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Gifts not just for Christmas

07 November 2014

Do you want to help make the world a better place with your Christmas gifts? Huw Spanner gives you a head start with his pick of alternative-gift catalogues

green light planet

Solar power: a man in Tanzania works with the assistance of the Sun King Pro 2 light, priced at £40 for UK customers

Solar power: a man in Tanzania works with the assistance of the Sun King Pro 2 light, priced at £40 for UK customers

A solar light, £15-40

SOLARAID is an international charity that has set itself the immense task of eradicating the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020 by replacing it with affordable, durable solar-powered lights.

Some 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, and many use kerosene or paraffin lamps or candles, which are dim, dangerous, and costly to run, and which also contribute to climate change. A solar light can make a huge difference on many fronts, not least by allowing schoolchildren to study later into the evening.

Rather than give its lights away, SolarAid has set up a social enterprise, SunnyMoney, which enables enterprising locals to make a living by selling them at affordable prices. It is a business model that, it hopes, will be widely copied.

The lights can be used in this country, too: they are ideal for campsites or festivals, or for reading in bed. So, buy a funky solar light for a friend or relative in Britain for £15 to £40, and £10 of that sum will go to keep down the cost of getting similar lights to another three households in rural East Africa.


Beautiful Churches book, £20

BESIDES marketing its charity Christmas cards, the Churches Conservation Trust is celebrating the Christmas season this year in pewter and stainless steel. Fund-raising gifts include a picnic flask (£15) and a tankard and hip flask (£30 each) engraved with the recipient's name and/or logo.

Its bestseller is the 176-page book Beautiful Churches by Matthew Byrne, which was published last year and describes 36 spectacular examples of the 340-odd historic English churches (of all periods) that have been saved by the Trust so far.

Beautiful Churches has a foreword by the Prince of Wales, and is generously illustrated with superb pictures by the author, who is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.


Nativity cookie-cutter set, £18.99

THE charity formerly known as BibleLands has a catalogue full of inexpensive handicrafts and other gifts, from which all profits help its Christian partners in Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria to tackle poverty and injustice.

Its "faith-filled gifts" range from a Tree of Life trivet hand-carved from sustainable mango wood to a tin of sugar-free fish-shaped mints. One bestseller, at £18.99, is a 12- piece stainless steel cookie-cutter set, complete with a gingerbread nativity-scene recipe (and instructions) to impress your friends. Another £3.99 will buy you a choir of angel cookie-cutters (in three different sizes) to add to the scene. Other interesting gift options include Kenneth Bailey's 426-page book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (£12.99) and the cookery book The Gaza Kitchen (£22).

The catalogue also offers virtual gifts, costing from £10 for a hen to £300 for a water supply for a home in rural Egypt. Also included is a £12 pack of six mini-gifts, from a bus ticket to get a child to school to some nutritious peanut butter for a refugee family. Each one is described on a small card that you can slip into a Christmas card or cracker, or hang on the tree.

Your money will be spent in the approximate area of your purchase. Delivery in the UK (for all gifts except the virtual ones) is charged at a flat rate of £3.95.


Widow's Might gift, £12

ALL WE CAN - the rebranded Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) - is offering 15 "extraordinary gifts" for Christmas, priced from £9 to £230.

For £12, "Widow's Might" could give a vulnerable widow in Cameroon training in how to run a small business, so that she can set up her own enterprise and provide for her family. For £55, "Crop Cycles" could equip farmers in Uganda with a bicycle, to give them a better chance of getting their produce to market before it rots, avoiding waste and increasing their income.

All We Can is active in ten countries in Africa and Asia, and works for sustainable long-term change to end the cycle of suffering caused by poverty and injustice by supporting livelihoods, improving health, and strengthening the part played by women in society.

The money from the gifts goes to an All We Can partner delivering the project you choose, but will be spent according to local need, and may not, therefore, be spent "exactly as it says on the tin". In return, the charity will send you, or a designated person, a colourful card that illustrates your gift and explains how it will assist someone in one of the world's poorest communities.


Training a mother adviser, £27

PRESENT AID, Christian Aid's online gift shop, offers an abundance of virtual presents to appeal to all ages and pockets.

