My 2021 grand prize winner is a nonprofit called Seva Foundation that restores sight around the world — a dazzling present. And I think you’ll agree that all the following suggestions are far more meaningful than any box of chocolates.
You can donate at KristofImpact.org, and here’s what these gifts accomplish:
Restore sight. I chose Seva Foundation because I’ve seen so much anguish caused by blindness, ever since as a law student I met a blind man in Fez, Morocco, who was led around by his granddaughter to beg. Some 43 million people worldwide are blind, and hundreds of millions more have moderate to severe visual impairment that can be inexpensively prevented or fixed.
When people go blind in a poor country, they can no longer perform chores, care for children or earn an income. They often must pull a young child or grandchild out of school to escort them. So sight-restoring surgery gives two people their lives back.
The most common cause of blindness is cataracts — which through Seva can be removed in a 15-minute surgery that costs about $50 per eye.
I’ve seen these inspiring surgeries in rural Nepal. Patients’ bandages are removed the next day; they blink in the light and take a moment to focus, then beam at seeing the world for the first time in years.
While Seva mostly works abroad, it’s also active on Native American reservations. As grand prize winner, it will receive $100,000 (funds have been donated by readers), and I expect many times that will be donated through my website.
Mukwege was nauseated when he saw women and girls suffering devastating internal injuries, including fistulas, after sexual assaults by militias. While providing outstanding care to survivors, he also began to denounce the systematized rape by military units — and survived an assassination attempt that killed his friend and security guard. Later, a young Congolese doctor who was his protege was also slain.
Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his courage in standing up for women’s rights. I chose Panzi Hospital (it will receive $25,000, plus reader contributions) partly to help rape survivors in Congo, and partly to demonstrate that the world stands with Mukwege — perhaps making it a bit harder to kill him.
Help young people find opportunity. You know the old saw about how it’s better to give a fishing rod than a fish? That’s what Per Scholas does, making it one of the most exciting organizations in the field of economic empowerment in the United States.
Per Scholas (which will receive $25,000, plus reader contributions) runs free, intensive training programs to prepare struggling young people for high-paying jobs in information technology, cybersecurity and software engineering. More than 80 percent of graduates find full-time employment within a year, and their earnings rise on average from $10,000 a year before training to $42,000 a year in their first jobs afterward.
Not everyone has spare cash. But those with more time than money can instead volunteer through my website:
Be a mentor. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adults (“Bigs”) with children and young adults (“Littles”) to provide mentoring so they can dream higher and attain their goals.
The majority of Littles come from underserved communities, and mentors make a huge difference: 9 out of 10 Littles see their Bigs as very important adults in their lives. Large numbers of kids are on waiting lists, hoping to be matched with mentors.
Tutor children in reading. Learning to read is magical: A child who reads is far more likely to enjoy school, graduate from high school and avoid trouble. Through Reading Partners, adult volunteers coach children from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Many of my readers have become coaches, and some initially thought their service a sacrifice. Over time they found it deeply rewarding to connect to a cause larger than themselves.
So often in the rich world, we buy each other trinkets. Here, I invite you to live the values of the season and lift yourselves and others with transformational gifts.