Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Corinthians 13

Long before giving goats was fashionable, I struck upon the idea of a charitable contribution as a gift for my Grandmother. She was what I thought of as an ‘armchair Christian’, in that she got her church service from the TV (in spite of insisting we all went to church). However she did send checks to Billy Graham and to that Baker guy (the latter came back endorsed at the ‘Wild Life Fund’ and I always did wonder about that…).

She often talked about the work of a couple of nuns in a place called the Jesus House in Oklahoma City. It was a homeless shelter of sorts and not at that time part of the mainstream charitable organizations, though I think it did gain a more of a footing eventually. There was very little that Grandmother seemed to need or want at that time and so I sent the Jesus House a check, explaining that it was because my Grandmother admired their work. I wrote a note in a Christmas card telling Grandmother what I’d done. Soon after a thank you letter came from the Jesus House acknowleging the gift in her name and I gave that to her as well. She really, really liked that present.

I don’t remember much about the first Christmas after Mom died in 1990. I believe I was in Bakersfield with the then-in-laws. I don’t think I was very good company and the photos of me are solemn. The next Christmas was very busy as we’d moved to Salt Lake City and I was traveling back Oklahoma City to be my Aunt Rita’s matron of honour. I still missed Mom so much I could hardly bear it, but was determined to put on a braver face and not spoil Rita’s happiness. I’m smiling in the pictures of Christmas at her house but in the weeks leading up to then I was a stranger of only 3 months in my new job in Salt Lake and kept feeling around for the part of me that was acutely missed.

I grew up during the Cold War and Mom and Dad were always deeply interested in world events, particularly to do with communism. [ They also believed in extra-terrestrial beings, but that’s another story.] When Mom was in hospital a couple of days before she died, she was deeply sedated on morphine and wouldn’t let me sit with her. I remember sitting on the floor outside her room, knowing this was the end and wanting to be near her, but then I had to laugh. She was high as a kite and raving: "Don’t let the Russians catch up! It’s dangerous and we’ll be overtaken! Don’t let the Russians catch up!"

So 18 months later in Salt Lake the office next door invited ours to join in supporting their chosen charitable project: a newly immigrated Russian family. The Russian grandmother was 71 – Mom’s age. She needed a warm house robe.

I went out and bought the coziest robe I could find, one that I would have given anything to have been able to give Mom. For all that she worried about communism, I knew Mom would have thoroughly approved taking care of the poor immigrants and adding that wrapped up robe to the stack of gift boxes is one of the very most satisfying things I’ve ever done at Christmas.

I've mentioned in the past that I haven't found anything since leaving work that really moved me to contribute my time, but I've stumbled across Kiva in the blogs I read and decided this year I would put my money towards that. It is a loan, not a gift, so not strictly charitable, though there is always the risk that the loan will not be re-paid. It makes sense to me to help people stand on their own feet in the longer term, but also to accept that not everyone will make it. Better for them to get money from a charity than from a loanshark; these scary types are still a plague of the poor over here in Britain and I've no doubt they are also to be found in developing countries.

My priority was to help women; it always has been, having grown up in 'a man's world'. After visiting the slavery museum in Liverpool, Africa was my area of choice. I found no education or health projects that needed funding, but perhaps these will come up in future months. I did a quick Google about per capita income/gross domestic product and on the basis of those findings I chose Sierra Leone as the location.

This is what it said about the woman I chose:

Aminata Sesay is 35 years old and is married to a police officer attached to a local area unit where they are living. She has three children all of whom are attending school. Aminata herself has never been to school as preference was given to boys in the area where she was born.

Aminata sells baby clothes along one of the main roads in the town. She has been in this business for nineteen years. She started hawking (going door-to-door) but she now has a stall.

Aminata is determined to send all her children to school and to help her husband to construct a small house for the family. The loan she is requesting will help to raise the much needed funds to support her ambition.

Aminata has been a client with ARD for the last two years with a very good credit history. She is honest and very serious about her business.

This will have to do me until I find something else that will get me out the front door. I had discussed with Bill the idea of making donations to Kiva as part of Christmas gifts, but not being familiar with how it worked, we thought it would be awkward. Turns out they've worked out those problems and so this might be a good idea for next Christmas.

I enjoyed looking through the different options and I'm looking forward to building and watching my portfolio. Given these are a very entrepreneurial group of women, like my Mom and my Grandmother, it feels like something they would endorse as well. I'm pleased to have found another way in which to remember them.


Mary @ Neat and Tidy said...

What a wonderful story! My mom has late third-stage Alzheimer's disease, so I've spent several Christmases without her even though she is still living. Some holidays are just difficult to get through. I hope you do have a good Christmas and that your memories of your mom will brighten your day and not make you sad.

Rick Stone said...

What great memories you have. Like Mary, above, we have been without Mom for awhile. Although she is 90 years old and still living with Dad at the assisted living center in Purcell, she too has Alzheimer's and appears to be in the fourth, and final stage. They are supposed to be at our house tomorrow but the blizzard that hit today (14 inches of snow so far) that may have to be cancelled.

Struggler said...

Good for you, and for Kiva. I really must put that on my New Year list to make a loan with them.

Shelley said...

Rick - 14 inches! We just have scraps of snow and icy roads -- all the mess and inconvenience without the prettiness. I'm envying you guys your snow!

Rick Stone said...

Shelly, you can have every bit of this snow. Final total was 14.1 inches in OKC, a record for one day snowfall here. Cancelled Christmas Eve with Jo's family. Cancelled Christmas Day with my family. We did ease over to get Jo's mom for lunch yesterday. Otherwise have not been out of the house for three days. Neighbor boys helped us shovel the drive and sidewalk. Those people who dream of a White Christmas are sick people. I think snow is just white mud. Probably because I've been cooped up in the house too long. ;->

Shelley said...


I was informed yesterday that Oklahoma's weather has once again made national news. Cancellation of Christmas get togethers is really bad news. Hope you are able to re-schedule soon. White mud, indeed! Get yourself out there and go for a walk! Then come in and change into dry clothes and have a hot drink. You'll feel better...