Giving Back: Holiday Gift Guide

Let me tell you a few small stories.

Story numero uno: Once upon a time, I majored in public health. I had grand dreams of moving to Africa and helping put in place safe and affordable maternity care, or teaching people about sanitation, or helping kids learn to read, or distributing mosquito nets to stop the spread of malaria. I loved every minute of my major. And my dream to go to Africa got as far as putting in an application to study abroad in Ghana on a research program, and theeeeeeen – someone proposed to me. ? I’ll love Terry forever for the answer he gave me when we were discussing whether or not I should pursue this and put off getting married. He told me to do it. ? There’s nothing like a man who supports you in your dreams. But I decided against it. Africa would always be there, and someday we could go together. I worked in the public health field for a few years after graduating, then switched to writing. But I’ve never forgotten that dream, and I’m still passionate about making the world a safe and healthy place for people.


Story dos: We moved to China about two and a half years ago. It is worlds away from anything familiar to me. From the food to the language to the clothing styles, it’s all new to me. But one of the things I’ve found most humbling about living here is seeing the poverty all around me. China’s funny because a lot of is is really developed, but I feel like it’s just these pockets of first-world, and right outside those boundaries are people living in pretty third-world circumstances, with very, very little. Everyday I see people carrying goods in baskets hung on sticks slung across their shoulders, walking through town. I see laundry hanging out the window – maybe one pair of shorts and two t-shirts, and that’s all they’ve got besides what they’re wearing. I see children at the fruit market playing in the streets that are covered in smashed and rotting, discarded fruit. I went to visit a friend at a Chinese hospital just after she’d given birth. There wasn’t any heat in the room, and the first chill of winter had struck. They’d brought in a space heater, but for those who don’t have a space heater, you just have to bundle your newborn good and tight. I go to church with people who work in factories, making those things you see stamped “Made in China,” endlessly working in menial labor for just a few dollars a day. One man moved here from the Philippines to do this, so he can support his wife and daughters back home. We asked our Chinese-speaking ayi once if she could help us find a specific kind of lightbulb we were having trouble locating. Turns out it was a tough task for her because her home only has two lightbulbs. I have trouble navigating the life that I lead when such poverty is just outside my door.


Story trois (French is better than Spanish anyway): Within a period of just a few days, I read two horribly troubling new stories online. The first blew up the internet – it was about a little three-year-old boy who washed up on a beach, far away from his home, as he and his family were trying to escape war and terror. The second was about a young single man in Africa who adopted a baby when the mother died of Ebola. He’d been her nurse and given her his phone number in case she needed help. When she died, they found his number written on a paper clenched in her fist. They called him in and asked him to adopt the baby. He’s in his mid-twenties. He’s not married. A kid was not what he’d expected. But, they told him, if he didn’t take the baby, the baby would die. They showed him the ward where they kept the newborn babies who had no mothers, and who no one wanted in case they had Ebola. They didn’t have anyone to nurse them. They didn’t have clean water for formula, or formula itself. They said when the babies cried in hunger, they’d blow up a surgical glove and let the baby suck on the finger for comfort. That was all anyone could do. IMG_2905

I completely lost it. Sander woke up crying that night and rather than being frustrated he’d woken up at an unusual time, I went into his room and rocked him for quite a while, crying into his hair. Some babies don’t have a momma to hold them. And some mommas don’t get to hold their babies.


I’ve spent a lot of time this last year trying to think of ways I could give back to my community – whether that’s my local community, or my global community. But honestly, sometimes I look around at the problems in the world and just feel totally paralyzed. How could I possibly help against giants like poverty? Terrorism? War? Hunger? What can I do?


But what it really comes down to is this: None of us can do everything. But each of us can do something.

Which is why I love this handy infographic from Cotopaxi. They’re an outdoor gear company based in my hometown (at least, one of my hometowns – I claim several) #holla!. But they do more than just make cool-looking backpacks for you to take hiking – they’re all about creating products and experiences that fund lasting poverty alleviation,  move people to do good, and inspire adventure. So you know when you’re buying one of their products, your money’s going towards something good. Their website articulates what I’ve been trying to explain for years: “Adventure helps people see the world and drives them to improve it.” Can I get an amen?! ?

But back to this nifty info-graphic. It breaks down giving back to your community into small, manageable chunks. They list several websites that can help you get started, whether you choose to donate some money to a charity, or if you’d rather do something with your time and skills.


The great thing is, it really doesn’t take much to improve someone’s life. Small, consistent things can make such a big difference. I’m trying to find some concrete way I can make 2016 the year of giving for me. I’ve got so much, it’s time for me to give back. Still toying around with how exactly I want to do that. Let’s say this. I’ll find a few ways I can give of myself, and I’ll report on it here on the blog each month of 2016. That should hold me accountable, right??? ?Want to join me?! It’s just about time to start making New Year’s resolutions and giving is something we can each fit onto our list. For now, just write down “give back” on your new year’s resolutions draft (we all have multiple drafts of our goals, right? Or is that just me?). You can flesh out some of the details of what will work best for you in the coming weeks (but ya know…don’t forget to come back to it). Because the thing is, need is not seasonal. People are hurting everyday. And it’s time we stop ignoring that. So whether I decide to donate money to a specific cause, or volunteer my time helping someone in need, or create some bigger project that helps me do some good, I think 2016 is a perfect year for this.

You with me???


These pictures are from our trips to Yangshuo, China and Bangkok, Thailand

Note: This is not a paid post. I took a look at Cotopaxi and their products and got really excited. An outdoor gear company that’s literally up the street from my old high school, who believe that adventures improve the world, AND who are committed to helping alleviate world poverty?! I mean, could we even come up with a company that combines more things that I like?! (Basically if they started selling fantasy novels they’d be the company of my soul.) I hope you loved their info-graphic just as much as I did. Thanks Cotopaxi!