Unwrapping Christmas stress

| 18/12/2008

Started by the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief in 1942 to help Greek civilian victims of the second world war, Oxfam has been doing its bit to fight poverty and suffering ever since.

An innovative and sometimes controversial charity, it is one with a reputation for getting things done and above all ensuring that donations reach where they are needed.

A few years ago, they began a gift programme which is not only extremely helpful for those on the receiving end in the developing world but also goes a long way to relieving Christmas stress for those of us in the west. Most people will admit to both giving and receiving unwanted, overpriced and often pointless gifts. Each year we wander aimlessly round shops agonising over choices and drawing in breath at prices.

However, after being introduced to the Oxfam unwrapped gift programme a few years ago, I have found Christmas has become considerably less stressful and more meaningful. For most of us here in the West, our needs are generally met. We are safe, we have food and shelter and our lives are filled with numerous opportunities for us to seize if we are so inclined.

Although world poverty has declined in the last ten years overall, many people still suffer unspeakable hardships and improvements have only touched on the massive economic disparities in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, many parts of Asia and Latin America, as well as parts of the Caribbean.

Across the world some 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes. Half the world’s population – that’s more than three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day. One in two children in the world live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. More than 10 million children die each year before they reach their fifth birthday.

While it may sometimes be hard to contemplate the gross inequalities that exist in our world, the Oxfam Unwrapped programme helps each of us to play a small part in redressing the imbalance. It is with this in mind that I began buying goats, cooking stoves, teachers, toilets, even cans of worms for my friends and family, and having the people at Oxfam send them on to those who need them.

Not one family member or friend has resented the idea and I have even managed to get them to start reciprocating, so I no longer have a collection of unwanted scented candles or bubble bath to contend with during the festive period.

Personally, I have a much happier Christmas as a result and enjoy my turkey far more knowing that the money I spent that season has gone to a better place than my Uncle Albert’s sock draw.

Christmas, we are constantly reminded by those in the Christian community, is supposed to be time to think of others, but thinking is all well and good; personally I’ve always preferred action. This particular gift programme allows us to do more than consider the plight of those less fortunate – it enables us to actually do something.

Nor is the Oxfam Unwrapped programme the only one of its kind. A growing number of NGOs and charities have taken a leaf from this long standing organisation’s book and began their own, which means you can probably find a way of giving that suits your own preferred charitable inclinations.

Whichever one you chose, however, you will find it an extremely liberating choice. There’s still time so go on line and give it a go.



(First posted on CNS 24 December 2007)


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