Comparing Two Holiday Gift Catalogs

Ask most little girls what is on their Christmas wish list and they won't hesitate to tell you an American Girl doll. My daughter was the same way for years. Every Christmas she would flip through the American Girl catalog and earmark the new dolls and accessories she was pining after. As a kid, I loved dolls. As a mom, I love a company that addresses the fact that while our girls are getting older younger, they are striving to save girlhood.

For some reason, I'm still on the catalog's mailing list even though my daughter is old enough to legally drive a vehicle. Every year around this time, I get two catalogs in my mailbox - an American Girl holiday gift guide and the World Vision Gift Catalog - and every year my mind starts churning. 

You see, I've been to some pretty hard places and seen some pretty hard things. I've met girls who wished they could have a childhood but instead they were busy struggling to survive. I met a girl in Zambia who thought she was going blind, but it turns out she was allergic to the dogs that she shared her water source with - so much so that it blurred her vision and made her eyes swell shut. 

Another young girl named Nerott walks more than 9 miles each way just to go to school, a walk that takes her nearly three hours. She tries to walk with a friend because she lives in an area that is at high risk for child sacrifice and kidnappings, but because of poor water conditions her friend is often sick, leaving her to make the long walk alone and vulnerable. 

So what do these two girls have to do with the American Girl catalog? I'm glad you asked.

Comparing Two Holiday Gift Catalogs

Don't get me wrong, I love American Girl. I remember wanting one when they came out when I was a kid and I picked one up as quickly as I could when I found one for $5 at a garage sale. I tucked that garage sale find away and it appeared later that year under the Christmas tree for my daughter. I love that the American Girl dolls encourage girls to be girls and provide an opportunity for them to maintain their childhood in the most wholesome way.

When I saw the American Girl promise at the back of their catalog, I smiled because I knew that I couldn't disagree. It says:

We promise to never stop believing in the unlimited potential in all girls.  We're dedicated to creating products, services and experiences that help boost confidence, ignite creativity, and fuel connections. It's our job to remind the world--and girls--how strong, brilliant, and brave they can be.

How is American Girl fulfilling that promise with their products? Let's take a look.

You can purchase accessories for your American Girl doll that will help normalize life events that an everyday girl has that will hopefully boost her confidence. If your daughter wears orthodontic head gear, you can buy a healthy smile set for $14. If your child is in a wheelchair, your doll can be too for $38. A hearing aid can be added to any doll for $14 and if your child's lunch looks a little different, you can help them see that not everyone packs pb&j. Boosting confidence? Check. 

If your daughter loves playing pretend school like I did when I was younger, you can buy a classroom set for $58. It includes a flip-top desk, a lunch menu and a pretend mechanical pencil. To be successful in school, having a designated spot at home for studying and doing your homework is helpful. You can get this one for your doll for $125. If you have TOO much sports equipment for your after school activities, your doll can get this sports storage bench for $48 to help organize it all. 

I'm a big fan of encouraging music and the arts. You can purchase a music and movies set for $85. Got a budding film creator desperate for the perfect shot? Why not get this media kit complete with reversible fabric backdrop and a working studio light for $60! Or pick up any kind of musical instrument, from a flute set to a guitar, for only $34. Have a star in the making? This recording studio, priced at $250, has everything they need including doll-sized headphones just like the pros wear when they record. Ignite creativity? Check. 

Does your daughter have an entrepreneurial spirit? Maybe she loves to bake or cook. You can get a complete gourmet kitchen for $250. The ice cream cart is fully stocked and even comes with pretend dollar bills! Love being outdoors? Here's a pop-up camper for $195 or a tent for $70. Fuel connections? Check.

There are so many fun creative products available in the American Girl catalog and on their website that every girl is sure to find something that she will love.
But I couldn't help but notice that while I could buy doll sized accessories that will help "boost confidence, ignite creativity and fuel connections," I could also do the same thing for real actual people purchasing real actual items that would create a lasting impact.

You know that last line in the American Girl promise statement about reminding the world --and girls -- how strong, brilliant and brave they are?  Well friends, I want to remind the world that there are real girls facing real issues who are strong and brilliant and brave. Their lives could be changed forever if instead of buying a tent for a doll, you instead bought a mosquito net for a child in a malaria and Zika infected area.

I know I don't have to convince any of you how important an education can be for a child. Study after study has shown that education is the key to overcoming poverty. I have had the opportunity to see inside several schools in rural Africa, and this picture shows a very typical school house. Unfortunately, due to the high fees, many children are unable to attend.

There is also a teacher shortage in many countries. I visited a school in Uganda where the child to teacher ratio was 93 to 1. There are so few schools in most rural areas that children come from long distances. Why not help a girl receive an education for $40, rather than buy plastic school supplies for a doll? 

You can multiply your gift with matching corporate product donations that will allow your $150 gift to turn into $1200 worth of school supplies, textbooks, sports equipment and more. It's kind of a sad day in this world when an 18" doll has so many pieces of sports equipment to keep track of that it needs its own sports storage bench, while real children are playing with balls they have made from trash. 

