"On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a steaming pile of poo." My significant other just might be saying that for real this festive season. One of the most popular presents at Oxfam Unwrapped happens indeed to be a pile of poo.
"Don't let the name fool you, this is no crappy gift!" says the blurb which goes onto explain that cow waste is a low-cost, renewable way of powering homes in East Timor - and a bargain at just $20.
Christmas shopping has become a whole lot more complicated of late. The annual frenzied shopping spree has long felt shallow and unduly materialistic to many people but it reaches new lows when balanced against the opportunity to fund critical resources in developing countries.
Should I buy some trifling gift that is destined to be opened, momentarily appreciated and quickly discarded or should I provide essential survival requirements to a needy human being? Hmmmm.
It's not exactly the greatest ethical dilemma ever posed. It becomes even more of a no-brainer when you realise what riches an embarrassingly small sum of money can bestow:
$5 for a pair of jandals (Tear Fund's Gift for Life)
$6 for water purification tablets (World Vision's Smiles programme)
$10 for twenty bars of hand soap (Oxfam Unwrapped)
$12 for a mosquito net (World Vision's Smiles programme)
$15 for a pair of chickens (Oxfam Unwrapped)
$18 for safe water for ten people (Oxfam Unwrapped)
$20 for three ducks (Oxfam Unwrapped)
$26 for childhood immunisation (World Vision's Smile programme)
$27 for a baby emergency health kit (Oxfam Unwrapped)
$30 for warm blankets (World Vision's Smile programme)
$50 for a live goat (Tear Fund's Gift for Life)
$100 to stock a medical clinic (World Vision's Smile programme)
$120 to fight human trafficking (Tear Fund's Gift for Life)
$265 for a cow (World Vision's Smile programme)
Some people may fear that their more self-centred friends and family members could feel insulted by the announcement that this year there's no Christmas present for them because you're giving the needy a gift on their behalf instead. Tear Fund has the solution to that problem and recommends giving actual gifts that complement the main one - such as a cheese knife, board and goats cheese when you buy a goat or some stationery when you fund educational needs. Or how about a pair of Havaianas when you fund jandals? They'll set you back more than $5 for sure.
Yet it seems that the gift you choose is more notional than actual. As World Vision explains: "Don't worry, we don't put ducks and goats into boxes and ship them off overseas!" Rather each item is representative of an area of need so a gift of, say, seeds or an animal would be directed towards the charity's agricultural and environmental work. It's similar to the way sponsoring a child for a set amount each month works. The money goes to benefit the community at large rather the child in particular. The idea of sponsoring a child or purchasing a flock of ducklings is just a smart, if somewhat misleading, way of packaging the offer and personalising the transaction.
So why not take the plunge this Christmas? I reckon it'll take just one gift of some vegetable seeds or a live goat and you'll be hooked. It's a little bit like playing FarmVille except there's a point to it.
- HERALD ONLINE