Books, Lanterns, and Backpacks


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We’re packing the luggage, gathering the passports, and preparing for another trip to Ghana in early November. I’m so blessed to be able to work in that part of the world. It’s joyfully noisy and replete with complicated cultural nuances that I’ll never completely understand. The people are gracious, the children are full of energy, and the food is spicy and delicious. I’m looking forward to all of it. It challenges me and stretches me every time I’m there. Ghana has captured a piece of my heart, and each time I travel there it feels a little like going home.

There are so many people here who help get us there. If you’re interested in being a part of this trip, please bookmark this blog and check back often for pre-travel updates and stories from our journey. You can also be a part of helping us provide a few things for our sponsored students and some families we work with. I’ve created a Wish List on that is so easy it’s ridiculous. You simply choose an item from our list, purchase it, and it will ship to us. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. We would like to bring a book to each of our sponsored students – these are teenagers who have been orphaned and live with relatives in one of the five villages where we work. For new students in this program who don’t have sponsors yet, we need a few more backpacks. And we’re taking three solar lanterns we will use while we’re there, and then give them to families when we return home.

We know each time we walk through the villages in Ghana that we aren’t doing this alone. People here provide what we need to help families and students rise out of poverty. Can a backpack, or a book, or a lantern help fix what is broken? Maybe. God has used less likely things (and people) than these. If you would like to see other ways you can join us in helping families rise, visit our website.

Thanks in advance for helping us give, serve, and love in Ghana!

Will You Come to the Party?

I’m not much of a party girl.

At least not the kind of party that requires save-the-dates, printed invitations, sparkly decorations, a spotless house and fancy foods. I prefer the kind of party that happens at the last minute when my house isn’t cleaned, we scrounge for food, and then turn on background music for a night of really good conversation. Like I said, not much of a party girl.

But I’m doing that printed-invitation-decorate-your-house-fancy-food thing. And then I’m praying that you and a few other people will show up. Because this isn’t only a party – it’s an opportunity to change some stories.

Last year, I decided that I would not use my blog as a constant platform for the work I do in Ghana. I wanted to keep this personal and so I mostly wrote on the ACEF blog (where I was volunteering) to share the needs of my precious friends in Ankaase. I deviated from this decision only when I traveled. Other than that, I kept mostly quiet about it because sometimes you can wear people out blabbering about your “cause.” But now that we have started Rising Village Foundation, I’m afraid that I won’t be keeping quiet about it because, well, this is just a really good story. And if I may remind you, that’s the title of this blog.

Oh, and I should make it clear at this very moment that I did not start this journey. God did. Some of you might roll your eyes at that because it sounds so spiritually cliche, but it’s the undeniable truth. Those who have been intimately involved in the start of this will back me up. I’m not going to tell that story here, but if you want to hear it, I’ll plan the kind of party where I don’t clean my house, we scrounge for food, and then we settle in for some really good conversation.

But this post is about a different kind of party. Here’s your invitation:

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If you need my address, email me: So here are a few of the reasons I’m throwing this shindig:

The Homeda children
The Dufie children
Yaa in her kitchen
Jennifer (left)

There are needs everywhere in the world, but I want to introduce you to a corner where God has placed me. It’s Ankaase, Ghana, and these are some of my friends who live there. I’m throwing this party in their honor and for their sake. Here’s why: I believe that God desires for everyone, everywhere, to live a great story. But for some people, circumstances far beyond their control are keeping their stories laced with too much illness, fear, hunger, hardship, and uncertainty.

I’m not okay with this. And I don’t think God is okay with this either. At this point, I hear the familiar question, “Why doesn’t he do something about it, then?” Here’s my answer: He already did. And here we are.

I can’t change the world (I wish it were so), but maybe I can change part of the story for some families in this village. And maybe you can help me. Here’s what we can do together – and by the way, you get something out of it, so read on.

We labor over what to get my dad for Christmas. He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t want anything. He’s pretty satisfied with a good meal and a sunny day for golfing. He knows his desires are simple, so he won’t give us any ideas for what to buy him. It’s frustrating for us, so a couple of years ago he asked us to give money to help someone in need instead of buying him something he didn’t need. We liked that idea, so we purchased a Kiva gift card. This year, we’re giving him a gift card in honor of one of our friends in Ankaase. Sorry Dad. I know you read this blog, but you’re not about surprises anyway and you knew it was coming.

