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Originally published Friday, December 7, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Gift giving with a purpose

It’s time for Nicholas D. Kristof’s annual holiday-giving guide. Readers often ask Kristof, “What can I do?” This column is his answer.

Syndicated columnist

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Looking for an unusual holiday gift? How about a $60 trio of rabbits to a family in Haiti in the name of someone special? Bunnies raise a farming family’s income because they, well, reproduce like rabbits — six litters a year! Heifer International arranges the gift on its website (heifer.org).

Or for $52 you can buy your uncle something more meaningful than a necktie: Send an Afghan girl to school for a year in his name, through the International Rescue Committee (rescue.org).

Yes, it’s time for my annual holiday-giving guide. The question I most often get from readers is “What can I do?” This column is an answer. As in past years, I’m highlighting small organizations because you’re less likely to know about them.

Shining Hope for Communities (shininghopeforcommunities.org) was started by Kennedy Odede, a slum-dweller in Nairobi, Kenya, who taught himself to read. A visiting American gave him a book on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and it inspired Odede to organize local residents to fight against social injustice — particularly sexual violence, because his 16-year-old sister had just been raped.

Odede now runs an outstanding girls’ school in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, along with a clinic, a water and sanitation program, and job-training classes. That slum school is one of the most hopeful places I’ve ever visited.

After I wrote about Shining Hope in 2011, Times readers contributed $180,000, leading to a huge expansion so that Shining Hope (mostly through the clinic) now serves some 36,000 people. Another nearby slum, Mathare, has invited Odede to start a girls’ school there if he can find the resources.

Dr. Hawa Abdi (vitalvoices.org/hawafund) runs a hospital, school and refugee camp in war-torn Somalia. She became an obstetrician-gynecologist partly because her mother had died in childbirth, and she has focused on helping rural Somali women.

The land around her 400-bed hospital, outside of Mogadishu, has become an encampment serving up to 90,000 people made homeless by war.

Hawa has provided water, health care and education, and when students transfer to Mogadishu they are up to three grades ahead of children there. Hawa also is battling female genital mutilation, and she runs a jail for men who beat their wives.

An extremist Muslim militia with 750 soldiers attacked the hospital two years ago, saying that it was against religion for a woman to run anything substantial. Hawa stood up to the attackers and — because ordinary Somalis sided with her — she was able to force the militia to back down. Then she made the militia write her an apology!

Yet Hawa’s hospital and school are struggling financially. Vital Voices, a Washington organization supporting women’s rights, has set up a tax-deductible mechanism to keep Hawa’s work going.

Polaris Project (polarisproject.org) is a leader in the fight against human trafficking in the United States. One of its most important projects is a nationwide hotline, with interpreters on standby for 176 languages, for anyone who sees people who may be trafficked. It’s 888-373-7888. This year alone, Polaris says, it has helped more than 3,200 victims get services through the hotline.

Polaris, based in Washington, D.C., has also been a powerful advocate for tougher laws around the country — those that target pimps rather than just the girls who are their victims.

Polaris says that this year alone it has helped 17 states pass laws on human trafficking. And Polaris has supported nearly 500 trafficking survivors as they start new lives.

Fair Girls (fairgirls.org) is also based in Washington, D.C., and fights sex trafficking at home and abroad. Its founder, Andrea Powell, braves dangerous streets and disgusting websites for hours in search of girls enslaved in the sex trade, and she is fearless about confronting pimps and prying girls from their grasp.

Earlier this year, I wrote about one of the trafficking survivors Fair Girls has helped: Alissa, the street name of a Boston girl whose cheek is scarred where a pimp gouged her with a potato peeler as a warning not to run away.

Alissa ultimately testified against her pimps and sent them to prison. Now, with Powell’s mentoring, she is helping other girls escape that life as well.

Fair Girls also trains trafficking survivors to make jewelry, which makes nice gifts and is available on the group’s website.

© 2012, New York Times News Service

Nicholas D. Kristof is a regular columnist for The New York Times.


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