We’ve never gone for it in my family. Goats I mean, or adopting a vegetable, or fuelling a lifeboat, or teaching someone to read, or delivering a baby. Or whatever is the current ethical, non-consumer, anti-materialist version of Christmas gifts currently in favour.
I did gently and hesitantly offer the topic up for discussion a few years ago, at that point during Christmas Day revelry when even the tiniest presents that had got caught in the pine needles had been retrieved and opened. Everyone was gloating over their pile of goodies, so it seemed to me the perfect moment to explore possible alternatives in a non-threatening context.
Now I’m not saying that my nearest and dearest are greedy, mean or selfish. On the contrary, they’re a really rather nice, giving group of people. But somehow my meek suggestion fell on deaf ears. Everyone was having too much fun and I came across as the ultimate party pooper.
As patently my strategy and timing were both wrong, I nevertheless decided that this year, rather than admit total defeat and abandon the idea altogether, I would make further enquiries before raising this again with the extended family.
Now that was an eye opener; things have really moved on from just goats, even though they are still the default guilt-averse alternative to Christmas socks and handkerchiefs. Today it’s all about microfinance – you buy a voucher from one of the charities set up for this purpose, and the recipient gets to choose an individual in one of several developing countries who has registered a need for a loan to start or expand their small business.
The opportunities, not surprisingly, are endless. Here are just a few of them: someone in Malawi needs a loan to buy maize to sell; a woman in Cambodia wants to buy a new walking tractor. A woman in Zimbabwe needs a loan so she can stock her stall in advance of the festive season. A woman in Benin described as an ‘itinerant trader’ needs a loan to buy cosmetics, cloth and shoes in bulk so she can increase her profits.
What struck me was how many of these entrepreneurs featured on the charity websites were women. This could simply reflect the charities’ focus on helping women out of poverty by empowering them and strengthening their businesses. Nevertheless, it is well documented that women who have access to microfinance rarely default on their loans, and as a dame it is always good to know about efforts that support women and increase their independence. If you want to know more, these guys have loads of options: http://www.presentaid.org/
My sister-in-law emailed me a couple of weeks ago: was I once again prepared to take on the role of Santa’s little helper (SLH) and coordinate everyone’s Christmas list to ensure a) there were no duplicates and b) there would be smiles on all the assembled faces? Of course, I replied by return. I mean, after all, someone’s got to do it.
Just one thing – SLH wields enormous power; sometime in the next couple of years she is thinking of tearing up all those lists and replacing them with a range of ethical alternatives (children of course excepted). Sometimes you just need to rock the boat..