10 meaningful gifts from around the world

Last Updated on May 8, 2023 by Ellen

Last Updated on May 8, 2023 by Ellen

Every year, I see people on social media ask for ideas for the greatest gift you could ever buy anyone. And every year, it’s always utter nonsense – some toy or video game or app or electronic device. The fallback is always gift cards. How lame is that? I think it’s pathetic. And yet, I used to do the exact same thing — in another life.

These days, I’m luckier than a kid who wakes up on Christmas morning to a room filled waist-high with wrapped presents. (Yes, I was that kid, and yes, my parents made holidays awesome with gifts galore.)

These days, I’ve had opportunities to meet people dedicated to lifting up their fellows. I have been enlightened by their altruistic natures. I have been humbled by their examples.

And so, I include them here, in a list of ideas for gifts from around the world — ideas that might inspire you act in a direction other than a toy or gift card, or a new sweater absolutely no one needs.

I have experience with every idea on this list, either as a giver, receiver, volunteer, or I know volunteers or organizers.

Perhaps one of these 10 ideas for gifts from around the world will inspire readers, friends, and family to be a part of a widening circle of goodwill on Earth.

Gifts from around the world

1- Cambodian Buddhist Association for Vulnerable Children

We met Buddhist monks in Cambodia at the famed site Angkor Wat. We started chatting with one who told us about the Cambodian Buddhist Association for Vulnerable Children.

The organization builds drinking water wells, offers education programs, builds homes, improves sanitation, offers ways to sponsor children, and so much more. I’ve watched from afar how my Buddhist friend has worked to grow CBAVC’s reach this year, and I am impressed. Tedly and I have discussed going back to the area to volunteer for this group in 2020.

There are 180-some nations on the planet. Cambodia ranks at the 48th poorest, according World Bank data.

You will help some of the most disadvantaged children on the planet by donating to CBAVC.

Photo courtesy: CBVAC

2- METAvivor

Here is a frightening fact: 30 percent of patients diagnosed with earlier stage breast cancer will eventually develop stage 4 breast cancer and die. Stage four means metastatic cancer — that means the cancer is growing in other places beyond the breast, such as bones, brain, or lungs.

I know women who have died this way. They thought they had beaten breast cancer because they caught it early. But with breast cancer, it doesn’t matter.

METAvivor fights for more research on stage 4 breast cancer, while helping women live and thrive in stage 4. Some women can live years beyond a stage 4 diagnosis.

Learn more about Metavivor and how to donate through its website.

3- Tenaganita

A friend of mine in Penang, Malaysia, volunteers for Tenaganita, which helps refugees and migrant workers, and also fights human trafficking in that part of the world.

Tenanganita even runs a women’s shelter. The women try to earn a little money by making shoulder bags from sheets — the supplies are donated from Georgetown hotels.

As of this writing, the sacks are not yet available online, but your straight donation sure will go a long way to help Tenanganita — a group that puts at-risk women and refugees at the top of their list all year.

4- San Fernando El Rey Church

San Fernando El Rey Church in Liloan, Cebu, Philippines, has offered to pay for weddings of local cohabitating couples. This is a big deal for the community, which is about 80 percent Catholic.

I guarantee you the newlyweds will be filled with gratitude. The average salary here is about $210 — a month.

Contact information for donations to San Fernando El Rey can be found on the parish’s Facebook page.

5- Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

The Mines Advisory Group finds and destroys land mines and bombs from war. When we visited central Vietnam in 2019, we discovered that region is one of the areas with the most ordnance on the planet.

In addition to the physical danger, the bombs keep the land from development in an area where more than a quarter of the people live below the poverty line.

Donate to the American nonprofit division of MAG through its website.

Side note: we learned about the stats from people who run the Easy Tiger hostel in Phong Nha. They also take donations (and they are really cool people).

Photo courtesy: Easy Tiger Hostel

6- Flat Closure Now

Flat Closure Now is a nonprofit group “dedicated to ensuring that breast cancer patients and providers understand that flat closure reconstruction is a valid, beautiful and healthy surgical option after mastectomy.”

I know some of the organizers — they are terrific women. Any donation here will be well-spent money.

Learn more about this wonderful group and all of its resources for women facing mastectomy, plus how to donate through its website.

7- Rise Above Foundation Cebu

The Rise Above Foundation Cebu is highly recommended as a place to volunteer on Cebu Island in the Philippines. It feeds adults and children, teaches kids, offers dental clinics, and it does so much more. We have seen firsthand the staggering poverty in this region.

In researching volunteer opportunities, I had pleasant exchanges with one of the founders, who clearly cares about the the community she serves. And trust me – the need is great in Cebu City.

See how to contribute the foundation through its website.

8- Project Elea

(*UPDATE* In 2022, the Greek government closed down this refugee camp. I keep it here as a record of our month-long volunteer effort at the camp.)

Project Elea is a program at a refugee camp in Greece. It helps refugees fill their days with meaningful activities and classes – for both adults and children.

Project Elea’s cookbook “Recipes Welcome” has fabulous ethnic recipes from the refugees. Money raised goes right back to help fund Project Elea. We know how great the program is and how great the need is, because we volunteered at Camp Eleonas for one month in 2018. We think of our friends often.

Head to Amazon to buy Recipes Welcome.

And read more about Project Elea to better understand all the good it does.

9- Kiva

Kiva give loans to people who otherwise might not get a loan. People all over the world use loans to expand a business or to install a toilet in their home.

I have loans out to people in some of the countries I have visited — like Albania, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam. I’ve seen how limited opportunity can be in so many places. In fact, that’s Kiva’s slogan: Dreams are universal. Opportunity is not.

When the borrower pays off the loan, you can reloan it to someone else. Now that’s a true way to widen the circle of goodwill on earth, isn’t it?

Visit Kiva to give a gift that really “keeps on giving.”

10- Cancer Commons

An organization called Cancer Commons gives online second opinions to cancer patients for free. Isn’t that fantastic? It’s especially helpful for patients with unusual cases, like mine.

This organization is close to my heart. It was founded by Marty Tenenbaum, the famous computer scientist and entrepreneur, who also is a cancer survivor. Chief scientist Emma Shtivelman is an amazing woman. I know because she helped me.

Visit the Cancer Commons website to help this amazing group help cancer patients. 

2019 Gratitude

I hope these ideas for gifts from around the world give you provocative options where your money can do some real good on the planet. And I hope you are filled with gratitude for another year on the planet. I know I am.

Let’s ditch consumerism and share our gratitude with meaningful holiday gifts that symbolize the true, giving spirit of the season, instead of inflating our egos.

We hope you liked this year’s list of gifts from around the world.

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