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Chickens for charity; poultry for peace

No matter what holiday you're celebrating with presents, it's always appropriate to give a gift that will benefit more people than just the recipient. The greatest way to do this is by using one of the charity catalogues that allow you to shop for people in need when you shop for your friends and family.

A number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the developing world have programs whereby you can sponsor all kinds of things needed by people and communities, from chickens to motorcycles for travelling community nurses.

Despite their irritating sidewalk solicitors, Plan International's Because I Am A Girl campaign is definitely worth supporting. As Plan points out, "girls in the poorest regions of the world are among the most disadvantaged people on the planet." But, helping them can make a huge difference because healthy, well-educated girls grow up to be empowered community members and leaders who raise new generations of strong women. (Boy children deserve help too, of course, but for some reason they are more valued and therefore allowed to consume a bigger share of limited resources.)

Some of the items in this project include girls-only latrines ($100), which allow girls to relieve themselves, change sanitary products, and wash with dignity and privacy; literacy training, including financial literacy, for two women costs $120; and sending a girl to school for a year costs $295.

For only $25, you can provide a birth certificate. Think about it: if you can't prove your identity, you can't vote, you can't go to school, you can't get health care, and you can't even access refugee services if you need them. You can't work legally and therefore you risk abuse and exploitation. If you do find a job, you can't have a bank account. You can't get married. In other words, without ID, you don't exist. Twenty-five dollars is a bargain!

Malaria kills 1,600 people every day. It's carried by mosquitoes. Bed nets treated with insecticide stop those mosquitoes from biting. They will last for three years and they cost $10 or $100 for 12.

And, if you want to give chickens for Christmas, you'll get a baby chick for $17 or three hens and a rooster for $80. For $50, you can provide a sheep. A whole farm's worth of animals is only $190.... As the goat says, through Gordon Pinsent, "Shop Today!"

Organised in 1937, Plan is independent and includes all faiths.

Oxfam Canada offers a similar service through "Oxfam Unwrapped." With videos like "Chickens Changing Lives," their website allows you to support Oxfam's work by sponsoring a well ($175) or a goat ($58) or a beehive ($100). Working in more than 90 countries, Oxfam wants to empower people and close the gap between rich and poor in the world. Oxfam sees the solution to much injustice is "gender justice," and therefore works to support women's human rights. Their website announces the following horrifying statistics:

* more than 70% of the people living on less than $1 per day are women;

* 80 milliion children have no access to education and most of these are girls;

* every day, 1,400 women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth;

* young women are two to six times more likely to contract HIV than the general population;

* one in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, and one in three will experience physical, mental, or sexual abuse;

* only 16% of the world's elected politicians are women.

Oxfam was founded in Britain in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, campaigning for supplies to be sent through the Allied naval blockade to help starving women and children in WWII Greece.

Ipsos Reid polls discovered that four out of five Canadians like to give charity gifts and 63% prefer to receive them. The Christian charity World Vision calls charity giving "ethically chic." Not that you will necessarily comparison shop, but three hens and a rooster from them costs only $50, although a sheep is $150. Soccer balls, textbooks, maternal health, pharmacies..... All needed, all here.

The charities also offer "Plumpy'nut," the nutrition paste that can save a kid from dying of malnutrition. Supplies are cheaper than a McDonald's Happy Meal and last much longer.

Although all these organisations work in Canada, next week we will look at specifically Canadian NGOs, for those who want their charity to begin at home.

The next two weeks are the time to shop online. Blow your relatives' gifts out of the water! A goat for a third-world family beats a scented candle or an ugly sweater hands down.... Peace of mind and the knowledge that you can feed your family beyond just this week are priceless....

Let's help change somebody else's landscape!

Please note: the only thing harmed on this chicken was its dignity....

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