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Colbert Nation

5 Last-Minute Charitable Gifts

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Colbert Nation

If you're still shopping for gifts, there are plenty of deals on whiz-bang gizmos online. But we've rounded up five excellent ways to give to charity this holiday season. Below, learn how to get a goat for a family in need, help a U.S. public school teacher, or educate a child overseas. Best of all—you can do it online, right now.

1. Get Your Goat - Heifer International

About the Charity: Heifer International gives livestock to impoverished families to help lift them out of poverty. The Heifer system also asks families to "Pass on the Gift," giving the first female offspring of their Heifer animal to another family. This multiplies the effect of that first gift, spreading it to more families (Heifer estimates that this system increases the impact of the original gift up to nine times). In some communities, Heifer has traced 22 generations of livestock passed along from a single gift.

It's important to note that Heifer doesn't just hand someone a goat and say, "Good luck!" Each gift is accompanied by a year of training on how to care for the livestock.

The Gifts: While there are lots of options, my favorite is a goat for $120. Also fun: honeybees for $30, a flock of ducks for $20, or a camel for $850. (If you can't swing the full price for that camel, you can pitch in to give a "share" of it.)

2. A Child's Education - Save the Children

About the Charity: Save the Children was founded way back in 1919, after the World War I blockade of Germany and Austria-Hungary left millions of children malnourished. Save the Children works in a wide variety of areas, focusing on children's rights, and working in 124 countries around the world. Save the Children helps kids affected by malnutrition, lack of education, natural disasters, and many other problems.

The Gifts: You can help educate an orphan for $30. Save the Children also offers a goat for $50, a girl's education for $0.20 a day, or a bicycle for aid workers ($100).

Save the Children also has useful features like the ability to specify that multiple gifts go to the same family (for instance, two $40 anti-mosquito bed nets for one family), and the ability to send a personalized message to the recipient of the gift(s).

3. A Local Teacher's Project - DonorsChoose.org

About the Charity: DonorsChoose is a crowdfunding site supporting teachers in U.S. public schools. Teachers post projects to the website, explaining what they need and why. Donors can choose what they like. According to DonorsChoose, “When a project reaches its funding goal, we ship the materials to the school. You'll get photos of the project taking place, a letter from the teacher, and insight into how every dollar was spent. Give over $50 and you'll also receive hand-written thank-yous from the students.”

Each project is vetted by the charity, and reports are assembled showing where the money goes. Check out the impact page for some amazing statistics; as of this writing:

Students helped: 10,605,488

Projects funded: 417,726

Teachers report: "94% of teachers said their funded projects increased their effectiveness in the classroom."

The Gifts: The whole point of the site is that you choose the project. You can search by category, by location, or even by a keyword. So please, just choose what you like. You can even give a gift card so your loved one can choose their own favorite project!

Fun Fact: Stephen Colbert is a Donors Choose board member. He frequently features Donors Choose on The Colbert Report, and spoke about his dedication to the project in 2009.

4. A Forest - Oxfam

About the Charity: Oxfam America works in 90 countries to combat poverty, hunger, and injustice. The organization was founded in 1970 as a response to suffering caused by the fight for independence in Bangladesh.

The Gifts: The Oxfam Unwrapped site offers tons of options, but perhaps the most impressive is the option to plant a whole forest for $500. That's 1,000 trees, folks. If that's too steep, a grove of "miracle trees" (moringa trees) is just $35. There are also many inexpensive, simple options, like 20 pounds of soap for $12. The site's gifts in action section has short videos showing how the gifts help people in the field.

5. Empowering Women and Girls - Catapult

About the Charity: Catapult is a crowdfunding site focused specifically on women and girls. The site breaks down what each project needs (the budget is listed right on the project page), and also encourages members to form teams to fundraise together. (Note: Beyoncé has a team!) If you're wondering why we need a site specifically focused on projects for women, read 6 Reasons Today is International Day of the Girl.

The Gifts: There are tons of options, and the point is that you can choose what suits you best. Some favorites of mine: open schools for brave girls in Pakistan; install 400 stoves in Maasai villages; and clean water to women and families in rural Kenya.

