This holiday season, in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I think every American is pausing to reflect on the things that are truly important. Each of us will hug our families just a little tighter this year, we will cherish our time together just that much more, and we will, I hope, give just a little more to others as we consider how precious life is.
There are some wonderful organizations that help people both during the season and year-round.
For those who want to help the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims, the United Way of Western Connecticut has set up a dedicated fund. The Sandy Hook School Support Fund can be found online and checks can be sent to Sandy Hook School Support Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470.
As the nation learned the names and the faces of the tiniest victims of Sandy Hook, a world away 10 more young girls were murdered, whose names we will never know. They were killed by a car bomb as they collected firewood in rural Afghanistan.
Though we have made tremendous progress in Afghanistan, it remains the worst place in the world to be female. Deeply entrenched cultural norms have kept women and girls under constant attack, particularly those who bravely participate in public life, get an education or teach others. Roughly 87 percent are illiterate, the same amount of the female population estimated to suffer at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage in their lifetimes. I see a poignant line between the educators in Newtown who sacrificed their lives to protect their students and the brave women and girls in Afghanistan who risk their lives to give and get an education.
Women for Women International (womenforwomen.org) operates in eight countries, including Afghanistan, teaching the world’s most excluded women practical skills and business principles, so they can get jobs, start their own businesses and find their way to economic and social self-sufficiency. You can make a one-time donation, purchase holiday gifts – everything from okra seeds to education packages – or sponsor a woman for her one-year job-training program. You can even get updates to follow her progress and write letters back and forth.
This past week has reminded us all how vulnerable and precious children are. Human trafficking is a horrifying crime that too often claims children as its victim. The Polaris Project (polaris.org) fights human trafficking in the United States – which exploits an estimated 100,000 children each year.
And finally, though it seems so small compared to the scope of the tragedy, making a child’s Christmas wish come true by donating to your local Toys for Tots drive is a simple way to bring a little joy to someone’s life – as well as your own. Taking the time to do something for someone else is its own reward.
We can’t begin to comprehend the depths of the grief of the Newtown families, nor can we imagine what measure of strength it takes to get through each next breath. All we can do is take the reminder of just how precious life is and try to make the lives of others a little better this holiday season. It is the best way for any of us, and the nation, to begin to heal.