Generosity | Gifts That Give

With the “season of giving” in our midst, many of us are swept away in a whirlwind of holiday rituals and rhetoric. Around this time of year we plan for gatherings, prepare traditional meals and venture out on an enduring quest to find the perfect gift for friends and family members. This season serves as a time for reflection, a time for seeing the “big picture” and thinking about those in need. Read on for unique ways to combine your humanitarian and charitable intentions with your gift giving this season and year-round.
Heifer International
In lieu of shopping until the cows come home, why not help bring a cow to someone’s home? For more than 60 years, Heifer International has been providing livestock and agricultural training to communities throughout the world who struggle for reliable sources of food and income. Through the nonprofit’s “Most Important Gift Catalog in the World” that can be found online, individuals can gift a variety of items such as seedlings, honey bees, cows, sheep, llamas, water buffalo, goats, flocks of geese, chicks and ducks.

Once received, an animal will provide milk, eggs, wool or fertilizer – all of which can be sold to increase a household’s income. A single cow can produce up to four gallons of protein-rich milk every day. The milk provides children with nourishment and families with an income through the sale of its surplus. The fertilizer produced by the cow assists in the growth of crops. A healthy cow can birth a calf every year, which means that the gift of one cow could eventually help an entire community.

Heifer offers the option to gift a whole or a share of livestock and agricultural items with themes well-suited for various giving occasions. Whether you are looking to spend $10 USD or $10,000 USD, this is a unique way to give a gift that will help families who struggle with hunger and poverty throughout the world.

Nothing but Nets
Peaceful slumber is something we all need. Night is a time to close our eyes, relax and drift slowly into the unconscious. However, in regions where malaria runs rampant, night proves to be an unsettling and dangerous time. Most mosquitoes carrying this potentially deadly infection bite humans between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., leaving those asleep unknowingly vulnerable. Yet a simple and effective preventative measure can be taken to stop the spread of malaria: an insecticide-treated net that covers the beds of sleeping individuals.

Nothing But Nets is a campaign to save lives by delivering insecticide-treated bed nets to Africa to prevent the transmission of malaria. The campaign was inspired by Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly and created by the United Nations Foundation in May 2006. Other campaign partners include the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, Sports Illustrated and the Women’s National Basketball Association. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also matches individual donations dollar for dollar.

To date, the campaign has distributed more than 400,000 nets to families in Africa.

A Nigerian mother and her children sit next to the insecticide-treated net that protects them while they sleep. Photo | Courtesy of Mike Dubose, UMC-Nothing But Nets
donation of $10 USD to Nothing But Nets covers the cost of purchasing and distributing a net, as well as educating communities in its use. Coated with insecticide, the nets repel and kill mosquitoes that attempt to enter where families sleep, in turn guarding them against malaria infections. Who knows, you may even sleep a bit easier knowing that someone else will too.

HeroRAT
Move over Mighty Mouse, there is a new heroic rodent in town – the rat. There are more landmines in Africa than in any other continent and their threat is very real. Every day people are maimed or killed by landmines. Through a program aptly titled HeroRAT, the African giant pouched rat is trained to exercise its powerful sense of smell to detect landmines and other dangerous explosives. If this scenario seems farfetched, consider this, in Mozambique de-mining rats have cleared more than 400.000 square meters (4,306 square feet) of land. Moreover, communities of Tanzania, Burundi and Angola have welcomed this landmine detection program. HeroRAT has also been endorsed by the 11 Great Lakes Region countries of Africa to de-mine their common borders.

The HeroRAT program was created by the nonprofit Apopo and its team of Belgian researchers in 1997. The organization’s founder, Bart Weetjens, has always had a strong interest in rodents. When his project was in its initial stage, many people he approached for funding doubted the rats’ potential. However, once examined, the trained rats’ abilities proved how well-suited they are for de-mining.

Using its sense of smell, a HeroRAT discovers an explosive device. Photo | Courtesy of HeroRAT

Why rats? For one, rats have an incredible sense of smell – about one million times better than a human’s. The rats’ training builds on this ability by teaching them to identify the smell of chemical vapors present in explosives. While metal detectors pick up activity from any metal (including nails, cans and other non-explosives), rats distinguish between explosive metals and non-explosive metals. They can also detect explosives encased in plastic. Unlike dogs and humans, rats are too light to accidentally set off a mine. This breed of rats has the advantage over dogs in Africa because it is native to the area; therefore, less susceptible to tropical diseases. Rats are relatively inexpensive to feed, breed and transport. They have an affinity for performing repetitive tasks and a life span of almost eight years in captivity.

Training rats to de-mine is a process using Pavlovian techniques that starts shortly after birth. Working through a series of exercises with human trainers, the rats become tame and social. Before they are allowed to perform in the field, the rats must pass a training test in which they identify each explosive item in the testing area without any mistakes. For fundraising purposes, HeroRAT has an adoption program where individuals can adopt a rat for roughly $7 USD per month. Donors receive an officialadoption certificate, pictures of the rat “in action,” email correspondence with the rat, regular updates from trainers on its individual progress and updates from Tanzania about the project. According to Weetjens, the organization is preparing rats for new tasks that include identifying tuberculosis cases and entering rubble at disaster sites to seek out victims. It looks as though there is much more in store for these courageous creatures.