Kofi, a father of seven, doesn’t have a great story. You can read about it here. We want a better story for Kofi, so we’re asking our friends here to help us change it. We’re sourcing a $150 grant because Kofi wants to start a cocoa farming business. He has a good business plan, he’s hardworking, and we believe he’ll be a successful cocoa farmer. Best part: he can make the story better for his kids. In Dad’s honor, we’re giving money to help fund the grant that will buy the seedlings that Kofi will plant and harvest and sell.

Here’s the card my dad will get for Christmas (again, sorry Dad).


So, when you come to my party, as you eat your fancy food and delight over my decorated and clean house, you can purchase gift cards for the people on your Christmas list. They’ll know you’ve helped change the story for someone in their honor, and they’ll love their gift. I promise. You can see all the gift cards available here. You can give a school uniform, a bed net, school fees, school supplies, even a computer for a village school! I love this one:


Oh, and here are a few other items you can purchase:

Krobo bead bracelets and earrings
Krobo bead necklace with pendant
SA #1
String art from Ghana
Wax fabric Ankaase bags designed by Steffani Lincecum
“When you pray, move your feet” t-shirt

Some of you live far away, or have other plans on December 5th, so here is one way you can still join the party: you can purchase for our friends in Ankaase here on our GiveGood Catalog and order gift cards for your honoree when you check out. If you want the jewelry, string art, or t-shirts, you’ll have to come to the party or contact me to arrange a personal “shopping date.”

I’ll do that for you.

Because you’re my friends.

But I’m still cleaning my house, decorating, and putting out the food spread on December 5. All the money raised that night from your purchases will go to change the stories of some precious people in a corner of the world that you may never see. But I promise you this, I’ll share the stories with you. And we’ll know that God has done something beautiful through all of us.

So, will you come to the party?

The Peddler’s Post

I used to buy my home decor items from a big box store, usually with a 20% coupon in hand. I’ve never fussed much over decor, so this worked fine and it helped fill our walls and shelves. At one point I had the same dining room print of giant fruit as three other people I knew, which seemed odd. But it was a great price and I’m a lazy shopper, so there it stayed. Then we started traveling, and it was great to pick up things here and there to replace the items purchased with the coupons. Away went the big box decor, and now many of these items are in storage for the apartments we will help our college kids furnish when they are out on their own. Although I somehow think both kids would prefer a blank wall to giant fruit.

So now, we have original paintings from China, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan. We have wall hangings from Russia and Colombia, vases from South Korea, carvings from Ghana, and an incredible painting above our fireplace from the U.S. – done by the artist C.S. Tomlin who also happened to be my kids’ art instructor in elementary school. We didn’t travel far for that one, but it’s my favorite.

I also used to purchase much of my  jewelry and purses from a big box store. I’m not a designer bag person, so this was fine and there is nothing quite like the smell of imitation leather. Then, I began to receive pieces of jewelry that rendered my “costume” jewelry to the junk drawer: a butterfly necklace given to me by cousins in honor of my mother, a pair of earrings my best friend purchased on a trip to Peru, a necklace Kyle bought for me on Alison’s birthland trip to China. I decided that these pieces trumped anything purchased at Target, so I reduced my jewelry inventory. Every piece of jewelry I wear has meaning, and I like that.

So why should you care about my home decor, jewelry, and purses? Two reasons:

First, I sincerely believe that life is too short and we should spend far less time shopping. Okay, I come at that with a bias because I hate shopping. But I also know that I’ve spent too much money on things that had little meaning simply to fill up spaces, when it would have been better to have a few things with great meaning. I’m working on that. Recently I purged a lot of that crap I bought over the years and it felt wonderfully freeing. And I did it knowing that I would not replace these items. If I’m going to have things surround me, then I want those things to have beautiful stories behind them that can be shared and remembered. We have two paintings from China that we purchased in 2001 from an artist who kept all his work under a bed in his apartment. When we told him we were interested in buying a piece of art, his wife scurried to the adjoining room and got down on her hands and knees and began pulling out stacks of his paintings.

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I look at those pieces every day and remember the province where my daughter was born. That’s meaningful.