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YouTube / thelostdisney
5 Fun Facts About Health, Toilets, Muppets, and Presidents
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YouTube / thelostdisney

We've been running a series about global health since August 2013. Here are five of the most interesting facts we've uncovered since then.

1. There is a "World Toilet Organization" Run By "Mr. Toilet"

Jack Sim goes by "Mr. Toilet." He left the business world to found the WTO—no, not that one, the World Toilet Organization—in 2001. Starting that year, Mr. Toilet declared November 19 "World Toilet Day," and since then has been on a mission to bring sanitation to people in developing countries.

I urge you to drop what you're doing and watch this short video about Mr. Toilet. Yes, he says "shit" a lot. And it's awesome.

In addition to founding the World Toilet Organization and establishing World Toilet Day, Mr. Toilet is working to convince the world to abandon flush toilets, because they waste water. Sim reminds us that flush toilets waste up to 22 liters of water every day. Something to think about next time you debate whether to "let it mellow."

Learn more in 5 Reasons World Toilet Day is Awesome.

2. The Seven Dwarfs Helped Fight Malaria

Disney made an animated film in 1943 called The Winged Scourge featuring the Seven Dwarfs. It was the first in a series of animated propaganda shorts dealing with public health issues, and the only to feature established Disney characters. I'll summarize this ten-minute video for you: mosquitoes transmit malaria, malaria is bad, so let's kill mosquitoes. With help from dwarves. (Snow White doesn't make an appearance.)

Note that around 0:45 in the video, we see that malaria is still established in the United States in the world map. Malaria wasn't eliminated in the U.S. until 1951.

Read more in 8 Surprising Facts About Malaria.

3. George Washington Had Tremendous Health Problems

"Life of George Washington—The Christian Death" by Junius Brutus Stearns, courtesy of the Library of Congress

George Washington is likely the founding father to have suffered from the widest variety of awful diseases, so let's review some of the worst things that happened to him. As a young man, Washington traveled to Barbados with his brother Lawrence in 1751, in an attempt to cure Lawrence of his TB with fresh air. The attempted cure failed, and George became infected with TB in the process. He also managed to pick up smallpox while in Barbados.

George Washington returned from Barbados only to come down with pleurisy, while his brother Lawrence died from TB. George also contracted malaria (see above), and later suffered from dysentery. He died at age 67 while being treated for a throat infection. The treatment involved bleeding him (32 ounces of blood removed—probably what actually killed him), making him gargle vinegar, inducing vomiting, and nearly suffocating him with a molasses/butter/vinegar potion.

Washington's struggle with disease was so epic that PBS produced an entire article describing and discussing his medical problems and how they might have been solved today. (They noted that he also suffered from diphtheria, quinsy, a carbuncle, pneumonia, and epiglottitis. Ouch. Oh yeah, and he lost his teeth to infection and decay, leaving him with just one remaining tooth upon inauguration as president. He lost that one too.)

Check our the history of presidential pain in 6 Awful Illnesses Suffered By US Presidents.

4. Cookie Monster Promotes Handwashing and Healthy Eating

In April 2013, Cookie Monster emphasized the importance of handwashing as part of an effort to promote sanitation work around the world. (2.5 billion people don't have access to toilets!) He granted an interview on the subject, conducted by the Impatient Optimists blog. Here's a snippet:

Impatient Optimists: We know you’re a cookie enthusiast. Can you tell us your cookie eating ritual?

Cookie Monster: Me cookie eating reputation precedes me. Of course me have ritual! First me wash hands. This part very important because it help keep me healthy. Me not sure exactly how long me wash, but me sing the ABCs slowly and when me get to Z, it time to rinse and then look out, om nom nom nom nom. Me also like to share me cookies with Elmo and Big Bird. Little known secret, a birdseed cookie is delicious.

Cookie Monster also famously sang in 2005 that "A Cookie is a Sometimes Food" in an effort to combat obesity. (In the song, various fruits are declared "anytime foods.") In this video, he struggles with the choice between fresh fruit and a delicious cookie:

Cookie Monster also tackled food issues with a 90s-style rap about healthy eating, complete with gold chains. "Nutrition, it really hip!" Me love it.

