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Peak stuff? Pick these instead

04 November 2016

To highlight more meaningful gifts this Christmas, Gavin Drake takes his pick of real- and virtual-gift catalogues

Christian Aid/Ally Carnwath

On the air: Christian Aid’s “radio producer” gift supports a radio programme educating people about HIV in Burundi, hosted by Aline (pictured), a mother of three, who is living with HIV

On the air: Christian Aid’s “radio producer” gift supports a radio programme educating people about HIV in Burundi, hosted by Aline ...

Pack of four bamboo and cotton socks, £19.99


FOR some 162 years, Embrace the Middle East has been working to support Christian communities by “doing life-changing works” in and around the Middle East, mostly under its former name, the Bible Lands Society. Today, it works in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon.

Its online shop has a full range of gift ideas, from the unusual to the traditional, and from the affordable to the expensive.

Its most expensive alternative gift is a clean water supply for a home in rural Egypt (£300). Its cheapest gifts include stocking-filler items such as a bedtime prayer cube (£2.99) and a papyrus bookmark that reads “The Lord Bless You” (£2.99).

If you are looking for something more traditional, the online shop includes a range of socks, including Christmas favourites such as green bamboo Christmas socks with snow­flake pattern (£4.99).

Alternative gifts bought from Embrace the Middle East will be used to fund the work specified through one of their partners, but if the charity finds that the project “becomes fully funded, we will apply the gift to a similar project, or where the need is greatest”, a spokes­woman, Ali Taylor, said.



Twinned toilet, £60-£240


TEARFUND’s Toilet Twinning pro­ject is an innovative campaign that encourages people to pay for latrines in the developing world, in return for a certificate — containing full GPS co-ordinates — which could be displayed in the donor’s own lavatory. With the GPS co-ordinates, you can look up your twinned toilet on websites such as Google Earth.

You can twin with a single toilet (£40), a double toilet (£80), or a school block or displacement camp (both £240). And, new for Christ­mas, Tearfund is also offering a toilet-twinning gift-box (£80), which includes a gift-boxed soap and toilet roll, with the personalised certificate, presented in a gift box.

To date, more than 64,000 toilets have been built through the Toilet Twinning project. But, in buying this as a gift, you will be buying more than a toilet. As part of com­munity workshops, villagers are taught about the link between health and sanitation. “For many, this is a revelation — a light-bulb moment,” Tearfund says. “Many simply have never . . . understood why their children have fallen ill or died.”

Having been taught the im­­portance of sanitation, and the need for proper sanitary facilities, they are provided with the materials and resources to build their own latrine.



Olive-wood nativity set, £98


THIS Christian-based charity was a co-founder of the Fairtrade Founda­tion, and has been providing fairly traded goods since 1979. This is reflected in its online catalogue, which offers one of the largest ­­ranges of fairly traded gifts available in the UK.

In its campaign for trade justice, Traidcraft has been a global leader in making trade work for growers and producers in the developing world. Its trading profit of £83,000 in 2015/16 belies the impact that the charity has had: much of its £11.3-million turnover in that period was spent buying saleable products on fairtrade terms from producers in the developing world.

These items include an olive-wood nativity set (£98) that has been hand-carved at Holyland Handicrafts, in Bethlehem. This includes a stable, 21 × 24 × 14.5cm, and figurines of Mary, Joseph, shep­herds, the magi, and the baby Jesus

Other items include a set of two 90ml asymmetrical recycled aperitif glasses (£22), produced by Ngwenya Glass, in Swaziland. These former jam jars are now glasses that could be a talking-point at a dinner party.



A can of worms, £15


NOT everyone will appreciate an alternative charity gift. For some, it will open up a whole can of worms. Make sure that happens by buying a can of worms from Present Aid, the charity-gift website that supports Christian Aid.

These worms represent a wormery, which will turn animal waste into organic compost, to help Christian Aid’s partner GUK to improve the lives of marginalised communities in Bangladesh.

Money raised through the gift sales is allocated to one of seven funding streams within Christian Aid, a spokeswoman, Amy Smith, explained. “The gift of the can of worms, which provides ecological benefits, funds climate projects.”

Operating since 2005, Present Aid has generated more than £17 million in just over ten years. The alternative gifts account for just 0.6 per cent of Christian Aid’s annual voluntary income — but more than ten per cent of the income that the agency expects to receive at Christmas time.

The most expensive gift is a “home-safety package” (£250), which covers support for commun­ities, such as raising family homes along the flood-prone Brahmaputra River, in Bangladesh, by seven feet above river levels, and providing families with a goat, seeds, and agricultural tools.

Cheaper gifts include a “weather by text” service (£8) to help Malawian farmers know when to sow seeds and harvest crops; and “Radio producer” (£8), which helps to fund a weekly radio programme that is tackling ignorance about HIV in rural communities in Burundi.



Pack of five elephant-dung cards, £8


YOU may think that paper and card made from elephant dung is nothing more than a gimmick. In fact, the organic product not only saves trees, but also helps to preserve elephants in Africa.

