Saturday, December 16, 2006
Gifts at Christmas -- Holy Cow!
Camp Connell -- The toughest questions we face in life seem to be the ones we often don't want to answer.
For examples: do I make a contribution to a needy person or charity because I feel sorry for the poor, want to offer them a hand up, it makes me feel good, or because it is my duty? Or do I do nothing because I had good intentions but didn't bother to take the time? Does my contribution do any good?
National Public Radio recently touched on the idea of gift-giving at Christmas and the choices people make in a well-done audio report in which a reporter in Transylvania -- really -- chased down a cow donated by a woman through a poverty-fighting organization.
And the New York Times Magazine turned Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer loose for a very very long article on one way to solve world poverty in our time -- acknowledging the value of a human life. More on his long and philosophical article in the next blog.
But first, consider the cow in Transylvania.
A woman in Minnesota wanted to give her grown children something for Christmas, but they had everything they need. So she donated $250 to buy a cow to be given to a family living in poverty somewhere in the world, in their name. It turned out to be a couple in Transylvania.
The radio reporter, a little dubious at the start, make a little joke about the impersonal nature of such charitable gifts.
Turns out that one cow produced so much milk that the couple was able to sell the excess. The result was a doubling of their annual income (of $300) and improving their diet.
The cow was such a good producer they even had milk to give away to poorer neighbors.
And when the cow gave birth to a calf, as promised when they accepted the gift of charity from an unknown in Minnesota, they gave it away to a neighbor to help them out. They don't really seem to know where the cow came from, except from some "generous American" willing to help them.
That $250 gift helped the family in Transylvania begin to work its way out of terrible poverty, encouraged them to share their good fortune, and made a lady in Minnesota happy.
It made me happy too because I know a lot about Heifer International, the charity that made it all possible. Heifer has a close California connection (a facility in Turlock, of all places). We also have friends who worked for Heifer and picked it years ago as one of the charities we know and trust to do good work with our pittance. (Cows are a bit costly, but a hive of bees is always a good bargain donation.)
But by the end of the radio interview with the folks who got the cow, you could detect a change in the reporter'stone. She acknowledged, in what sounded a bit like a sheepish voice, that she was reconsidering giving Starbucks gift cards this year. Maybe she could do better.
Maybe we all can.
You can check it out at Heifer.org
Next: a philospher looks at rich givers