Adopt a Bear for my Birthday and 5 Other Meaningful Gifts

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My birthday is right around the corner. I'm turning 25, can you believe that? I certainly refuse to acknowledge it. I should probably write a post about 25 things I learned in 25 years, but I figure the last thing you need is spiritual advice about loving yourself. Besides, I find myself in too many situations where I wonder how a respectable adult shoud react, so trust me, you're better off without my doubtful wisdom.

Instead, I'm going to spare you the present dilemma and tell you what I want for my birthday. My supply of perfumes will not run dry for another 3 years and I rarely wear jewellery so I want none of that. The hundreds of Facebook wishes are cute but meaningless. Let's try something different this year.

For my 25th birthday, I took the liberty of curating a list of my favourite causes. Like this, you can show your appreciation for the fact that I survived another year (not dead yet, hurray!) by making a donation to a cause that's important to me. I selected only causes and foundations that are high impact and transparent in their actions and investments. From entrepreuship and education to fighting malnutrition, I tried to make sure that there's something in this list to appeal to all my friends.

Here's an overview of your options:

  • Adopt a Romanian bear and protect their ecosystem
  • Fund nutrition science research
  • Fight against world hunger
  • Support coding education for kids in my home town
  • Donate your tech skills & expertise
  • Lend your eyesight to the blind

1. Adopt a Romanian bear

This one is my favourite! Who doesn't love a cuddly teddy bear? Here's the perfect opportunity to show your love for wildlife and support the Romanian brown bear. "I adopted a Romanian bear" is one impressive pick-up line! And look at that face...

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It's tough being a bear these days. Half of Europe's brown bear population lives in Romania and their habitat is shrinking continously. New developments like roads, ski slopes, overly-ambitious hunters and irresponsible tourists (who don't dispose safely of their trash) are all damaging for the local bear population. Fortunately, through the WWF you can easily and conveniently make a contribution towards the protection of Romanian bears.

Donations go towards caring for the baby bears at the Orphan Bear Rehabilitation Centre, monitoring bears in their habitat through GPS and preventing the degradation of the Carpathian forests where these beautiful beasts live. (Read a story about the Orphan Bear Rehabilitation Centre here.)

You can commit to giving 3-5€ per month for a year or you can make a one time donation in the sum of your choice. For those of you who don't speak Romanian, I will gladly help you navigate this website (and lend you my Romanian address so you can receive updates on how your donation is being used). If you want to make it really special you can make a donation of +20€ as a birthday package which will send me a stuffed teddy bear.

For those of you who go all out and get the birthday package deal, I'll organize a camping trip in the Romanian Carpathian mountains in July. I don't know the first thing about camping so this will be an adventure all unto itself. Lodging in the beautiful city of Oradea included.

Donate here.

2. Support the Nutrition Science Initiative

If you've ever had a chat with me about nutrition, you surely know how fired up I can get about this topic. The reason I find it so fascinating is because nutrition is a strong determinant of how our bodies and minds function and yet we understand very little about it. In fact, present day nutrition is more marketing ploys and old wives tales than it is science.

The simple question of what constitutes a healthy diet has become a source of controversy and contention. This is why the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) brings together independent researchers and institutions to conduct targeted experiments that address key nutrition related questions. They're doing amazing work understanding how the human metabolism works and making great progress with using nutrition to prolong healthy life expectancy.

You can support NuSI by making a donation in any amount you see fit. They take Bitcoin too! Donate here.

3. Sponsor action against world hunger

I know that fighting world hunger sounds like the goal of a beauty peagant contendor, but bear with me here. Action Against Hunger tackles this problem by providing sustainable and long term solutions to hunger and malnourishment as well as meeting immediate needs among the world's poor. It's a top-rated charity that operates efficiently and effectively and has real measurable impact.

They carry out programs in nutrition, food security & livelihoods, and water, sanitation & hygiene in more than 40 countries and reach an estimated 3.5 million perople per year. You can donate here. I'll owe you a low-carb cookie if you pick this one.

4. Support CoderDojo in my home town

This is one for you entreprenurial spirits! According to a Forbes article, Romania is on the fast track to becoming the tech startup capital of Europe. We have the largest no. of IT workers per capita and a tax as low as 0% for IT workers, but further progress can only be fueled by education.

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CoderDojo Romania is dedicated to teaching kids between the ages of 7 and 17 coding skills for free. I'm afraid that you can't donate here directly, but you can get in touch with Andrei Munteanu to find out how to help. If you support CoderDojo for my birthday, I will help you recruit a top notch Romanian programmer for your startup. You'd be surprised how often I get that request...

While we're on the topic of education, you can also take a look at Restart in Educatie, a Romanian community dedicated to supporting education initiatives (This one is in Romanian only. Sorry.)

5. Donate your tech skills (coming in March)

Techies make the world go round. Actually angular momentum does that, but that's no reason to underestimate the value of your programming skills! Set in Budapest, the #charity program connects non-profits with IT professionals to collaborate on projects like apps, sites and content that would normally cost a pretty penny to commission.

Some examples of #charity initiatives include this Prezi presentation for Syria Deeply, a video streaming app to help Action Against Hunger monitor and showcase the impacts of its projects in the field, and impact data visualization tools for the Chicago-based non-profit Moneythink. Kudos to Vienna-based Fiedler Capital for financially backing #charity.

The platform will officially lunch in March, but you can get early access on their homepage.

6. Lend your sight to the blind

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If my grandma could operate a smart phone I'd be helping her pick out the nougat filled candy from the mixed candy box every day... Alas, she can't, but that doesn't mean my questionably good eye site should go unused.

With an iPhone and a few minutes to spare, you can volunteer to help the visually impaired identify things through an app called Be My Eyes (http://www.bemyeyes.org/). Volunteers can speak to their callers, seeing what’s in front of the blind person, to help them read labels, figure out if their milk has expired, read street signs, or whatever they need help discerning, like a one-way Skype video call.

Download Be My Eyes app here.

Bonus for story lovers

If you like a good narrative, you can check out Latterly. Their goals is to support quality narrative journalism. To this end, 3€ per month will give you acces to their beautiful stories.

If you have suggestions for interesting causes, I will gladly check them out and add to this list.

Special thanks go to Adrian Pica for recommending Coder Dojo, Ana Răducanu for telling me about restart.eu and Raluca Straciuc for being insane enough to suggest I should addopt a bear.

Image credits go out to Fred Karklin.