Chickens, sheep, and goats are the perennial bestsellers - at £4, £10, and £22 respectively - along with children's school materials for £9, but this year Christian Aid is keen to promote its maternal-health gifts; and what is more, the Government will currently match spending on these, pound for pound, up to a total of £5 million.

A gift of £27, for example, could help to retrain a traditional-birth attendant in rural Kenya as a "mother adviser" who cares for women during pregnancy, and supports them in labour. Or get together with others in your church and, for £165, buy a "bundle of joy", which also includes provision for a family planning workshop, and a mobile health outreach clinic.

In reality, you will be making a donation - in this particular case, to Christian Aid's general health-care fund - but the agency will send your friend or relative a card, by post or email, describing the specific gift you have chosen.

Present Aid has raised more than £16 million since it was started in 2005. When you buy a health-care-related gift, you are helping to fund Christian Aid's vital work on HIV, TB, malaria, and maternal and neonatal health.


Sponsor a Knit for Peace group, £250

GOOD GIFTS is an initiative of the Charities Advisory Trust, which works with many different agencies to offer a range of presents to suit every budget.

Good Gifts promises that your money will be spent exactly as specified, on things that are much needed. For £5, for example, you can contribute 50 bowls of rice for children in your chosen recipient's name; for £30, you can support informal drop-in centres for street children in India that offer children not only something to eat and drink, but learning and mentoring, and the possibility of a permanent route off the streets.

For £250, your family or church could sponsor a "Knit for Peace" group, which invites women from once-hostile communities to sit together and make warm clothes, which Good Gifts then buys, and, through local charities, distributes to people who need them. "We encourage attendance, by paying welcome income for their welcome output. Sounds woolly, but it works," the website says.

Good Gifts will send a card or a Christmas cracker containing a witty description of your gift.


Cuddly toy owl, £8.50

THE CMS online shop is not easy to navigate, but its recesses harbour a range of inexpensive handicrafts and other gifts sourced from community-based artisan groups in countries including Bangladesh, Ecuador, and Uganda.

The most topical gift this year has to be a T-shirt featuring the Arabic symbol used by Islamic State (IS) to identify Christian households in Syria and Iraq. For £12, it is an excellent way to show solidarity with Christians in the Middle East, and give them a little financial support.

More typical, however, is a cuddly toy owl (£4.95 or £8.50, depending on size) made in central Tanzania by Neema Crafts - an enterprise managed by two CMS mission partners, which trains and employs more than 100 deaf or otherwise disabled people such as carpenters, weavers, tailors, giving dignity, respect and hope to people who were previously hidden away at home, or forced to beg on the streets.

Neema Crafts has eight workshops that make everything from jewellery to picture frames; a therapy unit for disabled children; an award-winning café; and a conference centre, as well as a guest house run as a joint venture with the local Mothers' Union. Delivery is free on orders over £40.


Healthy-baby hamper, £51

"WISHLIST" by Save the Children is offering a range of virtual gifts at Christmas for friends and family. Gifts start from a football for £5 to a classroom for £625.

This year, £51 will buy a "healthy-baby hamper", which includes a bowl, nappies, towels, a wrap, soap, and a snuggly hat. What is more, every pound raised on Wishlist gifts from the 2014 catalogue will be matched by government money, up to a limit of £5 million.

Of course, a purchase of any item in the catalogue is in reality a general donation to that particular aspect of the charity's work (in the baby hamper's case, its maternal health-care budget). Put one of its classic "camel libraries" in your shopping basket, for example, and you are possibly contributing £190 to the cost of giving children an education, which may be hump-borne in Ethiopia.

Your friend or relative receives a card and a fridge magnet illustrating your gift; and somewhere in the world the money helps to contribute to the improvement of children's lives.


'Semen straw', £5

ANIMAL and agricultural gifts abound in Send A Cow's virtual gift catalogue. Gifts range from £5 for a shot of prime-bull semen all the way up to £650 for the full daisy: a dairy cow, which comes with everything needed to look after her: training in animal husbandry, nutrition, veterinary care, shelter construction, and more.

But the charity does not only deal in cattle. It provides families in Africa with all kinds of livestock, and all kinds of training that help to transform their lives; so other gifts on its website have titles such as "veg box", "clean latrine", and "educate a child".

Whatever you buy, your money will not necessarily be spent on the item you have ostensibly purchased, but will be used "in the best way possible to get families out of poverty, for good", says the charity.

