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Alternative Christmas gifts 2018

26 October 2018

Christmas giving— do you want to approach it differently this year? Rebecca Paveley takes her pick of real and virtual gifts aimed at making a difference in the Middle East

Hanan, in Jordan, is working with other women to support their families through small businesses, supported by All We Can

Hanan, in Jordan, is working with other women to support their families through small businesses, supported by All We Can

THE average person in Britain is expected to spend more than £350 on Christmas gifts this year. Among the shops and online retailers competing for a share of that spending is the charitable-gift sector.

Ethical gifts are big business for charities, whether they are “real” presents that can be wrapped up and opened under the tree or a donation of money that buys a gift for someone in need elsewhere. Shoppers wanting to ensure that their hard-earned money brings a longer-lasting benefit have plenty of options to choose from this Christmas.

Gifts that are donations of money for training or goods usually come with a gift card to give to the recipient. For all such donations of money, the charities say that the value of the gift may be substituted to spend on other essentials as the situation and the need require.

Below are some gifts that focus on supporting artisans and communities in the Middle East. A range of both traditional gifts and donations of money for training and supplies have been selected to suit a variety of budgets.


All We Can: Change bakers, £91

This gift provides training to enable Syrian refugee women to set up a sustainable small business to support their families. The women develop small co-operatives, such as sewing groups that make clothes; craft groups that produce soap, candles, and other handmade items; beautician and hairdressing groups that serve their community; and groups that prepare and cook food to sell.

The women in the groups bring different experiences and expertise, and they learn from each other. The women in one cookery group said: “We work together to achieve what we need for our business. Some manage the cooking. Some are good with biscuits and sweet items. Some are good with marketing. So we all work together on things.”



Good Gifts: Peace Oil, £12.95

Peace Oil is an olive oil produced in Israel by Jews, Arabs, Druze, and Bedouin — all working together. Grown in the foothills of the Carmel Mountains, the olives are pressed within hours of picking to produce this prizewinning extra-virgin olive oil.

It is an initiative of a charity registered in the UK, the Charities Advisory Trust, which says that Peace Oil encourages co-operation between communities. Projects helped by the sale of the oil include buying beehives for Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, and supporting groups of Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian young in cleaning up the River Jordan.



Barnabas Fund: Schooling for a child in Bethlehem, £9.50

This gift pays for a week’s schooling for a Christian child in Bethlehem. This is the average cost for a pupil at St Aphrem’s School, Beit Jala, Bethlehem, which is supported by the Barnabas Fund.

Many Christian families in Bethlehem are poor, but St Aphrem’s charges minimal fees, and is able to offer some places free of charge because of Christian supporters around the world, who donate through the Barnabas Fund. The charity also paid for most of the building costs of the school, which now has about 640 children on its roll.



Embrace the Middle East: Zaytoun gift box, £18.99

Zaytoun’s gift box, containing Fairtrade extra-virgin olive oil, Medjoul dates, and Za’atar aromatic herb mix,is available from Embrace the Middle EastThis gift box contains the world’s first Fairtrade Foundation certified extra-virgin olive oil, Medjoul dates, and Za’atar, a traditional Palestinian aromatic herb-mix produced from an indigenous variety of thyme.

The gift box is produced by the Zaytoun co-operative, which was set up in 2004 to promote fairly traded Palestinian products and plough profits back into Palestinian farming communities. About 100,000 Palestinian families try to make a living from farming, but finding an outlet for their goods can be challenging. The contents of the box can also be bought separately from Embrace the Middle East.

One of the producers from Zaytoun, Mohammed, from Siir village, said: “I started receiving higher prices, and that made a huge difference to our family’s farming income. I stopped worrying about searching for local traders that would take my olive oil with conditions and at low prices. Now, we get paid during the harvest, instead of waiting months to sell all our produce.”



Amos Trust: Christmas cards, £6 for a pack of ten

Proceeds from this year’s Amos Trust Christmas appeal will support the Wi’am Conflict Resolution Centre’s children’s holiday programme, Smile, and their women’s-empowerment projects in Bethlehem.