While I can't argue the fact that it would be a lot of fun to have a plastic ice cream cart with six treats in three different colors, I can only imagine the impact that it would have for a family to have you provide them with a microloan for about the same price. A loan like that could allow a woman to start her own small business and enable and empower her to provide for her family. While you won't get a bottle of pretend sprinkles and chocolate syrup, you will get an e-mail with the specific details of the entrepreneur you are supporting and updates to track their businesses progress.

What if instead of purchasing plastic doll items and accessories, we instead bought real items for real girls that would provide the help that they need to find their way out of extreme poverty. 

Let's compare a few items from the catalog: 

You can buy an super cute American Girl stuffed pet bunny for $24. It even comes with pretend carrots! You can also purchase a World Vision rabbit for $20. Not only can a pair of rabbits provide food for a family, they can also be the start of a small family business. 

American Girl has a doll wheelchair with real wheels that turn for $38, or you can purchase a wheelchair for a child in need and have it delivered for $50. When diseases, land mines and other dangers have left many children unable to walk or participate in a fulfilling life, why not give them hope for a future?

This colorful American Girl snack cart comes fully stocked with make believe snacks and supplies for $150. You can purchase one of World Vision's most popular gifts - a goat and 2 chickens - for only $110. That gift will provide a steady supply of eggs, milk and protein to help provide food for children and families. Did you know that a dairy goat can provide up to 16 cups of milk a day?

I could go on and on comparing these two catalogs, but you get the idea. 

There are real gifts that can be life changing for children and their families. 

You can see more gifts to give in the World Vision gift catalog.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet one of our sponsored children and his father in Uganda. Moses was just five years old when we started sponsoring him. He was in poor health and his parents struggled to provide for him and his two sisters. Sponsorship has provided Moses with an education, clean water that is close to his home, and proper medical treatment so that he's no longer in poor health.  Moses's parents have received seeds and education on proper farming and business techniques as well as information on animal husbandry. They now have a thriving maize crop and are able to produce enough corn to feed their family and sell at their local market.

What was once a struggling family, is now a thriving family with a bright future. When we can, we try to gift the families that we sponsor with an extra $100 at Christmas. We receive a full report on what the family purchased and are always amazed at how far the money goes. Moses's family was able to buy the suit that you see him wearing in the picture, metal sheeting for their hut's roof, a mattress, and a mosquito net. In addition, they purchased several farm animals, like this chicken {well, maybe not that particular chicken, but that chicken's grandma...or something like that} that he gave to me as a thank you gift when I visited.

To make a life-changing gift and find a child that your family can connect with personally, consider child sponsorship. If you want to talk about fueling connections, then child sponsorship is the way to do it. You can find a child in any of the nearly 100 countries that World Vision works in here.

We selected children that our family already had some type of connection to. Both of the kids that we sponsor are the same age as our two younger children. Perhaps sponsoring a girl in Cambodia that is at risk for being sold into the sex trade tugs at your heart.  The children of Africa have mine.  

When you sponsor a child, your family is able to write letters, send packages and get updates on the child that you sponsor. There was nothing more special than being invited into the sparse hut that Moses lived in with very few possessions, but when he pulled out a stack of handwritten letters that our family has sent to him over the years tied with twine, I melted. He had kept every single one. 

I knew then that while I couldn't change the world, I could change the world for one child. 

Remember those two girls I introduced you to at the beginning? Their story isn't unique. There are children just like them all over the world with the same struggles. 

You can provide clean water for life for only $50. Water is life-giving and your gift can bring clean water to those who need it the most. 

Girls that live far from school like Nerott, often drop out. Not only is it a struggle to walk long distances with poor nutrition and lack of clean water, but they face dangers like violence and kidnapping. You could help provide a bike to a girl to help provide safe, speedy transportation for only $125. I am challenging you today to consider making a shift in your thinking. 

What if instead of giving your child a gift from their want list, you instead used that money to help a child in need?

Take a peek at the World Vision gift catalog with your family and select something together. Better yet, consider child sponsorship, and change a child's life and their community. I couldn't think of a better gift to give this holiday season.

This post first appeared in November 2015. Click here to read the original

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Sue P. said...

Such a beautiful and meaningful post! I have sponsored a child through World Vision for 12 years and have been sent photos and reports about the items that my donations have provided for the family and the village. It is surprising how far our money will go there in Ethiopia to provide much needed items. I love the idea of using their Christmas catalog to provide gifts much more meaningful than plastic toys. World Vision is a trustworthy agency and is doing a wonderful work around the world. Thank you for your post.
Sue P.

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

This is such a wonderful post! If you do not mind I would like to share a link to it on my "Friday Favorites this week.

I love World Vision and have donated to it every year. IT is nice to know that people are being helped.

rachelteodoro said...

Thank you for the kind words and for giving so generously! I have seen the work that World Vision does and know the good they are doing.

Elizabeth, of course, feel free to share! You can check the top bar under content use guidelines for more information on how to share. Thank you!

Michele Tse said...

Thank you so much for this post! I also receive both catalogs still - oldest daughter is 24 and youngest daughter is 19. Both had dreams for their American Girl dolls while growing up and would each receive one doll gift each Christmas and birthday. But they would also choose a gift to give to the communities of the children we sponsored. Now I have grandchildren that will soon learn how blessed they are and will hopefully want help those less fortunate with such simple and inexpensive necessities. I haven't got the heart to cancel the American Girl catalog though. I still love going through it ... So many of my children's childhood memories!

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