seeds for a vegetable garden, fruit trees, fish farming or livestock such as cows, goats, pigs or sheep. Tear Australia also provides participants with the skills required to establish a sustainable business.
For a mother in South Sudan it used to take 10 hours to make a round trip to the nearest river for water, but now a safe source of water is located just minutes from her front door thanks to supporters of Tear Australia.
Providing a household with safe water for drinking, cooking, watering vegetables and washing can be achieved for as little as $25.
Helping a girl in Afghanistan attend primary school, providing food for refugees in Myanmar, caring for a mother and baby in Gaza or assisting a Zimbabwean with a disability are among a host of opportunities available through Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Act for Peace supports refugees and vulnerable people throughout the world.
Like Tear Australia, Act for Peace gives supporters a card detailing how their donation will assist and this year is also delivering a fridge magnet with every card detailing the program being supported.
The Leprosy Mission’s annual gift guide operates differently to Tear Australia and Act for Peace – but is nonetheless still an extremely worthy agency which seeks to support education and vocational training for young people as a way out of poverty.
Rather than funds being used for a specific project, the Leprosy Mission sells a range of gifts and then channels its profits into projects.
Once again gifts begin at as little as $2 and nothing in the catalogue is more than $39.
Supporters can also provide a gift of love such as $100 for a safe toilet, $50 for a goat, $45 for a child with leprosy or leprosy-affected parents to attend school for one year or $10 for sunglasses which will protect the wearer from harsh ultraviolet sunrays and dirt particles that can scratch and scar their eyes.
For those who prefer to give closer to home, UnitingCare and Target’s Operation Santa appeal is aiming to collect 100,000 gifts and $200,000 in gift cards to assist close to 60,000 families nationwide this Christmas.
Unwrapped gifts can be left under the tree in any Target store and givers can be assured that their donation will support children in their local area. Target managing director Stuart Machin said the retailer was proud to once again be partnering with UnitingCare.
“For 21 years, our customers have given generously to those in need through the appeal.
“We know that this year there will once again be many Australian families who need a hand at Christmas and we encourage all our customers to help someone doing it tough by donating a gift or gift card at their local Target store during the Operation Santa appeal,’’ he said.
“Together, we can help make Christmas a little brighter for thousands of families this year.”
Operation Santa runs until December 23.