Charitable Victorian gets first-hand look at where his money goes

While donating to a charity in this season of giving can make you feel good, it can take on a much deeper meaning

Stranded by rising flood water in Bangladesh.

While donating to a charity in this season of giving can make you feel good, it can take on a much deeper meaning when you witness first-hand exactly how your generosity impacts the less fortunate.

Victoria resident Eric Snider had just such an experience. After years of donating to Canadian Hunger Foundation, Snider asked to visit one of their project sites. When his request was granted, he flew to southeastern Bangladesh to spend time in small villages in the Matlab and Kachua counties, or upazilas, where he encountered a reality check.

“You know, you can read about it in the reports, but when you actually see the reality on the ground, boy, it really drives home to you the poverty. When I started to plan for Christmas gifts, I decided my gifts were going to go to help some of those families I had been visiting.”

What surprised Snider most was the positive spirit of those villagers living in unimaginable conditions. “You go expecting to see poverty, but I think what struck me was that people weren’t living depressed with the situation. The project had helped them to get a new lease on life and I think that helped to open my eyes,” he says.

Snider remembers finding one little house on a knoll that was a woman-headed household.

“It was just this little tiny hut and more than half of the hut was used as a stable for the cow that they’d received through this particular project. They were just so proud of that animal and they couldn’t do enough for it,” he says.

The Canadian Hunger Foundation’s (CHF) online giving program, Gifts That Matter, has partnered with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). For every $1 you donate, CIDA commits $3, making a donation of $100 worth $400. Funds go towards clean water, food and income-support plans for families in Ghana, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sudan and Cambodia.

The gift catalogue pairs donation amounts with specific animals or hygiene plans, allowing donors to see exactly what their dollars are doing. One of this organization’s strengths is the variety of ways to give. You can even set up a personal fundraising campaign open to public contributions.

Snider emphasizes the ease with which people can make a difference through Gifts that Matter.

“Use it just like you would use any kind of gift or anything you want to buy on the Internet. It’s very simple and the pictures and the little pieces of information that are given just capture your interest right away.”

Gifts of Water is another Canadian project with cumulative donating potential this season. Since 1987 it has provided over one million people in sub-saharan Africa with gifts via the WaterCan charity. The holiday 2011 campaign benefits the Katooke sub-county of the Kyenjojo District in Uganda. The majority of Katooke’s residents rely on water sources shared with animals. Basic hygiene education yields drastic decreases in water-borne illnesses and cultivates the long-term health of communities since children stay healthy and attend school.

This year, waste management company CERF Incorporated will match donations to Gifts of Water to a total of $25,000. Gifts ensure continued access to clean water and options range from $20 for soap reducing diarrhea leading to death, to $60 for four taps at a new water point, to $1,100 for a pump accessing clean water.

Projects like Gifts that Matter and Gifts of Water are valuable because of their integrative methods of empowering communities. Conferences help determine which needs are most pressing for individual counties. For example, gender division in chores means that girls have less time for education while they are resigned to water-collection, so nearby taps will help. Understanding cultural differences like these are integral to implementing effective water management projects.

Both Giftsthatmatter.ca and Watercan.com/students include resources for kids to take the initiative to fundraise as well as lessons for teachers to facilitate an understanding of the realities of people internationally. These models aim to plant the seed of compassion and incite a drive for equality and are available for inclusion in subjects from art to math.

Locally, remember your neighbours by giving to organizations like the Mustard Seed, which is experiencing a six-year low in cash donations. Also, Black Press’s 15th annual Pennies for Presents loose change drive will benefit the Mary Manning Centre, Threshold Housing Society, Victoria READ Society, the Young Parents Support Network and suicide prevention group, NEED2.

“Every penny really does count because every penny is going to a charity that needs it,” said Kyle Slavin, a Black Press reporter and chair of the 2011 Pennies for Presents campaign committee.

About $618,000 has been raised since the campaign’s inception. Last year, Victoria businesses, school kids and Black Press readers came together and raised over $12,000.

Whether you choose to empower families across the globe or support philanthropic agencies here in Victoria, help spread the holiday value of community this season. M

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