This Christmas my family and I went to Canada. Along with the woolly jumpers and big mittens under the tree, we found some very special gifts this year. They came from Plan Canada and were not for us but for children and families in developing countries.

school essentials

My daughter’s gift was for one child to have school supplies, including textbooks and pencils, and funding for school meals and teacher training. These are things we take for granted in our well-equipped schools, but without them education is impossible.

anti-bullying

My gift was funding for an anti-bullying project which provides training for children, parents and teachers about the rights of the child. It includes “Speak out boxes” into which children can post their concerns and experiences so that issues of bullying can be discussed and dealt with. This gift was chosen specially for me because of my anti-bullying story, Pink.

clean water

My husband’s gift was clean water for families. In many¬† parts of the world the water is not safe to drink, and this is the most essential gift of all. These three gifts all came from the same Plan Canada Gifts of Hope website, and there are lots more amazing gifts to choose from.

Apopo rat 2

The final gift for my son was a surprising one. It was a rat! Even better, a HeroRat who sniffs out landmines in fields and open spaces where war has ravaged crucial arable land. This is an initiative started by a Belgian organisation called Apopo which trains and uses rats to find land mines in former war zones in Mozambique, Cambodia, Thailand and Angola.  They can also be trained to detect tuberculosis in a lab setting, which speeds up diagnosis and saves lives.

Rats are very intelligent animals (I know because I had a pet rat as a child) and they are light enough to be able to find a land mine without setting it off. This helps prevent the terrible injuries people suffer when trying to cultivate land or collect water or herd cattle on mined fields. The Apopo rats have all got names (like Oprah, Pink and Jolie) and they look quite cute in their little harnesses. Maybe someone you know would like a HeroRat too!

HeroRat