Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nicolas Kristof on holiday gifts

In a recent New York Times (Sunday, December  1st, 2013) columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote some ideas for gift giving that most of us have not heard of. First he writes about gifts to established charities – they will tell your friend or family member that you gave the gift in their name:
*Buy a year of schooling for a girl in Ethiopia through the International Rescue Committee (
*Buy a flock of geese for an impoverished family in a poor country through Heifer International (

 Here are his more unusual suggestions: –
*Help to prevent unwanted pregnancies in kids here at home. The Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program is a school curriculum “devised by a New York City education expert, Dr. Michael Carrera, who recognized that it’s not enough to hand out condoms.  One also needs to give kids in high poverty neighborhoods a stake in a better future, a reason to think they can succeed.  So the curriculum includes comprehensive sex education but also financial literacy, job preparation and summer internships, S.A.T. coaching and much more.  The program has now spread to more than 20 states, and follow-up studies suggest it reduces pregnancy rates by half.  For $50, you can fund a student’s college savings account, part of the financial literacy element (information is at”

*Afghan Institute of Learning, founded by an Afghan woman to run empowerment and training programs for Afghan women and girls.  The institute was founded in the 1990s, when it was illegal, as girls’ education is threatening to the Taliban. $65 pays for a year of literacy classes for a girl or woman.  (

* will sell you gifts under $30 made by people all over the developing world, such as a hand-embroidered scarf made by Afghan widows.

*HELP – Haitian Education and Leadership Program.  HELP searches across Haiti for the most outstanding students from disadvantaged backgrounds and sends them to college, while providing counseling, English and computer tutoring and stipends.  HELP students pledge to contribute 15% of their earnings for their first 9 years of employment, to make the program sustainable.  (

*Reach Out and Read is a U.S. literacy program for the disadvantaged that uses doctors to encourage parents to read to their children.  They hand out free books and leaflets promoting bedtime stories, thereby ‘prescribing’ reading to the child.  Families in this award winning program are more likely to describe reading as a child’s favorite activity.  Books are donated by publishers like Scholastic.  $50 covers a child’s cost for five years.  (

Nicholas Kristof  and his wife Sheryl WuDunn are heroes of mine.  They wrote Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in 2010.  They travel the world to find people making a difference for humanity in difficult places.  I try to pay attention to their suggestions.

Readers, have a thoughtful and joyous holiday season.  Let’s hope for rain.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH    back issues on this blog

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