Kristof and Collins

Mr. Kristof has his annual gift column today.  In “Gifts That Change Lives” he says if you are looking for ways to say Happy Holidays that are noble and truly make a difference, he lists some little-known organizations doing meaningful work.  I’d also ask that you consider Kiva.  I’ve been making loans for years.  In “Santorum Strikes Again” Ms. Collins has good news, people! Thanks to a big Senate vote this week, now we know what happened to Rick Santorum.  There are some things that I’d just as soon NOT know, but if she insists on telling us…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Looking for an unusual holiday gift? How about a $60 trio of rabbits to a family in Haiti in the name of someone special? Bunnies raise a farming family’s income because they, well, reproduce like rabbits — six litters a year! Heifer International arranges the gift on its Web site (heifer.org).

Or for $52 you can buy your uncle something more meaningful than a necktie: send an Afghan girl to school for a year in his name, through the International Rescue Committee (rescue.org).

Yes, it’s time for my annual holiday-giving guide. The question I most often get from readers is “what can I do?” This column is an answer. As in past years, I’m highlighting small organizations because you’re less likely to know about them.

Shining Hope for Communities (shininghopeforcommunities.org) was started by Kennedy Odede, a slum-dweller in Nairobi, Kenya, who taught himself to read. A visiting American gave him a book on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and it inspired Odede to organize local residents to fight against social injustice — particularly sexual violence, because his 16-year-old sister had just been raped.

Odede now runs an outstanding girls’ school in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, along with a clinic, a water and sanitation program, and job training classes. That slum school is one of the most hopeful places I’ve ever visited.

After I wrote about Shining Hope in 2011, Times readers contributed $180,000, leading to a huge expansion so that Shining Hope (mostly through the clinic) now serves some 36,000 people. Another nearby slum, Mathare, has invited Odede to start a girls’ school there if he can find the resources.

Dr. Hawa Abdi (vitalvoices.org/hawafund) runs a hospital, school and refugee camp in war-torn Somalia. She became an obstetrician-gynecologist partly because her mother had died in childbirth, and she has focused on helping rural Somali women.

The land around her 400-bed hospital, outside of Mogadishu, has become an encampment serving up to 90,000 people made homeless by war. Hawa has provided water, health care and education, and when students transfer to Mogadishu they are up to three grades ahead of children there. Hawa also is battling female genital mutilation, and she runs a jail for men who beat their wives.

An extremist Muslim militia with 750 soldiers attacked the hospital two years ago, saying that it was against religion for a woman to run anything substantial. Hawa stood up to the attackers and — because ordinary Somalis sided with her — she was able to force the militia to back down. Then she made the militia write her an apology!

Yet Hawa’s hospital and school are struggling financially. Vital Voices, a Washington organization supporting women’s rights, has set up a tax-deductible mechanism to keep Hawa’s work going.

Polaris Project (polarisproject.org) is a leader in the fight against human trafficking in the United States. One of its most important projects is a nationwide hot line, with interpreters on standby for 176 languages, for anyone who sees people who may be trafficked. It’s (888) 373-7888. This year alone, Polaris says, it has helped more than 3,200 victims get services through the hot line.

Polaris, based in Washington, has also been a powerful advocate for tougher laws around the country — those that target pimps rather than just the girls who are their victims. Polaris says that this year alone it has helped 17 states pass laws on human trafficking. And Polaris has supported nearly 500 trafficking survivors as they start new lives.

Fair Girls (fairgirls.org) is also based in Washington and fights sex trafficking at home and abroad. Its founder, Andrea Powell, braves dangerous streets and disgusting Web sites for hours in search of girls enslaved in the sex trade, and she is fearless about confronting pimps and prying girls from their grasp.

Earlier this year, I wrote about one of the trafficking survivors Fair Girls has helped: Alissa, the street name of a Boston girl whose cheek is scarred where a pimp gouged her with a potato peeler as a warning not to run away. Alissa ultimately testified against her pimps and sent them to prison. Now, with Powell’s mentoring, she is helping other girls escape that life as well.

Fair Girls also trains trafficking survivors to make jewelry, which makes nice gifts and is available on the group’s Web site.

