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Helping Out the Have-it-Alls

2012 December 12

The Dreaded HTBF (Hard to Buy For)

Finding gifts for the picky or have-it-alls is stressful

That’s the headline (and sub-head) of the cover story in yesterday’s Boston Globe “Living” Section. If this is a problem for you, let me offer to help relieve some of that stress. If you’ve got have-it-alls on your list, let them experience the holiday joy of helping out somebody who’ll be happy to have just about anything. And you can do it from the comfort of your own home. Make a donation in their name to a group that’s working to make the world a safer and more just place.
            My personal favorite is Fotokids in  Guatemala (officially the Fundación de Niños Artistas), founded and run by former Reuters photographer Nancy McGirr. Burned out by run-and-gun war photography throughout Latin America, McGirr moved to Guatemala City and began working with children whose families lived in the city’s sprawling dump. Over more than twenty years, this extraordinary project has used photography (and later video) to engage and motivate several generations of kids, many of whom now have careers in photography, design, education and other areas. In these excerpts from the most recent Fotokids newsletter McGirr writes about her first encounters with some of the children whose stories define the project’s success. (I’ve edited for brevity.)

There are two little sisters, Rosario, age 8, and Marta, who says she is six and everyone jumps on her saying no, she’s still five. Their family fled the Quiche during the civil war. Several neighbors had been assassinated, and one afternoon when the family returned from working in their cornfield they found the door to their adobe house open. The place had been ransacked. Her parents left that same day and found refuge in the dump.
            There is another little seven-year-old named Mirian who is as smart as a whip, with wiry springy hair that haloes her face, a button nose and an engaging smile. She’s a collector and searches out Barbie’s extremities in amongst the trash, sometimes a head or an arm, and has a bucket of parts. She puts them together to create little Barbie Frankensteins.
            I see the big problem with this wild group will be getting the kids to share the cameras. Each time I look Mirian has one. I take the camera out of her hands and say, “let’s let one of the other kids have a turn, okay?” Then I look five minutes later and she has it again. I discover her technique: she looks the kid who has the camera up and down and says something like, “You know, you look good today, let me take your picture.”
            Now 21 years later, Mirian, Rosario and Marta, these little girls from the original group, have been selected to exhibit their photographs in Guatemala’s National Museum…a lovely way to reflect on their lives and how far they have come. Marta is a university graduate in education, working for a prestigious international foundation, Rosa a mother of four teaching younger, at-risk students in Fotokids, and Mirian, a struggling writer with a powerful story to tell.

…and if you really want to give someone a physical gift, I can’t think of a better one than a copy of Fotokids’ beautiful self-published book To Capture Dreams: 20 Years, or their earlier compilation, now republished, Out of the Dump, which are both available through

Here are a few other groups 
from my personal list:

TASSC: I’m sure that every organization working with survivors of torture is in constant need of support, and if there’s one in your community, that’s where you should direct your contributions. On a national level, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition is, so far as I know, unique in being run by survivors themselves, rather than professionals. Take a look at all they do, and consider making a donation:  

The Transitions Foundation of Guatemala: I first came across this group when I was producing Not on the Sidelines, a film about handicapped athletes involved in the sport of Sled Hockey. Transitions works with people to design and customize adaptive equipment for one of the most handicapped-unfriendly environments possible, amidst the dirt roads, hills, and cobblestone streets of Guatemala.

Resist: “Funding Social Change Since 1967” is the motto of one of the most enduring institutions that arose from the social movements of the 60’s. Resist remains one of the most reliable supporters of grassroots groups organizing for peace, and for economic, social, and environmental justice.  

Gaza Community Mental Health Program: Whatever you may think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s really no argument over the fact that the residents of the Gaza strip – and its children in particular – have suffered severely. Much of the work of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program is directed at helping traumatized children, women who are victims of violence, and the victims of torture. For more information and to consider contributing, visit the site of its U.S. support group, the Gaza Mental Health Foundation.

Other Suggestions: If none of the above fit your interests, check out suggestions from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof or Nation Magazine blogger Peter Rothberg.



One comment on “Helping Out the Have-it-Alls

  1. Marge Pellegrino on said:

    Great Idea Ben. TASCC is amazing and so is the Refugee Media Project!

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