The second reason I’m telling you about our house decor, jewelry, and purses, is because I have officially become a peddler of goods. Meaningful goods. Specifically, home decor, jewelry, and purses. Honestly, this is not my personality. I’m a horrible salesperson. I hate asking people to buy things because I know that I tend to run from people who ask me to buy things. I now notice those people who begin to back away from me when I start talking about how the Krobo bead bracelets help resource a school computer lab in Ghana, and the bags help support a seamstress apprentice in Ghana. They smile politely and I know what’s going through their mind: “Please don’t ask me to buy something from you.” So because we have this blog relationship-thing between us and you can click off this post at any moment during the sales pitch, you’re in the driver’s seat. But here goes:

You can buy silk string art pieces that were created by a street artist in Kumasi, Ghana named Emmanuel Tettah. I know him. He’s a good guy and he’s going to give half of the proceeds to Africana Children’s Education Fund (click here to see what we do.) If you purchase a piece of string art, I can provide you with endless stories of life-change that is happening for women and children in Ghana, and you can look at your piece of art every day and know that it has meaning.


You can purchase Krobo bead bracelets with beads made in Ghana from recycled glass (bottles, jars). The creation of these beads is a long process and no two beads are exactly alike, which I love. Can’t find that in the big box store (or the jewelry store). Every penny of the purchase goes straight to help us continue building the computer lab for SDA School in Ankaase, Ghana. This village school had no access to computers, which does not prepare students for success. So we’re building a computer lab because receiving a quality education moves people up and out of poverty, in case you hadn’t heard. More about the lab here.


And the bags. Before I tell you about these amazing bags, you should know that we are sold out but we’ll be bringing more back in June. To get you excited about what’s coming, here’s the story: My college roommate and dear friend, Steffani, designed these bags. When we parted ways after college, she went on to Tulane University and got an M.F.A. in Costume Design, then she went to Hollywood and designed clothes for movie stars and television shows (big names like Debra Winger and Third Rock from the Sun). I brag about her because she’s brilliant and talented. She is the only person I’ve ever known who sat on the floor of a college dorm and stitched clothes on a sewing machine. When I asked her to design a bag for our seamstresses in Ghana to stitch, she did it in about three weeks and sent us a prototype bag, instructions, and a pattern to take with us to Ghana. Since it is an original pattern, she even let us name the bag. I carry my Ankaase Bag every day and can’t imagine carrying anything else. When I look at it, I remember those apprentices at the seamstress shop on that red dirt village road, sitting outside with their hand crank sewing machines stitching these bags. I’ve never seen anything more amazing.


You can learn more about how these bags help our seamstress apprentices here.


So there it is, the peddler’s blog post. If I didn’t believe deeply in the meaning of these items, I wouldn’t have burdened you with 1,158 words about them (bless all of you who stuck with me to the end).

So here is where you can shop differently. And with meaning. So I give you permission to go shopping!

Shop Differently: Krobo Bead Bracelets

I don’t like to be the one to say it, but this a good time to start your holiday shopping. There are 49 days left. And if you have a mother, wife, daughter, aunt, (females), then I’m going to shamelessly tell you that I have something for you to purchase and give them.

I’m not much of a jewelry girl, so I only wear pieces that have a great story behind them. Of course, I wear a ring my husband gave me as a symbol of his commitment to me in marriage, and believe me, that’s a great story. I have a beautiful butterfly necklace that my cousins gave me on the day of my mother’s funeral, because we all knew that – finally – Mom was freed from the cocoon of disease. I wear a pair of earrings that my best friend found on a mission trip to Peru that were made by women in fair trade markets. I also wear a necklace with tiny wood beads (they still smell woodsy) that I purchased on our birthland tour in China last year. On that necklace, I have added a small charm with the shape of Africa on it. These two places – Africa and China – are settled deep in my soul. And now, I wear a bracelet that is strung with beautiful, rustic African beads made in Ghana.

These are Krobo beads, and of course, there is a story behind them.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, then you know that I’ve become connected with this amazing African village, Ankaase, Ghana, where the dirt is red, the air is muggy, the needs are overwhelming, and the people are so gracious and friendly that it turns everything I know upside down. Somewhere between May and October, God wrecked me for this village and the people. I’m now wrapped around six children and their families, a village school, three women who want to become seamstress apprentices, and – truth be told – the rest of the people in Ankaase that I have yet to meet. I don’t have a good way to explain this. I feel as if I’ve been picked up, moved over, and and set back down.

I discovered these beads when my friends Peter and Anna brought me a gift on a visit to Tulsa last July. It was a Krobo Bead bracelet strung with these funky African beads that jumbled together perfectly to create something beautiful. I slipped the bracelet on my wrist, wore it every day, and then decided to do some research.

