Despite the fact that Christmas is supposed to be a time filled with cheer and merriment, more often than not, the holidays are stressful. It’s exhausting, expensive, cold, and not enough eggnog in the world will make you feel better about the hundreds of bucks you spent on presents for your co-worker’s baby, kids’ teachers and various family members.
So this year, when my mom asked for bath beads, candles and pajamas (like she does every year), I threw out her Christmas list and decided to go rogue.
My mom is the most important person in my life, so I wanted to give her a gift that wouldn’t fizzle in the suds of her bathtub after only 10 minutes. And when I really started thinking about what I should get her, I began to reflect on how lucky I am to have someone who’s been there for me every step of the way, much like her mother, my grandmother, was there for her— and for all of us.
My Mommom passed away three years ago on the day after Thanksgiving, and for every holiday since, my family has felt a very obvious void. Mommom would host Christmas Eve and cook her famous smelts, wear the same pale pink skirt suit to church every Christmas morning and beam at us while we opened our presents over brunch. She was incredibly loved, and I miss her every day. I can only imagine how much my mother misses her.
In Mommom’s old age, she became very close friends with her home nurse, Florence, who continues to be a very special part of our family. For the last several years of my grandma’s life, when her dementia worsened, Florence was hired to be by her side and assist her in showering, changing, eating, and just helping her with various tasks that are second nature to most. But Florence was more than an aide to Mommom— she was a friend. They would watch Yankees games together, gush about their grandchildren and listen to old records. So when my grandmother passed away, it was Florence we all leaned on … my mother included. And that’s when it hit me: This Christmas, I’d return the favor by giving my mom something to help pay our respects to Florence.
Florence came to the States in pursuit of a career that would A) help others and B) make her money, which she would then, in turn, send home to her family in Kenya. She is completely selfless, humble and kind, and everything she does is for the benefit of people less fortunate than she. Florence would often tell us stories about her poverty-stricken village in Kenya where her loved ones still reside, reminding us how lucky we are to live in a country of opportunity, and telling us that her good fortune came when she was accepted by us, into such a loving family so far away from her own.
So I fired up my Mac, and did a Google search for “How to donate to people in Africa.” The first thing that popped up was a charity called World Vision. I was taken to Gift Guide page, where you can browse various donation offerings for people in third-world nations. Thirty-five dollars will provide ducks to hungry families who need protein from eggs, one hundred dollars gets a village one share of water well, 70 dollars will give a child an education, and so on. But as I was browsing through all of these gifts, there was a photograph in the corner of the page that kept catching my eye. The picture was of a little boy, no older than 7, with a big grin on his face. Underneath the photo, it said “Sponsor a Child This Christmas.” So I clicked on it.
From there, I was able to sort through a library of different children who needed the support of a sponsor. A drop down menu allowed me to select a child’s country of residence, age, sex, even an exact birthday, which would generate a series of photos and bios of kids in need. I chose a female, age four, from Kenya.
The first little girl who appeared was named Diana. I instantly fell in love with her wide smile and the life in her beautiful, brown eyes. From her bio, I learned that Diana lives in Kenya with her mom and dad, who struggle to make ends meet, despite her father’s job as a security guard. Diana’s parents cannot afford healthcare, an education, clothing, or medical necessities for her, but a sponsorship would allow Diana to have all of those things — the basic necessities that we so often take for granted—for one year. I knew that I wanted to make a difference in her life.
While I wouldn’t usually spend $420 on a Christmas present, I thought about the Michael Kors boots I purchased earlier that day (for a whopping $320) and how the price of those boots amounted to almost 12 months of water, medicine, and warm clothes for a child born into poverty, and perhaps, for a child whose parents will have to one day pick up, leave the country, and send money back home for her, much like Florence does for her children. I picked up the phone, called World Vision, and purchased a sponsorship for Diana in my mother’s name.
For the first time ever, I cried buying a Christmas present. With this sponsorship, my mother will be able to write letters and send photos back and forth with Diana throughout the year, in addition to paying for her basic necessities. One little girl from Florence’s country will be better off for having known my mother, even if it is just for one year. And we’re better off for having known Florence.
I know that I’ll head home to New Jersey this Christmas, where I’ll be greeted by tons of beautifully wrapped presents under the tree, but at the end of the day, my greatest gift is knowing I made a difference. So for those in need of a little Christmas cheer, I can honestly say that nothing feels as good as doing good. You should try it.