When my daughters and I visited our sponsor boys in Phnom Penh earlier this year, we took them to Sorya Market to buy them an outfit each: shirt, trousers, shoes. One of the boys, looking shell-shocked, spoke to our translator.
“He says it’s the first time he’s owned new clothes,” the translator said. “He will keep them for a special occasion, like a festival.”
Goosebumps chilled my arms and ran up my neck, icing my head. All I could think about was my daughters’ wardrobe at home, teaming with lovely clothes, some with labels still attached, a shocking image of excess.
“Mummy, can we buy this?” My youngest daughter pulled a dress off the market rack.
“Can I have this?” Her elder sister pointed to a t-shirt before walking to the next rack. “I want this.”
No, no, no.
I envisioned their playroom at home: shelves overflowing with plastic baby dolls wearing gingham outfits; well-dressed Barbies with hair accessories and jewels; racks of polyester dress-up costumes.
“We’re shopping for the boys today. It’s their day,” I said.
A curtain of disappointment closed across my daughters’ faces.
My youngest stamped her foot. “It’s not fair.”
I wanted to tell her what’s not fair. It’s not fair that kids living in poverty have never owned anything of their own. It’s not fair that their parents can’t afford to send them to school. It’s not fair that one of our sponsor boys was wearing the same ratty t-shirt he’s worn every time we’ve visited him over the last few years, it’s hemline inching up his stomach.
I paid for our sponsor boys’ clothes and we walked to the car, the boys holding their shopping bags tightly to their chests, as though protecting bags of gold from would-be muggers.
As Christmas approaches, this memory of our sponsor boys has inspired me to think of meaningful gifts for my daughters this year; there are only so many Barbies one should own. They will be getting Kiva.org gift certificates to loan money through micro finance institutions to needy people around the world. My children will be able to choose individuals or groups online from a variety of countries who have applied for loans, from single mothers in Uganda wanting to start a small business, to a Nepalese children’s school hoping to pay for solar equipment that will provide reliable energy at the school.
A Kiva certificate is a gift that truly keeps on giving. Once the loan has been repaid you can re-loan the money to another individual or group. It’s a great way for kids to learn about other countries and to see how other people live. Think about a Kiva gift certificate for your children, nephews, nieces, and grandkids. Or even your parents, cousins, uncles and aunts. In the excesses of Christmas – the mountains of presents, the copious amounts of food, the extravagance – you might feel better that people in poverty will be getting a Christmas gift of their own, one that could change their lives.