Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gifts that give back

Let's face it--the holiday season can be pretty materialistic. I have been obsessed for about a week now with what to get my boyfriend for Christmas. He already got me something, so now I'm left wondering what he got me and how much to spend on him. What if I give him a less awesome gift than he gives me? What if mine is way more expensive than his?

It's sickening, isn't it?

There are ways to give, though, that give back to someone who needs it. Donating in someone's name is awesome, and I've done that before too, but sometimes you feel like you need something under the Christmas tree (Hanukkah menorah?).

I've brainstormed some of the charities and organizations I know of where you can purchase gifts this season and also help out someone who needs it.


The first opportunity I’d like to spotlight is TOMS. I personally have three pairs of their shoes and have loved them--I’m wearing these now! TOMS are comfortable and come in styles to suit all personalities. If the shoes aren’t your thing, you can still support the cause by checking out the apparel or the glasses!

What is it?

The TOMS premise is simple: for every pair of shoes you buy, one pair will be donated to a child in need. The One for One movement. The website says, “In 2006, American traveler Blake Mycoskie befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet.”

Why shoes? The website explains:
"Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk:
  • A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause.
  • Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected.
  • Many times children can't attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don't have shoes, they don't go to school. If they don't receive an education, they don't have the opportunity to realize their potential."

The TOMS One for One movement also expanded to include eyewear: buy a pair of glasses or sunglasses and TOMS will provide medical treatment, prescription glasses, or sight-saving surgery to a person in need.

How to help:

The One for One movement is easy for you to support this holiday season. You can give shoes, apparel or glasses as a gift to a loved one, and someone in need will also receive a gift. Worried about size or style for your friend? TOMS also has gift cards, allowing the recipient to make their own choice. We’re in the last days for a holiday shipping, so shop soon!

You can find more information here.


What is it?

Punjammies, by the International Princess Project: sells beautiful pajamas made by women in India rescued from prostitution who are now rebuilding their lives. Woah, right?

The International Princess Foundation was started in 2005 by Shannon Keith, who had visited a red-light district (a district with prostitution). There she saw “young girls, orphans, mothers trying to feed their children held against their will or trapped by economics.” Their vision? To restore hope and dignity to women formerly enslaved in prostitution, according to their website. I don’t personally have any Punjammies, but they look wonderful and support such a great vision.

How to help:

Buy a pair of these beautiful pajamas for yourself or one of the women in your life. When you buy Punjammies, your money will go to providing fair wages, savings accounts and recovery care to women who have been saved from forced prostitution.

You can find more information about the International Princess Project here and shop for Punjammies here.

I first heard of the next couple of organizations through an article in my alma mater’s magazine, Jayplay. You can read that article here.

Falling Whistles

What is it?

From the website: “The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to our world’s deadliest war since WWII. Over the last decade more than 6 million people have died, and nearly 1,500 people continue to lose their lives daily. Sexual violence is more rampant here than anywhere else in the world, and thousands of children are involved in the war.”

Falling Whistles began as a journal entry describing the fate of young boys involved in the war. These young boys are sent to the frontlines with only a whistle, no weapons. Their entire purpose is to warn of incoming enemies--and to take the first blows from those enemies, often costing the boys their lives. In his Jayplay article, Drew Wille describes the scene one of these boys might face.

“The boy isn’t trained or strong enough to use a gun, but Laurent Nkunda, Congolese Tutsi rebel army leader, doesn’t leave this child soldier empty handed. As the young boy fights back tears, he’s handed a whistle and sent out to serve as a temporary barricade. As he stands beside other child soldiers, he places his whistle in his mouth and takes a deep breath. Waiting for the Hutu rebels to approach, he hears the thunderous chants getting louder and louder, and then, it’s time. The young boy sees the army and blows. Out goes his final breath, the whistle an alarm sounding to scare the enemy and alarm the Congolese solders the war is imminent. This boy is one of six million other fallen whistles in the last decade, according to the website, because of the continuous battles between the Tutsi rebels and Hutu rebels – a conflict tracing back to the 1960s when Belgium lost control of Central Africa.”

The purpose of the group is to raise awareness--to “make their weapon your voice and be a whistleblower for peace in Congo.” The group also uses proceeds to advocate for and in the rehabilitation of those affected by the war.

How to help:

“Be a whistleblower for peace.” You can purchase a whistle necklace through Falling Whistles, for yourself or a loved one. Wear it to help raise awareness of the lives in turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Be a representative on their behalf in one of the world’s richest nations, and know that your money is going to prevention and rehabilitation.

You can buy a whistle or find more information here.

Invisible Children

What is it?

From the website: “In the spring of 2003, three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys from Southern California discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims.”

Invisible Children is greatly about raising awareness about conflict in Uganda. The website says: “By documenting the lives of those living in regions of conflict and injustice, we hope to educate and inspire individuals in the Western world to use their unique voice for change.”

Invisible Children works to bring a peaceful solution to the war in northern Uganda. They hope to achieve this partially through encouraging a new generation of leaders.

Half of the money raised goes directly to helping children affected by the conflict and their families. Money raised by Invisible children also goes to educational scholarships, mentorships and to the rebuilding of secondary academic institutions.

The website explains: “In war-affected regions we focus on long-term development, working directly with individuals and institutions that are eager to realize their full potential. Through education and innovative economic opportunities, we partner with affected communities and strive to improve the quality of life for individuals living in conflict and post-conflict regions.”

How to help:

Invisible Children has an extensive store, including apparel, jewelry, bags and holiday cards. You can buy jewelry made from recycled jewelry or products made in Africa.

Some of the products even include details about the seamstress who created them. This bag comes with information about the seamstress and how your purchase is helping her family. By registering your bag, you can even sign up for updates on the seamstress.

When you buy any of these products, your money is going to the rehabilitation, education and encouragement of an entire generation of Ugandans. The store also sells the documentaries, making it easy for you to spread the word.
You can find out more about Invisible Children here.

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