Giving in the Season of Light and Peace

It’s pretty unpopular to speak up against thoughtless and obligatory consumerism in the midst of the winter holiday shopping season, but popularity isn’t always what we’re after when working for good in the community.  So this year, I’ve been promoting responsible consumerism, beginning with a letter I sent to friends and family earlier this month, and a letter the Branch Out student directors and I sent to Branch Out participants.  (Both are excerpted below.)

Take a look.  Spread the word.  Give these or other social responsible gifts, as you look to celebrate this season of light, peace and goodwill!

* * *

As Christmas approaches, and as I’m preparing to return to Haiti in January, I’ve been struck by an overwhelming urge to help do something in Haiti, and a mixed bag of emotions about how Christmas can often look here in the US, with our gift-gift-giftiness.

So I’ve come up with an idea that for me, offers some way to get at both of those feelings.  I want to do what I can with this season of giving, and I’d like to do that by benefiting people in Haiti that I know will do lots of good with anything we can give.

I’d like to ask that you consider skipping regular gifts for me (and even others on your list, if you can enlist them in this project), in lieu of donating in one of the ways I’m suggesting below.

School construction project in Port-au-Prince

Members of the Haiti Compact partner with Haitian builders to construct a school

Give money to Jesuit Refugee Services. JRS was the host to the Haiti Compact’s exploratory visit to Port-au-Prince in June.  Among other projects, they are operating a vocational school for adults. Students learn construction skills while building school buildings for internally displaced children living in tent camps.  $5,000 buys the supplies for one school, and JRS is currently raising funds to build five more schools in the coming weeks.  As Haiti continues to face deep struggles after the earthquake – most recently, political upset and a rapidly spreading cholera outbreak – providing stability through education and jobs becomes more and more important.   Wouldn’t it be great if, together, we were able to raise enough for a whole school?  Feel free to send me your donation; I’ll collect it and get it to them – and announce how much we’re able to give.

Tent camp map

Victoria and Melanie, leading Relief and Reconstruction for Grace Children's Hospital, show tent camps in their catchment area

Donate medical supplies for us to bring on our trip. Grace Children’s Hospital, where we’re spending a week in January working on public health issues, also serves surrounding tent camps. They have asked us to collect supplies for health kits, and each of us on the team can bring an extra 50 pound suitcase full of them (that’s a lot of stuff!).  See below for a list of their requests, and visit their Relief and Reconstruction blog for updates on their work.

Coffee growers from Baraders with members of the Haiti Compact

Buy coffee from Just Haiti. Just Haiti is an organization that works with coffee farmers in Baraderes, Haiti – the southwest part of the country.  In June, we met with four of the coffee farmers (we each traveled about five hours and met in the middle) to learn about their projects.   They are hardworking, knowledgeable business people.  Their area of the country used to be a center of coffee farming, but prices dropped in the 80’s, making it no longer viable.  Through fair trade, they are able to support themselves and their families again.  Plus, the coffee is *delicious*.  You can get it online and give it to friends – and enjoy it yourself!, click on “buy coffee” in the upper right corner of the page

If you’d like me to do any of these things in your honor for Christmas, please let me know – I’d be happy to do so!  And if this kind of thing floats your boat, please share it with others.  I really would love it if we could build a school together for Christmas.

Medical Supplies Wish List from Grace Children’s Hospital
Aquatabs; Oral rehydration serum/powder packets; Toothbrush; Toothpaste; Soap holder; Toothbrush holder; Shampoo; Conditioner; Comb; Brush; Hair Pomade; Towels; Sanitary Napkins; Towel; Soap; Underwear (children); Socks(children); Undershirt(children); Multivitamins; Q-tips

* * *

Hello, all of Branch Out!

In the midst of a busy last week of classes, your student directors and I wanted to wish you well and send some lil’ ideas for ways you can continue your growth as active citizens.

Hanukkah starts tonight, and other winter holidays are coming up quickly.  If you’re looking for a gift that promotes social justice, fair wages, environmental sustainability, and other things we love as active citizens, check out these opportunities.  This list isn’t comprehensive, but it does include some of our favorite sources for responsible consumerism.

  • Today!  In Tidewater A, from 3 to 7 pm, check out the Alternative Gift Fair
  • allows you to make your very own micro-finance loan – or give one as a gift!
  • (click on coffee in the upper right corner) allows you to buy fair-trade coffee from Haitian farmers, four of whom Brian Focarino and I met this summer
  • lets you create your own conscientious consumer gift registry (that is, telling folks which fair trade gifts you’d like!)
  • 10,000 Villages and SERRV offer on-line and storefront ways to buy fair trade gifts and crafts
  • Tom’s Shoes – you’ve seen these comfy shoes everywhere, maybe you already know that when you buy a pair for you or a friend, you also buy a pair for someone around the world who needs them.
  • Speaking of shoes – sseko strappy sandals make a fashion statement and support Ugandan women’s education
  • Students Helping Honduras supports the sale of cutie-pie clutches and bags, made by community members in Honduras, out of fritos & cheetos bags
  • And if you need a little pick-me-up in the midst of finals, Harbour Coffee in New Town has fairly-sourced coffee!

So to all international, regional and national members of Branch Out, thanks for the many ways you’re dedicated to the pursuit of social justice.  Big hugs and good luck on finals!

Melody, with Tanji Ahmed, Katherine Eklund, Adam T.F. Harris, Wesley Ng, Meagan Taylor and Samanthe Tiver

Categories: Community Engagement & Service, Faculty & Staff Blogs Tags:
  1. Christian Fuchs
  2. Melody Porter

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