                                                                                  •

Another possible gift: tell a university student to apply for my annual win-a-trip contest! I’m hereby announcing the contest for 2013: I’ll take a university student, undergraduate or graduate, with me on a reporting trip to Africa next summer. Together we’ll shine a light on neglected issues. Information about how to apply is on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and thanks again to the Center for Global Development in Washington for helping me choose a winner.

Now here’s Ms. Collins, who insists on telling us about the Frothy Mixture:

Lately, you’ve probably been asking: “What ever happened to Rick Santorum? The guy who ran for president in the sweater vest? The one who compared homosexuality to bestiality and did 50 push-ups every morning?” It’s certainly been on my mind.

Santorum is still in there swinging. Lately, he’s been on a crusade against a dangerous attempt by the United Nations to help disabled people around the world. This week, he won! The Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty on the subject. The vote, which fell five short of the necessary two-thirds majority, came right after 89-year-old Bob Dole, the former Republican leader and disabled war veteran, was wheeled into the chamber to urge passage.

“We did it,” Santorum tweeted in triumph.

Well, it doesn’t get any better than that.

The rejected treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark law Dole co-sponsored. So, as Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts kept pointing out during the debate, this is a treaty to make the rest of the world behave more like the United States. But Santorum was upset about a section on children with disabilities that said: “The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

“This is a direct assault on us and our family!” he said at a press conference in Washington.

O.K.

The hard right has a thing about the United Nations. You may remember that the senator-elect from Texas, Ted Cruz, once railed that a 20-year-old nonbinding United Nations plan for sustainable development posed a clear and present threat to American golf courses.

The theory about the treaty on the disabled is that the bit about “best interests of the child” could be translated into laws prohibiting disabled children from being home-schooled. At his press conference, Santorum acknowledged that wasn’t in the cards. But he theorized that someone might use the treaty in a lawsuit “and through the court system begin to deny parents the right to raise their children in conformity with what they believe.”

If I felt you were actually going to worry about this, I would tell you that the Senate committee that approved the treaty included language specifically forbidding its use in court suits. But, instead, I will tell you about own my fears. Every day I take the subway to work, and I use a fare card that says “subject to applicable tariffs and conditions of use.” What if one of those conditions is slave labor? Maybe the possibility of me being grabbed at the turnstile and carted off to a salt mine isn’t in the specific law, but what if a bureaucrat somewhere in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to interpret it that way?

No one should have to live in fear of forced labor in the salt mine just because she bought a fare card at the Times Square subway station! I want some action on this matter, and I am writing to my senator right away.

But about the U.N. treaty.

In the Capitol this week, disabled Americans lobbied for ratification, arguing, among other things, that it could make life easier for them when they travel. Since more than 125 countries have already signed onto the treaty, there will certainly be pressure to improve accessibility to buses, restrooms and public buildings around the globe. It would be nice if the United States was at the table, trying to make sure the international standards were compatible with the ones our disabled citizens learn to handle here at home.

But, no, the senators were worried about the home-school movement. Or a boilerplate mention in the treaty of economic, social and cultural rights that Senator Mike Lee of Utah claimed was “part of a march toward socialism.”

At least some of them were. There would almost certainly have been plenty of votes to approve the treaty if the Republicans had felt free to think for themselves. The “no” votes included a senator who had voted for the treaty in committee, a senator who had sent out a press release supporting the treaty and a senator who actually voted “aye” and then switched when it was clear the treaty was going down anyway. Not to mention a lot of really depressed-looking legislators.

The big worry was, of course, offending the Tea Party. The same Tea Party that pounded Mitt Romney into the presidential candidate we came to know and reject over the past election season. The same Tea Party that keeps threatening to wage primaries against incumbents who don’t do what they’re told. The Tea Party who made those threats work so well in the last election that Indiana now has a totally unforeseen Democratic senator.

The threat the Republicans need to worry about isn’t in the United Nations.

Everyone knows that the UN is going to come with black helicopters and storm troopers to steal all our golfs and lock us up in high-rise ghettos.  Just ask Glenn Beck…

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