Why Don’t I Want a Birthday Present?

By Renee Cayer, Volunteer

Since I was a child, I have been receiving birthday gifts from people I have never met, who live in a country I may never visit, yet who have given me something I will use for a lifetime. When I was nine, my mother read an article to me from the newspaper which described the non-profit organization, THE DENAN PROJECT. It was looking for donations to help run a medical clinic in a severely drought-ridden area of Ethiopia. It described how people had walked for up to ten days in order to get health care, at times burying their sick and starving children along the way. Medical aid there was virtually non-existent. Temperatures daily soared well above 110 degrees, which made for the most unbearable conditions in all of Africa.

As she was reading, I noticed a picture of a Denan girl next to the article. She looked about my age, which frightened me immensely. NOT ALL GIRLS ARE LIKE ME? Without letting her finish, I ran upstairs to my room and grabbed my allowance money I had been saving for an American Girl doll. I handed the money to my mother asking “Can you send this money to that organization? I do not need another doll. THEY NEED THE MONEY MORE THAN I DO.” From that moment it hit me that I could make a difference in peoples’ lives, a small difference, but still an incredible one.

When my friends would ask, “Renee, why don’t you want a birthday present? I thought you wanted clothes for an American Girl doll?!!” I would always respond with the simple answer: “Because children need medicine. For one hundred dollars the clinic stays open for one day.” Just knowing that my money is making a difference in peoples’ lives still makes me tear up to this day.

Why do I still collect money for Denan in lieu of birthday gifts? Simply, it gives me joy. Words cannot express the feeling I have when I send them hope. There is just something about that feeling that has become a part of me. It inspires me to do more, and drives me to ask how I can keep making a difference. The haunting image of the dying young girl with crusty eyes and flies on her face has stuck in my mind since I have been nine. I will never know for sure what impact my two thousand dollars has made, but even if I have changed the life of one child, it was money well spent. As most people see my donations as a gift to the people of Ethiopia, I see it as a birthday gift from them.

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