Elephants have no intrinsic value to local communities, but play a hugely important part in the eco-system. But they face a con­tinuing threat from villagers, who are angry with the animals’ en­­croachment on community life: particularly when they work their way through agricultural farmland for their daily diet of 300-600 lb of vegetation. Their diet, however, means that their dung is rich in fibre, which can be cleaned and used to make paper.

These hand-made cards, made by artisans with disabilities at Neema Crafts, in Iringa, Tanzania, are screen-printed and hand-painted with African animal designs, and are blank inside; so they can be used on any occasion.

The online shop features a range of products, including a pair of duck earrings (£3.25) handmade by Wichí artisans in the scrub forest of northern Argentina; and 20 different types of shawl, ranging in price from £6.99 to £15.





THE Anglican mission agency USPG does not have its own online shop, but it has teamed up with the Easy Fundraising online shopping portal. Purchases made through its website — with stores and busi­nesses ranging from M&S to Tesco, and from Aviva to Travelodge — will result in USPG’s receiving commission on the sale.

The agency — which reclaimed its full, but reworked, USPG title (now United Society Partners in the Gospel) from the Us. variant, in August — will also benefit from the purchase of a range of office supplies from companies such as Viking, Ryman, and PC World; so now you can stock up the parish office at the same time as helping the Church’s global mission.



Busy Bees, £10


PREVIOUSLY known as the Methodist Relief and Development Fund, All We Can is an indepen­dent charity with links to the Metho­dist Church. “We continue to heed John Wesley’s call to go not just to where we are needed, but where we are needed most,” the marketing officer, Dean Gillespie, said.

It offers a range of gifts at affordable prices. The most eye-catching is the Busy Bees product, which provides half the materials needed for a family in Ethiopia to build a beehive. The family provides the other half, and is given training in bee-keeping and forest manage­ment. The resultant honey provides a sustainable year-round source of income.

Another gift that operates in this resources-and-training model is Fired Up (£50). This will give 50 families in Burundi the materials and training they need to build a new fuel-efficient stove in their homes. With the new stoves, families spend less time collecting firewood, “reducing pressure on the environment and improving the health of the whole family”, All We Can says.

If you have more substantial funds to spend, you can provide three months of shelter for a refugee in Jordan through “A place to call home (£300-plus).

”All We Can is helping to improve the quality of life, eco­nomic pros­pects, awareness of rights, educa­tion, and health pros­pects within refugee and local host communities in Jordan and Leb­anon,” Mr Gillespie said. They are providing cash assistance to refu­gees to help them pay rent or buy essentials such as nappies and heating.

Money raised through the alternative-gift sales is allocated where the need is judged to be greatest; but gifts related to the refugee crisis are allocated to the charity’s Refugee Response Fund.



End Violence Against Women, £45


IF YOU could buy an end to violence against women for £45, the world would be a much better place. Sadly, you can’t; but, for £45, you can “give a vulnerable woman a bright new future”, Oxfam says.

Funds raised from the Oxfam Unwrapped range of alternative gifts are allocated to one of four project categories. The End Vio­lence Against Women gift produces funds for Oxfam’s “Investing in the future” projects, which help to give people the best opportunities to succeed, (”whether that’s [through] an education, or freedom from violence”, a spokeswoman, Sophie Bowell, said).

In Burundi, Oxfam is tackling domestic violence through training programmes for men, in an area of rural Uganda where, it says, domestic violence is common. It gives examples of men who have been through the course and have not only changed their behaviour as a result, but are challenging the behaviour of other men in the community.

Having this flexibility ensures that Oxfam can get money to the places where it is needed most, “and tailor our activities so that they are appropriate to each community we work with”.

The Oxfam Unwrapped collec­tion also includes a “pile of poo” (£5). This gift delivers a mix of manure, organic fertiliser, and training in eco-friendly farming techniques.

Oxfam’s online shop has a comprehensive range, including books, music, and film, household products, and also a range of the second-hand clothes.



”Festive Diwali” floral silk/cotton shawl, £31.08


THIS fuschia-pink shawl from the Delhi-born artist Isha Jain features a design of jade-green paisleys framed by a border of black block-printed flowers.

Proceeds from sales of physical gifts — such as this 2.57m x 54.6cm cotton-and-silk shawl — go into UNICEF’s general funds; but its website indicates what the purchase may provide (in this case, the garment provides UNICEF with enough money to buy 99 sachets of oral rehydration salts, to help children recover from dehydration and diarrhoea). It is part of an extensive range of fashion items in the UNICEF market, which also includes gifts, home décor, jewel­lery, and greetings cards.

Other items include an artisan hand-carved wood sculpture, Two Hearts in One (£27.95). Made from Indonesian suar wood, and roughly 20cm square and 3.5cm deep, the carving depicts a couple united in a kiss.