Your friend or relation will be sent a card explaining your gift. If it's the bull semen you've gone for, they will get a free symbolic sherbet straw as well.


Bicycle-chain cufflinks, £10

TEARFUND is winding up its "Created" line of hand-crafted ethical gifts after 40 years of trading (formerly as Tearcraft), as so many mainstream retailers now carry fairly traded products. It is not too late, however, to buy some of its most popular lines, such as the snazzy £10 cufflinks made out of recycled bicycle-chain, made in India by Noah's Ark. For the bike-mad, there is also a matching photo frame (£12) and clock (£17.50).

For the woman or man who has everything, including a conscience and a sense of humour, Tearfund's most successful virtual gift is "toilet-twinning". For £60, you can commission a new latrine in Afghanistan, Zambia, or elsewhere, and Tearfund will send your friend or relation a certificate that includes a photo of it, and its GPS co- ordinates, to hang in his or her own lavatory.



Six Swazi mini Christmas candles, £12

TRAIDCRAFT is still fighting poverty through trade, and this year's catalogue is rich in good things, from the cute to the exquisite.

For £50, a ten-piece nativity set, hand-carved in Indonesia from alstonia wood, is elegant and charming; but the £98 olive-wood scene carved in Bethlehem has an obvious cachet - and then there's the soapstone set from Kenya. . .

A £12 set of six small decorated candles from Swaziland illuminates the impact that Traidcraft has had. "I have worked here for 16 years," one candlemaker says, "and, with the money I have earned, I have my own house, and I can afford to send my children to school."

A case of six 500ml bottles of Palestinian organic extra virgin olive oil is particularly good value at £52.50, and delivery is free on orders over £50. And why not throw in some delicious dates from the same fair-trade supplier, Zaytoun, at £4 for 250g?


The gift of prayer, £25

THE Anglican charity Us. -formerly known as USPG - is offering a range of eight "life-giving" gifts for Christmas. The gifts start at £12 to train a leader, and go up to £50 for "mosquito nets and more": a holistic approach to tackling the scourge of malaria, which typically involves the local church in teaching people about sanitation and health.

All Us. gifts are virtual presents, and you will receive a card and a "voucher" to pass on to the recipient - except for one, that is, called "the gift of prayer".

Us. points out that prayer has been the foundation of its work for more than 300 years, and it is inviting people to support it in producing prayer and Bible-study resources for Christians worldwide. In return for your £25, you will receive a copy of its new 96-page prayer book We are Us: Praying with the world Church, which is full of prayers and pictures from around the world, which you can either keep for yourself or give to a friend or relative.


A winter coat for a child in Syria, £14

WORLD VISION's range of alternative presents is boldly named "Must Have Gifts", although the twist is that they are not essentials for Western consumers, but for people in real need.

Every one of their Must Have Gifts "is a real item that has been specifically requested by the communities we work with to create a brighter future for their children. We work with them to identify the gifts they need and promise to provide them at the right time, using available funds. When you buy a gift, the purchase repays the funds we use, so that more children can be helped in our ongoing work with their communities," the charity says.

New lines this year range from a toothbrush and toothpaste for £5 and a girl's bike for £125 up to a lavatory block for a school for £1900, all to benefit children in Zimbabwe. A pair of rabbits, for £9, can provide a great business opportunity for a family in Kenya, who can sell the abundant offspring at market. And, of course, you can always buy a goat for £45.


200-piece jigsaw, £11.99

THE leading woodland conservation charity in Britain is offering its supporters a number of ways to put a smile on a someone's face this Christmas.

For £15, you can dedicate a tree to him or her in any one of 53 woods across the country - "some strapping young woods barely above head height, some majestically old and gnarly", as the website puts it. The Trust will send the person to whom it is dedicated a card, with a personal message from you.

If you want to give something more tangible, for £11.99 there is a delightful 200-piece jigsaw of a great oak, designed exclusively for the Trust by the artist and illustrator Amanda Loverseed. It features a number of native species; so it is educational as well as absorbing (perfect for a rainy day, although you may want to tackle it on Christmas Day, whatever the weather).

And, for £24.99, the Hogitat is a cosy home for a hedgehog, designed to protect one of our best-loved creatures from predators, harsh weather, and garden tools.


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