What to get for the person who has everything: a goat

Dateline 06 December 2006

As we turn our attention to buying presents for friends and relatives the age-old problem arises. Everyone except John Kerry’s wife knows at least one person who is richer than they are. How do you buy a present for someone who has everything they might want, except for a handful of things that are out of your price range?

The answer is simple: buy them a goat. I am guessing here, but probably your friend does not have a goat already, but if so, buy them another. You can never have too many goats.

I should stress – in case your wealthy friend lives in Manhattan, where keeping goats is frowned upon – that your friend is not expected to take delivery of the goat. What they get is a letter or certificate of ownership – a goat note, if you like. The goat stays exactly where it was, which is usually in India, Uganda, or some other country suffering from a severe shortage of goats.

Goats, like sheep and cows, can be milked, and thus provide an ongoing source of food for a family. Calcium – which is abundant in milk – is particularly valuable for growing children. Cows, however, are more expensive to buy and keep than goats. Goats eat pretty much anything and do not require large tracts of land. Also in India, cows are inappropriate gifts for religious reasons, so I would strongly counsel you to stick to goats.

Owning a goat – or rather keeping a goat that is owned by your friend – transforms the life of a family. And this is your gift to your friend. The knowledge that somewhere, thousands of miles away, children will rise at the crack of dawn to milk a goat. The family will have butter and cheese. Those children will not go to school hungry.

You can breed from goats too. As you will have spotted from my reference to milk, you will have purchased a nanny goat, not a billy. Goats produce wool, so the family can even start a business and build capital.

You see what I mean about goats transforming people’s lives?

Now I fully appreciate the argument that some of you are already forming. Helping people in India and Uganda is all very well, but there are people in the United States who struggle too. What about them? And you are right. There certainly are people in the US who find it difficult to make ends meet. There are children in America who go to school hungry. But it is simply beyond the means of most people to make a gift that would solve that problem. Money goes a lot further in poorer countries. A one off gift of a goat can help an entire family.

A goat doesn’t really cost much. I have seen prices from around $20 up to around $75. (If you are buying a goat, you should really shop around.) If you gave the same amount of money to an American family it would not really help. The same donation every month would not go as far as a single donation in Africa.

So if you are struggling to think of something you can buy for someone who appears to have everything they want, think of a goat. Or rather, think of your friend’s face when they realize that two children in Uganda will not be going hungry any more.

Goats are available from Oxfam, Plan International, World Vision, and other charities.

Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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