“Name ten people you met this week,” he said to us. We were sitting in a dining room in South Africa. We’d just come back from a couple weeks in Malawi, Africa, and we were debriefing in Johannesburg before returning home.

They’d sent us — 5 teenagers from North America — to Malawi to meet people, to see projects that were happening, to see the ways people were living and to see how things like fish ponds and irrigation systems could change their lives. Sometimes save their lives.

Malawi was in a severe state of drought. And statistically those people in the fourth poorest country in the world (2007) would run out of food half way through the dry season. Let alone running out of water.

Dave, our leader, had told us again and again — “You are the eyes and ears of 10,000 youth. Take it all in. Don’t miss it.” We were to return to the states and speak to 10,000 of our peers at a conference, trying to relay the need that existed in the world and the ways we all could help.

He said it to me as I was about to leave alone to follow a woman named Monica down a dirt path to her village. What I saw and heard for the 10,000 was that Monica doesn’t have clean water. She has a mud puddle to provide for her family, which sometimes makes them sick, and which then dries up and leaves them with nothing. I saw the trees under which her children that have died from the water-born illnesses are buried. I saw a young boy being buried there presently as I walked by. The red dirt they dug up for his grave stained my shoes and my memory.

“Name 1o people you met,” he said. So we did. The five of us went around in a circle and named 10 people we’d met and connected with in Malawi. Names like Monica, Mwabi, Immaculate and Gloria.

I went last. And when I’d finished, with tears in his eyes, he spat, “pick one that dies.”

We looked at him with hatred and confusion.

“Pick one that dies. Every one of you. Pick one that dies.”


“Pick one that dies, because if they don’t get this help, the statistic is that one in ten won’t last this dry season. So one of your people will die. Remember that when you speak. This is not about people buying fish ponds and feeling nice. This is about people who will die if nothing changes.”

Those four words have always haunted me. Pick. one. that. dies.

It’s easy, when things are out of our face, out of our minds, out of our lives to ignore the need in the world. But when I look into their faces. When I know their names. That changes everything.

One of the men whose name I listed in that room actually did die. He died two days before I said his name. I didn’t find out for a couple of months. He had AIDS — we’d met him at an AIDS support group and he’d taught us a song about God’s goodness. It was enough to make me want to believe in God’s goodness in the face of sadness, too.

Today is giving Tuesday. If you want to give, if you want to help be the change in the world, here are some ideas how to do it.



  • Charity Water — This one is awesome. Clean water is probably the thing that is nearest and dearest to my heart. AND, I found this guy in san diego that you can follow on instagram (@thepancakedad) who is raising money for charity water. If you donate through his link HERE, 100% goes to Charity water, PLUS he’ll make you whatever customized pancake art you want (you only get a picture though, the actual pancakes go to feed his own children). It’s pretty awesome and fun.
  • World Vision has a sponsor who is matching any donations made today. You can donate a general gift that they will use where it’s most needed. You can Sponsor a child. You can help the refugee funds. Or you can purchase something from their gift catalog — as big as a well or a fish pond, or as small as a chicken. All these gifts help people in communities like the ones I’ve been to in Malawi. Donate HERE
  • World Relief — $40 provides winter wear for refugees entering the United States. “Many refugees come to the U.S. from countries with hot climates. Prepare a refugee for their first cold winter with warm coats, gloves and scarves. In light of #GivingTuesday our goal is to provide 250+ refugees with warm winter gear. Your help in giving warmth to the most vulnerable is appreciated.” DONATE HERE
  • Salvation Army — at this time of year most of your local salvation army locations do a coat drive. Donate new or gently used coats to your local store.
  • Donate/Help/Love on people around who have recently lost loved ones. The first holidays after someone passes away are incredibly tough anyway — especially if they’ve passed during this season. If you don’t know of anyone to help in this category but feel that tug on your heart, a girl that I went to middle school and high school just lost her couple month old baby who passed away in his sleep earlier this week. You can donate to her gofundme account for their funeral expenses here.


  • Hand out socks and blankets to those you see who have to sleep on the streets. This is a cold time of year and socks are some of the least donated, yet most needed items while on the streets. Other items that homeless individuals have told me they often need and don’t get — clean underwear, a towel, something healthy to eat that lasts (like a protein bar), and feminine hygiene supplies like pads and tampons.
  • Invite a struggling family (struggling with life, finances, grief, whatever) to join your family for different events and activities throughout the season. Inviting people in is a huge gift this time of year.
  • Look into your town’s local services for the homeless and what volunteer opportunities they have during this season (and beyond). Maybe you can be a greeter as people come in for a meal. Or maybe you can be the one who chops all the onions for the soup beforehand. There are lots of options with varying degrees of personal interaction so you can still be helpful without being too far out of your comfort zone if you’re wary.
  • Go buy a coffee for someone whose super busy this time of year. Seriously. Get them their cup of coffee of choice and bring it to them midday. The caffeine and your kind generosity are sure to be a help.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

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