Here’s a quick course in Krobo beads: They are made in Ghana by artisans who have been handed down the craft through the generations. These artisans create the beads, not inside factories, but using an outdoor oven usually hand constructed from mud. The process goes like this: gather old glass (beer or Milk of Magnesia bottles or Ponds cold cream jars work well), crush the glass into a fine powder and mix it with ceramic dye to make a mixture that is then poured into small molds. Insert a stick from the cassava plant into the middle of each mold mixture, slide the molds into the clay oven with a large spatula, and fire the mixture into a putty-consistency. Then, slide the molds back out, carefully remove each bead from the mold, remove the cassava stick, let the beads cool, wash them, and then begin the paint process. Each layer of paint must be fired, so this is a long, detailed process. The designs are highly individualized, so no two beads are alike.

So Alison and I are making Krobo bead bracelets. We use beads I have purchased in Ghana, and also beads that my friend Melody sells through her sustainability organization in Somanya, Ghana. And we’re selling the bracelets for this purpose:

Here is the SDA School

Here are some students in the SDA School

The government of Ghana mandates that these students take a course called Information and Technology, which focuses on learning computers. That’s a good thing. Every young person, whether they live in Africa or North America, is going to have a better chance to move forward in the world if they have a working knowledge of how to use a computer. Duh. The not-so-good part of this story is that the government of Ghana does not provide schools with computers, so the instructors were teaching computers using a blackboard. Students would sit like this and watch a teacher scribble computer lessons with chalk on a board and these same students had never put their hands on a computer.

How hard can it be to acquire some funds and computers for this school? As it turns out, it wasn’t so difficult. When people learned of the need, they gave, and in three weeks ago we packed six computers in an action packer and hauled them to Ankaase, Ghana. The entire village was pretty excited.

And very grateful.

But also realistic.

They need more computers. They need printers. They need modems (quality IT education must include teaching students to navigate the Internet for additional learning opportunities and research). They need a computer lab that every student in the school can utilize, and a lab that is also open to the entire community. That’s our big dream. And it’s possible.

That’s why we’re selling Krobo Bead bracelets. We want to continue to build this computer lab. The beginnings of this small lab are beautiful.

Here’s a news story that aired last Friday on the computer lab celebration. My friends will tell you I hate the camera, but I did it for the kids.

We don’t want to stop here. If we believe that the children in our U.S. school communities deserve the best resources for learning, then we must believe these children in Ankaase, Ghana are deserving of the same. Ask a child – any child – in this village what school means to them and they’ll be able to tell you. It means the chance to have a better life. They don’t take it for granted. This truth is embedded deep within them and school is where they want to be. For most, it’s their only chance.

So would you consider purchasing a Krobo Bead bracelet? Every cent of this $20 purchase will go toward completing the computer lab. Every 14 bracelets sold will fund a computer. Every 7 bracelets sold will fund a printer. Every 5 bracelets sold will fund Microsoft Office 2010 for a computer. Every 2 bracelets sold will fund a modem for a computer. And every 1 bracelet sold goes toward the purchase of one of these items. I’m scrambling to get these on a store for easier purchase, but for now you can find them here. We’re doing business the old-fashioned way for another week, and then they will be available on where you can pay with a credit card through PayPal. The bracelets come boxed for gift-giving (or if you buy it yourself, take it out, put it on, and save the box for something else). They also include a card to explain that all proceeds go toward the completion of a computer lab for the children of SDA School. These bracelets are a perfect holiday gift and a way to shop differently this holiday season.

And this is not the only product we’re selling to help you shop differently. Stay tuned for another opportunity that has a great story behind it. In the meantime, however, go shopping!

Shop Differently: Give the Story of Your Year

Yes, Christmas is over, but I saved this “Shop Differently” post until January for a reason: if we’re going to do this for Christmas 2012, we have to start now. So here’s my pitch for why this is a very good Christmas gift. In fact, I think this might the absolute best Christmas gift. That’s just my opinion and you’re free to disagree. For the past three years, I have created a book titled “The Tresch Family in 20xx.” I upload photos to my bookmaking software of choice (Apple’s iPhoto) and I put together a hardcover book that chronicles our year. Then I wrap the book, and give it to the other four people in my family. Many of you are way ahead of me and have been doing this for a long time and I admire you. I’m usually late to the game anyway, but I’m going to justify my reasons (and maybe yours) for why this is such an important gift and then tell you step-by-step how I do it. I’m still improving my process, so this is not the way to do it. It’s just my way, for now.

