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Libraries, loos, livestock

Steve Tomkins

There are even more options for those opting to buy alternative gifts this Christmas, says Steve Tomkins

Christian Aid's Present Aid catalogue is now in its ninth year, and has expanded to include even more items. New additions include a scholarship for a girl in Cambodia (£93), and a floating garden that provides food in flooded areas (£18).

Another new feature is a website for group giving. This allows you to bring together your church or school to buy a more expensive item, such as a brick house for someone made homeless by flooding. You can make payments online, and follow the progress of the fund.

Across the charitable sector, the money that comes in from virtual gifts has declined, as these have become less of a novelty. Nevertheless, Christian Aid still seeks to raise £600,000 from Present Aid each Christmas.

Also, gifts can be bought right up to Christmas Day, with cards and group gift certificates that can be printed out at home. Prices range from £5 for antibiotics for a child to £1385 for a permanent house for a dispossessed family. The money raised by Present Aid is distributed wherever it is most needed.

For an individual: Twenty rapid-diagnostic malaria kits cost £15. These kits enable people in remote areas to diagnose malaria in time to get life-saving treatment.
For a group: For £48, meals for street children could help kids who lead a precarious existence surviving by scavenging, begging, or selling snacks or cigarettes on the streets.

Dame Hilary Blume, of Good Gifts, became a pioneer of alternative giving 11 years ago. She was prompted by the unneeded gifts that she and her husband received for their silver wedding and his 60th birthday, and by someone who bought education for a student in the developing world instead of a gift.

The catalogue has changed over the years to reflect demand. A distinctive principle of Good Gifts is that your money always goes to the cause that you have chosen. 'There was a very jolly donkey project in Rwanda. That is complete now; we don't need any more donkeys. Other things such as education and restoring sight are ongoing.'

Gifts for this year include giant gro-bags (£40), which enable people in refugee camps to grow vegetables; and knitting packs (£9-100), which offer therapy and community activity, as well as income, for women in Africa and Asia.

Groups such as schools or churches can club together to raise money for 'giant gifts'. Examples range from a water tank for an African school (£500) to an acre of greenbelt land (£5000).

For an individual: A Christmas hamper costs £25. Hampers for elderly people in places such as Easterhouse, in Glasgow, not only provide gifts for those who receive nothing else, but also help struggling communities by inspiring young people and local shops to get involved.

For a group: In India, where poor neighbourhoods in towns and villages are book free zones, you can establish a literacy base by endowing a library. It costs £1250 including furniture, books and librarian's salary for 2 years

Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) works towards the long-term development of poor communities in 19 countries. Its Extraordinary Gifts catalogue has been running for five years, and offers nine different presents for supporters.

Current gifts range from a beehive for a farmer in Ethiopia (£10) to hand-washing facilities at a Ugandan school (£205). All the money raised goes directly to the projects concerned.

The more expensive gifts are mainly aimed at groups. MRDF's marketing-development officer, Ruth Kendal, says: 'Group gifts are a wonderful way for churches or schools to get together and provide something more than individuals can on their own.'

The money raised through Extraordinary Gifts has declined over the years. 'As the novelty has worn off, we've seen less money coming in this way each year. But it is still a really important source of income,' Ms Kendal says.

For an individual: £8 would pay for a hoe and shovel for a Malawian living with HIV/AIDS. Together with seeds and training in organic farming, this will provide a person in vulnerable circumstances with the means to grow more food - ensuring they will have enough to eat and allowing their life saving drugs to be more effective.

For a group: Professional counselling, at a cost of £101, helps people living with HIV in Togo. This gift pays a month's salary for a psychologist, providing more than 140 sessions to help people to come to terms with their diagnosis, and make wise choices for the future.


Wish List is Save the Children's well established alternative-giving scheme for Christmas. It offers gifts that improve the lives of children in more than 120 countries.

The catalogue has 43 gifts, ranging in price from £5, which will buy a football or art kit for a child in need, to £625 for an equipped classroom for an isolated community.

New this year is the Camel Library, a group gift with a special appeal for schools, which can raise money to offer the gift of reading to children in remote areas of Africa.

'In a harsh, conflict-affected, and marginalised part of the world, the gift of a camel library can help children to develop their education and future opportunities,' Save the Children says. The money raised through Wish List goes towards work with a similar theme.