Read more in 13 Sesame Street Muppets That Make a Difference.

5. One Man Created Eight of the Most Common Vaccines

Image courtesy of Images from the History of Medicine

Although most people have never heard of him, Maurice Hilleman developed dozens of vaccines, including eight vaccines that you may have received. Hilleman developed vaccines for chickenpox, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, and pneumonia (among many others). His vaccines saved millions of lives, and I've received a bunch of them myself! His obituary read, in part (emphasis added):

"Hilleman is one of the true giants of science, medicine and public health in the 20th century," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"One can say without hyperbole that Maurice has changed the world," he added.

... "If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman," Gallo said six years ago. "Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history."

His obituary is well worth a read, including colorful lines like: "'Montana blood runs very thick,' [Hilleman] said later, 'and chicken blood runs even thicker with me.'" (He grew up on a farm and worked with chickens quite a bit in developing vaccines.) His story is also told in the book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases.

Read more in 5 Things You Might Not Know About Vaccines.

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YouTube / ONE
How Missed Calls Amplify Farmers' Voices
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YouTube / ONE

This week, Farm Radio International (FRI) announced the results of an innovative poll covering thousands of farmers. The biggest surprise was the way farmers voted: by calling a phone number and hanging up.

The survey was conducted in Tanzania, where smallholder farms (small family farms) make up around 75% of all farm production. FRI, an international radio service that partners with local stations, wanted to poll those farmers in order to help make their voices heard by the Tanzanian government. But how do you reach thousands of tiny farms spanning a whole country? In the case of Tanzania, the answer was radio talk shows and basic cell phones.

Photo courtesy of ONE / Do Agric

The Power of Radio Talk Shows and Cell Phones

Across Tanzania, there are radio stations broadcasting talk shows aimed at farmers. Those programs are already popular for the people the survey aimed to reach, so FRI partnered with five radio stations in different regions across the country. The local presenters added discussion segments to their programs dealing with the poll issues.

Radio broadcasters concluded the poll segments by asking yes/no questions, then giving out phone numbers that voters could dial into. But people generally don't want to waste their cell phone minutes on a poll, so a clever solution came into play: just call the number, then hang up. The missed call is logged, and that log constitutes a vote. This system is called "Beep to Vote," and it's free for voters because the missed call doesn't incur charges for using cell phone minutes. For yes/no questions, there was one phone number for "yes" and another for "no." A total of 8,891 smallholder farmers participated.

In addition to the "Beep to Vote" yes/no questions, the poll included a multiple-choice question that most voters responded to using SMS. Voters texted a single character ("1" for the first option, "2" for the second, and so on) to a specified phone number, and those results were tallied by computer. In addition to the SMS voting method, farmers could opt to make a voice call to an automated system, listen to the five options, and press a number to indicate their choice. 4,372 people responded to the multiple-choice question. The system was also able to send SMS reminders to voters in case they voted for one of the poll questions, but not the others.

The data was crunched in realtime using a system made by Telerivet, so poll workers could watch as votes came in. The system also checked incoming phone numbers so each phone (which roughly equates to each voter, or household) could only vote once per question.

Photo courtesy of ONE / Do Agric

Why This Matters

From a technological perspective, this poll is a brilliant example of choosing the right technology for the job. If a similar poll were conducted targeting middle-schoolers in the United States, it's likely that technologies like YouTube videos and click-to-vote within the video would be used. But for these Tanzanian farmers, the prevalent technologies are radio and cell phones. By putting them together, in a near zero-cost way, FRI was able to collect data that could influence government policies, which in turn could change livesusing just cellphones and radio.

This poll was part of a campaign called Do Agric, focused on encouraging African leaders to invest more in agriculture, in order to improve farming (and in turn, daily life) in Africa. Here's a video about the program:

When the results were announced earlier this week, Tanzania's President Kikwete said, "Action on agriculture has to be today, not tomorrow!" The voices of 8,891 farmers reached the president's ears.

For more on the survey, check out FRI's page on methodology and results.

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