Amos TrustOne of the Christmas card designs available through the Amos Trust

Wi’am’s Smile programme provides activities for children over the Christmas period. Bethlehem has three Christmases — Roman (25 December), Orthodox (7 January), and Armenian (18 January) — and the children are off school for this whole period.

The children come from Aida and Al Isra refugee camps, and the area around Wi’am which abuts the Israeli separation wall. The women’s empowerment programme helps to train women to find employment, besides providing support.



Traidcraft: Holy Land ceramic bowl, £32

TraidcraftA ceramic bowl made by artisans from Holy Land Handicrafts, Bethlehem, available through TraidcraftSkilled artists, working with Holy Land Handicrafts in Bethlehem, have painted this ceramic bowl. This fairtrade co-operative society creates opportunities for economically disadvantaged artisans, encouraging their independence and providing safe working conditions, fair payment, and gender equality.

They have been connecting local craftspeople with businesses for more than 30 years, and 900 artisans now benefit from the co-operative. Without this co-operative, Bethlehem’s handicraft industry would have disappeared, Traidcraft says. (Traidcraft, despite its restructuring plans, urges people to continue buying goods from it.)



Christian Aid: Antibiotics for the most vulnerable in Palestine, £9

© Heidi Levine/Christian Aid© Heidi Levine/Christian AidThis gift will buy antibiotics for use by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS). The society provides urgent health care for communities in the occupied Palestinian territory. PMRS runs the only centre in Gaza dedicated to chronic diseases, and offers targeted services for people with disabilities, ensuring that their work complements and strengthens other health-care services, and provides specialised care for the most vulnerable.

Christian Aid has recently supported PMRS in providing essential medication and treatment for children with chronic diseases, in response to the severe shortages of medication, equipment, and electricity which affect health-care services in Gaza.



UNICEF: Help a Syrian child survive the cold by providing a set of warm winter clothing, £35

A vulnerable child can be kitted out with jackets, trousers, fleeces, boots or strong shoes, a scarf, and a hat, with this gift. In Syria and across the region, more than eight million children need immediate humanitarian assistance.

Winter clothes are provided for Syrian children both within Syria and in camps and communities in the surrounding regions. Clothes can also be given separately to suit different budgets: for example, it is possible to buy a pair of boots for £8, or a hat and gloves for £12.



World Vision: Back-to-school kit, £16

This gift buys exercise books, text-books, and basic items such as chalk for a child who has lost everything after his or her home has been destroyed by disaster or conflict. The items in this gift provide children with learning materials to enable them to get back to school.

With all of World Vision’s “Must Have” gifts, the charity says that, although many gifts do go to children in the Middle East, they do not make guarantees on particular gifts, as the money raised goes to the wider work of the charity.


World VisionWorld Vision is supporting Syrian children to continue in their education, such as Shaima, aged 12, a Syrian refugee now living in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan    


Matana box: £30 for one box (subscriptions are available for a box a month for a year)

A Matana box with Israeli artisan productsMatana, which means “gift” in Hebrew, was founded by a Canadian-Israeli woman, Emily Berg, with the aim of giving Israeli small enterprises access to a global market. Each box, which is sent once a month, features one Israeli vendor and contains a selection (usually three to five) of their products. Included in each box is a postcard with the vendor’s story.

Boxes can be sent with a gift message. Contents might include, for example, cold-pressed olive oil, camel-milk soap, organic date energy bars, za’atar pesto, anise-flavoured wildflower honey, Ethiopian tahini, desert-fruit jam, merlot- and rosemary-infused Dead Sea salts, halva-flavoured almond butter, stationery, citrus-extract shampoo, souri olive tapenade, and pomegranate-leaf tea.

Vendors whose products feature in the boxes include a vegan collective in the Arava desert, a small family-run farm in the Golan, a group of African refugee women in south Tel Aviv, and an entirely female olive-growing co-operative, in which Jewish and Arab women work side by side.


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