A few years back, my parents, sister, and I started a new tradition. It only lasted a few years, but I still think about it fondly. Rather than buy each other gifts for Christmas, we started giving money to Heifer International, an organization that works to end hunger and poverty by providing poor families with livestock so that they can have a means to earn a living.
As a farm family, the idea was appealing to us. We would decide how much we were going to donate, then sit down with the Heifer catalog and purchase our gifts. A pair of rabbits, a milk cow, some guinea pigs, and, of course, ducks.
We always bought ducks, being the Kwak family and all.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that I recently got a letter from Caroline at Mercy Corps, an organization that works to better the lives of people in some of the world’s toughest situations. They go into war zones, natural disaster regions, and countries with extreme poverty and oppression, working with the locals to figure out what will really help.
Like Heifer International, they have symbolic gifts you can buy—but they have something you, dear readers, can maybe appreciate more than ducks (impossible!):
In so many places, a bike is more than recreation — it’s a chance for a better future. Mercy Corps bridges the gap by providing small loans or grants that help people purchase bicycles that get them on the road to (a better) tomorrow. With two wheels as a means of transportation, people are able to gain the valuable job training skills, attend school, or bike to the market.
Of course, the gifts are symbolic. Mercy Corps and Heifer International both use the idea that you’re buying ducks, tea stands, and bicycles as a way to raise money, but they spend it wherever the needs actually are.
After all, if it was up to me, every family would be given bicycles, three guinea pigs, and a half-dozen ducklings. Practical? Maybe not. That’s why they hire professionals, and I write fiction.
I think this is such an amazing thing to do with kids. You don’t have to forgo interpersonal gift giving entirely, but what if as a family you sat down and bought a bicycle together, in order to make these smiling kids’ dreams come true?
Can you resist these smiling kids?
Whatever your traditions this year, I hope they include a moment to share a little of your time, cash, and privilege.
Please feel free to add any other bicycle- or duck-related charitable suggestions in the comments. Bonus points if you find a charity that combines the two.
And stay warm out there, guys! I’m writing this on the bus because I was totally too much of a wuss to ride to Queen Anne today. Brr!