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November 29, 2021

Opinion: Nicholas Kristof: This holiday season, use your money to change someone’s life

Originally published in The Washington Post

Nicholas Kristof, a former New York Times columnist, is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in Oregon.

What could be more of a miracle than restoring sight to the blind?

That might sound biblical or supernatural. But for this year’s holidays, you can give your cousin a scarf — or in that cousin’s name you can restore someone’s eyesight.

For years, as a columnist for the New York Times, I wrote an annual giving guide, which in 2019 and 2020 included Holiday Impact awards. I recently resigned from that job to run for governor in Oregon, but I wanted to continue the tradition.

My 2021 grand prize winner is a nonprofit called Seva Foundation that restores sight around the world — a dazzling present. And I think you’ll agree that all the following suggestions are far more meaningful than any box of chocolates.

You can donate at, and here’s what these gifts accomplish:

Restore sight. I chose Seva Foundation because I’ve seen so much anguish caused by blindness, ever since as a law student I met a blind man in Fez, Morocco, who was led around by his granddaughter to beg. Some 43 million people worldwide are blind, and hundreds of millions more have moderate to severe visual impairment that can be inexpensively prevented or fixed.

When people go blind in a poor country, they can no longer perform chores, care for children or earn an income. They often must pull a young child or grandchild out of school to escort them. So sight-restoring surgery gives two people their lives back.

The most common cause of blindness is cataracts — which through Seva can be removed in a 15-minute surgery that costs about $50 per eye.

I’ve seen these inspiring surgeries in rural Nepal. Patients’ bandages are removed the next day; they blink in the light and take a moment to focus, then beam at seeing the world for the first time in years.


Seva works with Native American and Indigenous communities on various health and wellness initiatives. This image shows children from the Kewa Pueblo, a community served by the foundation. (IRoots Media/Seva Foundation)

While Seva mostly works abroad, it’s also active on Native American reservations. As grand prize winner, it will receive $100,000 (funds have been donated by readers), and I expect many times that will be donated through my website.

Fight sexual violence. My longtime friend and hero Denis Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in a conflict-ridden part of Democratic Republic of Congo sometimes called the rape capital of the world.

Mukwege was nauseated when he saw women and girls suffering devastating internal injuries, including fistulas, after sexual assaults by militias. While providing outstanding care to survivors, he also began to denounce the systematized rape by military units — and survived an assassination attempt that killed his friend and security guard. Later, a young Congolese doctor who was his protege was also slain.

Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his courage in standing up for women’s rights. I chose Panzi Hospital (it will receive $25,000, plus reader contributions) partly to help rape survivors in Congo, and partly to demonstrate that the world stands with Mukwege — perhaps making it a bit harder to kill him.


Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace laureate and Panzi Foundation founder, with a 3-year-old patient at his hospital in Democratic Republic of Congo. The foundation has treated more than 70,000 survivors of sexual violence since 1999. (Alexis Huguet/Panzi Foundation)

Help young people find opportunity. You know the old saw about how it’s better to give a fishing rod than a fish? That’s what Per Scholas does, making it one of the most exciting organizations in the field of economic empowerment in the United States.

Per Scholas (which will receive $25,000, plus reader contributions) runs free, intensive training programs to prepare struggling young people for high-paying jobs in information technology, cybersecurity and software engineering. More than 80 percent of graduates find full-time employment within a year, and their earnings rise on average from $10,000 a year before training to $42,000 a year in their first jobs afterward.

Not everyone has spare cash. But those with more time than money can instead volunteer through my website:

Be a mentor. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches adults (“Bigs”) with children and young adults (“Littles”) to provide mentoring so they can dream higher and attain their goals.

The majority of Littles come from underserved communities, and mentors make a huge difference: 9 out of 10 Littles see their Bigs as very important adults in their lives. Large numbers of kids are on waiting lists, hoping to be matched with mentors.

Tutor children in reading. Learning to read is magical: A child who reads is far more likely to enjoy school, graduate from high school and avoid trouble. Through Reading Partners, adult volunteers coach children from kindergarten to fifth grade.

Many of my readers have become coaches, and some initially thought their service a sacrifice. Over time they found it deeply rewarding to connect to a cause larger than themselves.

More information on these organizations is at If you donate there, credit card transaction fees will be covered by Focusing Philanthropy, a nonprofit that helps manage this annual appeal.

So often in the rich world, we buy each other trinkets. Here, I invite you to live the values of the season and lift yourselves and others with transformational gifts.

  • Logo for Accelerate
  • Logo for Five Below
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  • Logo for Bezos Family Foundation
  • Logo for George Kaiser Family Foundation
  • Logo for Panda Cares
  • Logo for The Duke Endowment
  • Logo for Deerbrook Charitable Trust

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