Even if you think you have an excuse to stop reading at this point, you don’t. Most everyone owns a camera, even if it’s just on your phone. If you don’t, you can get a point and shoot camera for under $100 and you should do that. Save up for it if you have to, but buy a camera. Life is short and beautiful, and you do NOT have a photographic memory. I do understand the technology excuse, but the websites that provide bookmaking are user-friendly and you are fairly comfortable with technology because you are reading this blog. And the time excuse? Good news: you’re starting early (like…now), so you have all year to assemble your book. Okay, enough said. We’ve swept away the reasons not to do it, so here is one very good reason why we should do it:

Because we are forgetful folks.

You, me, and what’s his name have a hard time remembering people, places, events, moments, joys, sorrows, and everything that whizzes past us in our hurried, harried lives. At the end of the year, we look back and much of what we see is a blur. A few people and events will stand out, but too much of it is compressed, fuzzy, and then forgotten. I love this quote by Alex Tizon: “Stories give shape to experience and allow us to go through life unblind. Without them, everything that happens would float around, undifferentiated.” Storytelling is wired deeply in our DNA. Even the most primitive cultures have ways to pass down the tribal stories either through song, chants, logograms, orality. Stories are essential because, as Tizon says, they keep everything from “floating around.”

When my family unwraps the book each Christmas I would like to report that they fight over who gets to look through it first, but they don’t. Kyle, because he is a smart husband, makes over it and turns every page. The kids don’t. They smile and look over his shoulder at it for exactly .2 seconds. And this is fine with me because I know what will happen. A few months later, I’ll walk into the den and Alison will be sitting on the floor with the books spread out around her, flipping through pages and studying photos and words of a story that could have been too easily forgotten. And I’m reminded why this is the very best Christmas gift. The stories are giving shape to the moments that make up our lives. “Events pass, people live and die, life changes. But stories endure,” says the writer Jacqui Banaszynski.

Now it’s January and I have created a file on my computer desktop titled “Photos 2012.” Every photo that I take this year will be placed in this folder. Speaking of photos, I’ve promised myself that I will do a better job of taking them. I’ve been known to carry my camera in my bag when I’m heading out to an event, or set it on the kitchen counter before a family party and then completely forget to use it. Shameful. And I carry a notebook in my bag with the purpose of journaling during special events or random moments. If I take a photo, my intention is to write something about it. Truth-telling time: I rarely do this. In fact, I almost never do it. But it sounds like a good idea, and sometimes I just go with that. Maybe someday.

As the year progresses, I set up my book on iPhoto. Because I use the software that is already loaded on my computer, it saves automatically and I can come back and work on it whenever I have a spare moment. I plug in the photos as I go for each month and write a little bit about them so I don’t forget (because the journal thing hasn’t worked out). If you want to include the entire year in your book and not leave out stories of the holidays, you can make this a late Christmas or New Year’s gift. I’ve done it both ways and I prefer giving it as a Christmas gift. I just include Christmas from the previous year. There are no rules.

In addition to iPhoto, I have also created photo books on Snapfish and Shutterfly. Even Sam’s Club offers photo bookmaking. Depending on which company you choose and how many pages you create, the cost is between $30-$150. My Apple books are around $70 for 45 pages. It’s money well spent. I’m certain that at this point the books mean more to me than they do to the rest of my family. They are a way to grab some of life’s moments and bring the tribe’s stories into focus so they don’t simply float around until they are forgotten. I’ve given these stories to my family and this feels right. It’s money well spent and a way – at any time of year – to shop differently.

Shop Differently: The Catalogs I Keep

Five years ago, I received a gift catalog in the mail from Heifer International. It had photos of chickens, sheep, cows, rabbits. I was amazed at the concept: buy a flock of baby chicks (or a a sheep, a heifer, a water buffalo, trio of rabbits!) for a family member or friend, and it would be given to someone in a developing country. These animals, which seem insignificant in our culture, literally save and change lives in other countries by giving a family in poverty the ability to be self-reliant. Thinking it was too good to be true that I could purchase a sheep and change the course of a family’s life, I checked out Heifer International thoroughly before I purchased a sheep for my dear friend and a goat for my parents. Heifer International’s gift catalog was legitimate, and since then, gift catalogs from other organizations have appeared in my mailbox. Usually, I toss the standard Eddie Bauer and Pottery Barn-type  catalogs as soon as I get them (too tempting), but I always look through these “catalogs for good” as I call them because I am amazed at how little money it takes to make a real difference.

