Ask the average UK family what constitutes ‘a Christmas dilemma’ and their response could include burnt turkeys or sold-out games consoles.
Now pose the same question to a family in Rwanda, Nepal, or Cambodia and their reply will no doubt be starkly different.
Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but not everyone can afford the luxury of wrapped gifts, of electric to power those consoles, or even clean water to wash sprouts let alone a turkey.
With Christmas shopping in full-swing, Elaine Cleland, from Halkyn, is urging people across Flintshire to give the gift of education, of safety, of food and water, friendship and love, through sponsoring a child with ActionAid.
ActionAid, who usually support children to emerge from poverty in several countries, are urging people this Christmas to join them in sponsoring children in areas of conflict where long-term programmes have been set up, such as Rwanda, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Myanmar, Congo and Afghanistan.
Elaine, a former headteacher, said: “If you compare poverty in the UK with poverty overseas, there’s a huge gap; I feel that we need to be made aware of that.
“People may never actually see it [abroad] otherwise, that’s one of the things I liked about working with ActionAid, that you actually find out how people are living. I found that humbling.”
As someone who has travelled internationally for her work, Elaine was very aware of Rwanda’s crisis. She said it was “instinctive” to do her bit to help children who suffer from the war and poverty that has blighted the country for years.
Already an active fundraiser for children’s education charities, she chose to sponsor a boy in Rwanda, Niyogisubizo, and they exchange letters about their lives while her sponsorship helps him achieve his education.
She said: “I particularly chose Rwanda because it’s prevalent in my mind as such a terrible area for conflict.
“I like the idea of sponsoring a child because then it’s your choice how much you give, what you do with it, and you know what your money goes on.
“You can choose which country and almost which child, and if anyone ever did it, I want them to know they don’t have to give a lot.
“I also have an opportunity if I wish to meet the young boy I’ve been sending letters to. I’ve sent him postcards of Wales saying how lovely it is and in return I’ve received photographs of him and his area.
“He understands what is being done for him and that’s one of the best things.”
The money is also used for vital community facilties such as water supplies, schools, and healthcare.
She said: “ActionAid have a magnificent impact as a charity and work with regional businesses and schools. Child sponsorship gives children an opportunity to develop and as the money is used for the village as well as the child, everyone there can progress too.
“Sometimes people do say to me, ‘why aren’t you helping children at home?’ I say that I have already raised a lot of money for a British children’s charity as well as a local hospice, and I spend one day a week volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau. I like to spread it around a bit.
“The big issue is lifting eyes away from local issues. I’ve worked abroad, and in many places across the UK. I’ve lived in Halkyn for 20 years, but even in a green little place like here someone cares.”
Elaine said that although she’s in a little Welsh village, her passion and dedication for such a far away project shows how “there is no reason why other people can’t help”.
She added: “Out there, it’s a primitive society. I think some part of you would like to go back to that simple life, but some part of you knows you’d never survive.
“Universal Credit these days introduces many problems so when people who suddenly lose their money, there is a huge need here and it conflicts with the need overseas.
“But Nepal for example has had extreme natural disasters and the country is struggling to get going again. Once it does, it falls back down. We don’t have any natural distasters as bad as that here.”
To further expand her horizons, Elaine is hoping to travel to Rwanda in 2018 to meet her sponsored child, and then plans to spend more time exploring the region afterwards.
“The whole point for me is to understand the life they have there, and afterwards, go and see some other parts of Africa. You’re always learning, and I think child sponsorship is an opportunity to make yourself aware and have that personal contact, even over a great distance.”
ActionAid is currently building a school in Rwanda, and if it’s anything similar to the schools Elaine has helped build in other countries, it will be no easy feat.
She said a group of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds join forces with pickaxes and spades.
Through her work with ActionAid Elaine recalls visiting a Buddhist environment in Burma, where the locals were “so, so grateful” for ActionAid’s support.
She also spent a short time visiting women in Nepal after the earthquakes in 2015. Elaine said: “You never get over the generosity of people who don’t have much, and the contentment with so little compared to what we have over here.
“In doing it, I have also benefited. I’ve made the most of my life and had that rewarding feeling of giving time and effort. That’s not selfish, it’s human, and an antidote for some of those selfish things people do in the world.”
n For further information, visit www.actionaid.org.uk/donate or to support ActionAid’s ‘No Girl Afraid’ campaign dedicated to supporting young females who have suffered serious emotional trauma in countries of conflict, visit www.actionaid.org.uk/christmas-appeal-no-girl-afraid.