While shoppers hunt for last-minute gifts, aid organizations are competing for donations. The group Oxfam lets people donate animals or other goods to developing communities but has come under fire for the practice.
An Oxfam goat costs 28 euros
Shoppers looking to give philanthropic gifts often turn to charities and aid organizations during the holidays. And the groups are more than happy to accept the donations, which they use to fund their work around the world.
The international aid organization Oxfam is no different. If grandma has been getting your goat all year, the group's Oxfam Unwrapped program lets you get her one - for 28 euros ($37). But instead of shipping grandma the goat, it goes to a family or community in a developing country and she receives a card and a magnet.
"So your grandma doesn't really get a goat, but the money for the goat goes into Oxfam's project and supports people in poor countries where we work," explained Lisa Jaspers, project coordinator of Oxfam Unwrapped in Germany.
Oxfam's website offers a choice of 37 gifts - ranging from 9 euros ($12), for a chicken, to 600 euros, for a classroom.
Jaspers said the concept makes donations more visible by showing an example of the kind of work aid groups do.
Helping people in need
Oxfam sends cards and magnets to gift recipients
Since Oxfam Unwrapped began in 2004 in the UK, it's raised over £60 million (70 million euros, $92.6 million) for projects that improve the livelihoods, health and education of people in more than 60 countries.
Ntombizodwa Marufu from Zimbabwe received a gift of seven baby chickens two years ago.
"Yesterday I sold three chickens," the mother of six said. "I've sold them at intervals to help uplift my family, to pay for school fees and food. The eggs are really helpful for those of us who aren’t in good health, and we sell them too."
Marufu, who lost her husband to HIV-related illnesses 14 years ago and is HIV-positive herself, said the chickens have made a big difference to her life.
In addition to actual animals, Oxfam also provides tools to improve education including desks, chairs, sports equipment, school furniture, teacher training, even toilets.
The joy of giving
Flooding in Pakistan left hundreds of thousands homeless
Nico Jaspers, a 29-year-old German student, first heard about Oxfam Unwrapped when he was living in the UK, and said it was the perfect gift for a friend's birthday.
"We went camping in Scotland and Naomi's tent was really messed up, so when her birthday came, we thought about a nice gift," said Nico. But at the time, he was also aware of the extreme flooding in Pakistan. "I knew that there was this tent that you could give through Oxfam Unwrapped. It's giving, but not the anonymous kind where you just send a check, but something you can share and that they will remember and that has meaning."
The recipient, British student Naomi Ryland, 25, said she thought it was a really original present.
"I've got this magnet now on my fridge with the picture of the tent which reminds me at the same time of our funny holiday and also of the good that came out of it at the end."
A paternalistic approach
But Oxfam Unwrapped has also come under criticism. British animal rights group Animal Aid said gift animals cause additional problems in poor communities stricken by drought. While UK-based education charity Worldwrite has labeled the Oxfam Unwrapped approach paternalistic.
Deciding what goods - if any - to fly into developing nations proves difficult for NGOs
"The assumption is that people in the developing world are somehow different, have lesser needs, have lesser aspirations, want less development and somehow want gifts that are a repetition of the status quo - which is what subsistence life and rearing goats involves," said Ceri Dingle, director of Worldwrite and citizen TV channel World Bites.
She added that: "99.9 percent of people who live a subsistence life - and that's 70 percent of the developing world - want out of it. What they really want is a chance to have what we have, for their kids to go to university, to get off the land and to not have to live a life of toil and subsistence. There is nobody, except romantic westerners who think subsistence life is a life."
Jaspers from Oxfam said each situation in each country is different and they have to trust their local partner organizations to tell them what is needed.
"We have four different categories - health, education, emergencies and securing livelihoods - we can use the money and the donations for what is needed the most in the countries," Jaspers said, adding that the group doesn't send unlimited numbers of goats to one place simply because that's what was bought online.
Worldwrite and Oxfam, however, agreed that the gift giving is a way for people to feel good about giving something to people in the developing world.
"We want to combine giving a donation with joy and fun - that you actually enjoy giving a donation and don't feel pity," Jaspers said.
Author: Cinnamon Nippard /sms
Editor: Sarah Steffen