One of my favorite organizations, Compassion International now has a gift catalog that includes items such as building materials ($20), skilled birth attendant ($100), eye exams and glasses, ($75), support young artists ($20), to name only a few. I’m glad to see all these catalogs for good popping up and providing an an alternative to the catalogs that simply tempt me to buy more stuff for people who have enough.

Here’s my favorite item this year. It’s from the World Vision Catalog:

In countries like Cambodia and India, many girls are forced to drop out of school because they live too far away or risk dangers such as violence or kidnapping on their walking route. Your gift of a bicycle will provide safe, speedy transportation for these eager young students, enabling them to achieve their dreams of education — and a brighter future. Is that a gift, or what?

It’s exactly one week until Christmas. These are last minutes gifts you can find. Most of these catalogs have cards that you can print, so really you could do your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and you don’t have to fight the traffic. As you plan your last minute shopping, here is a short list of the catalogs I keep:

Heifer International

Compassion International

World Vision

Buckner International

Women for Women International

Shop Differently: Give a Card, Make Life Better

There are certain people in my family (remaining nameless), who wouldn’t know how to do Christmas without gift cards. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one, practical hand, gift cards make sense to give to those who sit with blank, unblinking stares when you press them for wish list. They are also often good for those same people to give, since they don’t want to shop anyway. My dad falls into both of these categories. Wrapping up any gift that he must find a place for in his home is simply sinful. He doesn’t want half the stuff he already has, and he certainly doesn’t want to trek out to buy stuff for anyone else. He’s an anti-stuff guy. So, yes, it’s gift cards for Dad. But the teenagers and college kids fall into the “give ’em a gift card” category too, and so does my cousin and my uncle. They don’t like stuff either. Some years, it seems as if our family Christmas party is more of a card exchange party: “Thanks for the Visa gift card and here’s your Barnes and Noble gift card. Merry Christmas.” Watching someone reach into that tiny gift bag for that same gift card can seem a little perfunctory. But hey, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’ll take a B&N gift card any day you want to give me one, Dad.

Some things won’t change. Dad, the cousins, the college kids, and my uncle will always be the gift card people. It makes sense. But my Dad surprised me this year by saying that he really doesn’t even want a gift card. I should explain that the only gift cards he receives are those to restaurants, since anything else would be wasted on him (read: he won’t get out to use it because that would involve shopping). So I’ve been pondering what to do about this, and I think I’ve found a solution. He doesn’t read my blog (he hates computers, too), but for those family members who can’t keep a secret, spoiler alert.  I’m about to reveal my Christmas idea.

And, this is a Shop Differently idea for the gift card people in your life.

Meet Iman.

He lives in Azerbaijan, and sells milk and breeds cattle. In a country where corruption is the modus operandi, it’s tough to make an honest living. Azerbaijan is also a country where those who aren’t in government or don’t live in the quasi-glitzy capital city of Baku are reduced to scratching out a living doing whatever they can, and, often, that isn’t even enough. I’ve been there and seen it for myself. These proud people want to make a good life, but sometimes they just need a little help. Maybe a little loan? Iman needs about 1,500 AZN in order to purchase more cattle for beef and a milk cow. Demand on these products is high, and he just isn’t able to cover the cost for growing his business and making a better life for himself. I know, you don’t have 1,500 AZN. How can you (and I) help Iman? Get a gift card!

I discovered Kiva about five years ago, and it just keeps getting better and better. Now, you can purchase a gift card for your loved one for as little as $25, and give someone like Iman a loan to help him get more cattle and a milk cow so he can sell meat and milk. Genius! Here’s how it works:

You purchase a Kiva gift card from their website. You’ll be able to print an actual card to give to your recipient after check-out. Your recipient will redeem it by selecting a borrower from Kiva’s list of fundraising loans and during checkout, they will apply the code from their gift card. All loans made by the gift recipient will be credited to his or her account and, when the borrowers repay the loan (and yes, there is a 97% repayment rate) those repayments can be used by the recipient to make even more loans! Tell me of a better Christmas gift for someone like my dad than helping an entrepreneur in a developing country work his or her way out of poverty. It beats a candle or a golf sweater any day.