For an individual: A 'No child born to die survival kit' costs £22. It includes a measles vaccine, and treatments for diarrhoea and pneumonia for one child. The kit offers protection from diseases that kill millions of children every year.

For a group: A Camel Library gift costs £190. Camel libraries in Ethiopia take books to children who cannot get to school because of their nomadic lifestyle. Led by a herder and librarian, the camel carries trunks of books around the desert, making regular visits to poor and isolated communities.


Embrace the Middle East (BibleLands), the charity that has been tackling poverty and injustice in the Middle East since 1854. It is currently supporting projects in Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt.

Its alternative-gifts catalogue, in its sixth year of operation, now offers 15 gifts, and is bucking the downward trend across the charitable sector bringing in more money than ever, at up to £50,000.

Gift possibilities range from a week of school meals (£5) to a group gift of training for a widow to set up her own small business (£60). All donations are used for the exact purpose specified in the catalogue.

For an individual: Warm clothes, for £9, will help children in Palestine and Lebanon whose families cannot afford heating in the winter.

For a group: Training for widows costs £60. The Fruits of Labour scheme allowed 24-year-old Amira to start her own fruit-andvegetable stall, to provide for her three children; £60 will allow another woman in a similar position to attend the seminars.


Lend with care offers an alternative form of alternative giving. Instead of buying a specific gift in the name of a friend or relative, you buy him or her a voucher to make a loan to an entrepreneur in the developing world.

Lend With Care is a three-year-old joint initiative of Care International and the Co-operative. It allows UK investors to loan anything from £15 upwards to entrepreneurs in six countries, including Cambodia, Bosnia, and Ecuador. The 30 schemes available include family businesses, such as an iced-drinks shop, and photographic equipment for a reporter in Togo. The amounts that entrepreneurs are seeking vary from £500 to £3000, but individual investors do not have to cover the whole amount, simply make a contribution to it.

When the loan is repaid, the donor can choose to take back the money, invest it in another loan, or give it to Care International.

For an individual (2012 example): Motorcycle repairs costs £15. Contribute to a 12-month loan that allows Kokou, in Togo, to buy supplies for his motorcycle-repair business.

For a group (2012 example): Support a pork butcher for £574.68. Give the whole remaining amount needed for an eight-month loan that will give Marcia, in Ecuador, capital for the pork-butcher's business she inherited from her father.


WaterAid works to improve access to safe water, hygiene, and sanitation for poor communities in 27 countries. The most popular gifts from their Sh2op For Life include hand pumps, village latrines, and taps for village water-points.

Sh2op For Life offers presents for a wide range of budgets: for £10, you can get enough cement for builders to make two latrines; for £4328, your church or school can build a gravity-flow scheme - a low-maintenance system that pipes clean water from hill springs down to villages near by.

You can also buy campaigning gifts, such as placards and petitions, that support WaterAid's advocacy work.

For churches and schools that are raising money for a large donation, the Sh2op For Life has a section devoted to Organisation Gifts. These pay for substantial projects such as a borehole, or a sanitation-advice shop, which allow groups to 'spread that feel-good factor to members, customers, and colleagues', WaterAid says.

For an individual: Train a pump attendant for £20. This three-day scheme trains men and women to maintain and repair the village water-pump.

For a group: Cap a spring for £2500. This gift provides the structure to protect a newly tapped spring from contamination.


Send a Cow supports farmers in seven African countries. It has expanded its operations since its inception in 1985. Its gift catalogue has grown from about five items to over 30, and although its heyday was in 2005, it still provides a good source of income for the charity.

Send a Cow has added a new product for the groupgift market in the last couple of years - a £2000 farmyard. This gift comes with livestock, tools, and training. Although the price of presents starts at £5, the farmyard is Send a Cow's most expensive gift, whereby You will be providing livestock, tools, training and practical support to people who really need your help.

For an individual: Fruit trees costs £14. Once farmers are trained in composting and soil regeneration, they can grow fruit both for their own family's nutrition and to sell locally.

For a group: For £750, you can send a cow to Kenya, Rwanda, or Uganda. It will provide a family with more than 3000 litres of milk a year. A cow provides milk for family nutrition, and a steady source of income - plus manure for plants.