UNICEF’s Inspired Gifts range includes tetanus vaccines for 1000 children (£39) and measles vaccines for 50 children (£25). For £153, you can equip a health worker with a bicycle, a vaccine carrier, and measles- and polio-vaccine supplies. UNICEF says that money raised from virtual gifts will normally be used to provide the gifts stated; but it may, depending on local needs, use the money for similar gifts in the same category.



12 Days of Christmas Champagne truffles, £11.99


IT IS six years since the Real Easter Egg was launched by the former Manchester diocesan communica­tions director David Marshall; in that time, his Meaningful Chocolate Company has continued to innovate through the provision of fairly traded chocolate products that tell the Christian meaning of Easter and Christmas.

This year, the company has launched its boxes of 12 Days of Christmas Champagne Truffles, giving a Belgian Marc De Cham­pagne truffle for every day of the Christmas festival. Each box inc­ludes a 16-page “guide to the festival and its traditions”, with contribu­tions from the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane; and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu.

A portion of the profits will be used to make a charitable donation: in this case, to help equip a mater­nity ward, and to support farmers.

Other Christmas-gift ideas from the company include a “Host of Angels” (£4), a set of six solid chocolate angel-shaped Christmas-tree decorations, including a Christmas-story activity poster-and-sticker set; and its ever-popular Real Advent calendar. The company is encouraging people to buy these from larger Tesco stores and other retailers; but you can buy a case of 18 for £71.82 from the company’s own online shop. This works out at £3.99 per item. Each calendar comes with a 28-page activity book, designed by Alida Massari, which tells the Christmas story with a series of Advent challenges.



Fuel a lifeboat, £20


WE ARE an island nation, and we rely on the RNLI more than most of us probably realise. On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the RNLI volunteer crews set to sea some 8228 times last year, rescuing 7973 people; among them are 442 people whose lives were saved.

Despite being a 999 first-response emergency service, the RNLI receives no state funding. It relies on charitable donations to sustain its life-saving work. Its network of 230 lifeboat stations, the training of its crew, and the provision of a lifeguard service on more than 200 beaches cost the RNLI some £460,000 a day.

You can provide 41 litres of fuel for a lifeboat for £20; and that includes a personalised gift card for the person in whose name you are making the gift. Or you can provide sea boots (£45), with specifically moulded soles designed to give grip in all conditions, and to protect crews’ feet from injuries.

Besides offering a range of virtual gifts, the RNLI shop also includes a range of physical gifts, such as a whale butter-dish (£15), a ceramic mug with a whale spoon (£12), and a waterproof gadget-pouch with lanyard (£4.95) to keep a phone or iPod safe from the elements.



Mini children’s library, £26


EVERY one of World Vision’s alternative gifts is an item that has been specifically requested by the communities served by the agency.

”To make sure we can fulfil our promises to deliver these gifts when and where children need them most, the money raised from the sale of the gifts repays funds that have already been invested. Working in this way ensures that items are given to communities when needed to have the maximum impact,” the charity’s direct marketing manager, Tim Hunt, said.

These gifts include a mini chil­dren’s library, which is used to improve literacy in places such as Myan­­mar, where child literacy levels are low. “The availability of books is scarce [and] internet access is virtu­ally non-existent. Not only do they help children to better read and write but crucially allow them to learn about the wider world and life in general.”

Other items include — at the higher end of the price-range — the sinking of a bore hole (£605) to provide a village with clean drinking-water, or — at the cheaper-end — a mosquito net (£8), a school station­ary set (£8), and a solar-powered light (£52).

”A child’s day can be a long one, especially in countries like Zim­babwe, where girls, in particular, have excessive amounts of chores, in addition to long walks to school. School work can be neglected. Solar lamps are an excellent and sustain­able way of providing light, so children can study in the evenings.”


Dairy cow, £650


ORIGINALLY established by a group of British Christian dairy farmers who literally did send cows to Uganda, the charity now works in a variety of ways to tackle poverty across Eastern Africa, from Ethiopia to Lesotho.

It was one of the first charities to launch an alternative-gifts cata­logue, and it has raised more than £10 million since it was established more than 25 years ago.

”We concentrate on developing a comprehensive gift catalogue that gives people a wide range of gift options that can suit all budgets, and in providing a fast, reliable service,” the charity’s head of individual giving, Vickie Brown, said. “It’s an approach that works well for us; many people support us year on year through our gift catalogue.’’

Its most expensive gift is “farm friends” (£1450), which provides three to five years of training, as well as livestock or crops, and ongoing support to help a family become self-sufficient farmers. Alternatively, you can stick to the charity’s original vision, and buy a dairy cow (£650) or a local cow (£210).

In the more affordable range, you can buy pigs (£24), chickens (£8), or even donkeys (£12).

Gift recipients receive a gift-pack or e-certificate giving details of the gift, while the money raised from the sales is spent on livestock and training programmes, dependent on a community’s individual needs.

”If a community is best-suited to cows, they will get cows. If they can better manage chickens, they will get chickens,” a spokeswoman, Azita Shamsolahi, said. “This means that donations will be used wherever the need is greatest.”

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