I have to be prepared when I go to the Kiva website, because the stories are addicting. Here are a few more to get you as excited as I am about Kiva gift cards:

Maria lives in Colombia and is trying to make a living selling clothes, perfumes, accessories, bags, and other items. She wants to improve her quality of life by expanding her business, so she needs to purchase some cabinets to put her items in. Maria, as described by Kiva, is a “tireless fighter” who has run her own business for several years now. She needs a $1,075 loan, and is 46% there.

Oybegim lives in the Rudaki region of Tajikistan. She is 23 years old, married, and lives with her parents. Oybegim has been working as a seamstress from home for the last three years. She is taking out this loan to purchase fabrics. She needs a loan of $650 and is 3% there.

So if you’ve always yawned at the thought of getting out to get that obligatory gift card, here’s the answer! I think what the recipient receives is far better than anything a traditional gift card can buy.

And as for Dad, don’t forget, “mum’s the word.”

Shop Differently: Feeding the Orphans

This month, I’m searching out places and organizations that provide a different way to shop for Christmas. Many of us will have to trek to the big box stores to purchase certain items on our gift lists, but we also have options for some different gift-giving ventures. Today’s Shop Differently organization, Feeding the Orphans, has beautiful handmade bags, jewelry and throws. So, here are a few items to get you interested:

My choice of this organization has a back story:

About four months ago, I met three little girls through photographs and stories. These girls live in Ghana, West Africa, and they are beautiful, with smooth, dark brown skin and eyes that crinkle when they smile. In the photo they are wearing faded sundresses that show their bony shoulders, but they are also standing straight and proud. One girl’s photo really needs a caption that reads, “You might think I’m in a bad place, but wait and see what I will become.” Children have amazing resilience – especially children who have been forced to endure the heartbreak of abandonment or relinquishment. There is a happy ending to their story. One of the girls has a family in process to adopt her. The other two girls (sisters) have families who are interested in them and filling out paperwork. These girls will rise above their present place and become women of fortitude and character with the love and support of their adoptive families. But this story isn’t about the girls. It’s about their mothers.

The two sisters and the other little girl each lived with single mothers in rural Ghana, a country that has been ravaged by AIDS, poverty, and human trafficking. One of the  mothers, Beatrice, had no education and no job skills. She eeked out a living selling corn and vegetables grown on her half-acre farm. When the rains were below average, the corn harvest was not enough to feed her and her daughter. She couldn’t afford to pay for her child’s school uniforms, books, school lunches, and other school supplies (there is no free public education in Ghana). To supplement her income, Beatrice attempted to sell credited bread at the village market stall on a  part-time basis. She ran into debt as a result of higher than normal spoilage rate and customers who bought her bread on credit but never paid. She gave up this trade to concentrate on her farm work. Her daughter began to lose weight and appear sickly because Beatrice could not buy or produce enough food to provide her with adequate nutrition. Paying for her daughter’s education was out of the question, and so Beatrice had to make the wrenching decision to relinquish her daughter to an orphanage – a place where the child would be fed and educated. The two sisters’ mother, Mary, has a similar story, only instead of trying to sell bread she was doing the backbreaking job of hauling firewood from the forest to sell. She, too, was unable to feed and educate her children.

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around. In my world, there are always options. There is not a moment when I worry about watching my children go hungry or without education. But these women felt as if they had no options left, and as I hear their stories it seems that this is true. I can’t imagine signing the paper and saying goodbye to my children. But women in poverty do this every day. I hear these stories and I began to mentally walk backward through the events that led to the separation of a mother and her child. I always stop at the place where the mother felt hopeless, and then I imagine someone stepping in to offer options. And here is where this story gets hopeful. Many people – quite a few of them adoptive families – are responding to the plight of these mothers, not just in Ghana, but around the world.

Here is a tangible way you can make a difference in the lives of women like Beatrice and Mary. Feeding the Orphans was started by an adoptive family. In addition to feeding orphans, the organization recognizes the plight of the mothers. They offer fair trade merchandise and the money goes directly to Ghanaian women who are only able to keep their children through the success of their micro businesses. When you shop, you support a mother’s business venture. Win/win! I discovered this sight and immediately thought of Beatrice, Mary, and their daughters. There are millions like them. Can you help them all? No. But you can help make a difference for one family. And one is an important number. So although I am trying to tame my own consumer mentality, I have no hesitation saying, “Go to the Feeding the Orphans store and shop!” Need a few more incentives?