What to buy for someone who has little

Regularly we hear people ask, “What do you buy for a person who has everything?” Well, this blog asks the question, “What do you buy for a person who has almost nothing?”

These thoughts and ideas are mainly for South Africans who employ domestic servants and casual gardeners. It is coming close to Christmas and thoughts go to what to buy for whom. How do we include our domestic employees? Do we include them at all? Do we give them a bonus and leave it at that?

Personally, we give them a bonus but also a small gift. I have seen many folk purchase the bucket filled with staple foods in many supermarkets. To me this, although useful, must be rather boring for the recipient. Imagine if we received a parcel with milk, eggs, veges, oil etc; something we eat everyday. I believe we would quickly be disappointed in what we opened and probably make our feelings known.

I recall my childhood Christmas stockings. We were poor and a large family so extras were not high on the list. The one I remember most was waking up on Christmas morning when I was 12 finding the usual pens and pencils for school as well as an orange but at the bottom was a pair of stockings. It made me feel so grown up and special! Let’s make that our aim for our servants this Christmas – finding that something special.

A friend once told me that every year she had given her domestic worker a very useful but mundane gift and then one year she asked her what she would like for Christmas.  She asked for a wheelbarrow!  That was unexpected but the lady had family in a rural area and where a wheelbarrow was a necessity that they could not afford. A real surprise to learn what would be a very special gift.

I have learnt over the years that these are some inexpensive gifts which have been received with such incredible joy.

A Bible in Zulu (R95 from the Bible Society) – knowing that our domestic is a devout Christian woman I chose this for her and when she had opened it at home on Christmas morning she phoned to say thank you with such palpable excitement. It made me feel joyful.

A pair of Reader’s Spectacles (R70) – as she was over 40 I checked to see what she could read, not from a literacy perspective as I knew that she was literate, but what could she see. She could read the big print but not the small, like most of us over 40. We went to the local pharmacy and selected a pair of spectacles which was correct for her eyes. Well! She danced and sang around the pharmacy while the employees and other shoppers stood in amazement. I was so surprised that such a small thing in my life could bring such pleasure.

A bra (±R150 at the factory shop) – I had noticed how delighted she was to lay claim to bras which I put in the discard pile because they were stretched or broken. She would say that she would mend it and give it to her sister or friend ‘on the farm’ who didn’t have one. We forget that women everywhere want to be attractive and comfortable.

A supermarket shopping voucher (various amounts) – both she and our gardener said that they so appreciated being able to select what special items, that they usually could not afford, for their Christmas lunch.

Educational books (various prices but I buy when I see them on sale) – our gardener in particular appreciates these. He is a born gardener and we have given him books on gardening which he devours.

airtime for their mobile phone (whatever value) – this is an enormous help as it is expensive for one on a minimal income.

Other possibilities are a CD or DVD which would interest them.

These are just a few ideas that I have found to bring special joy to their lives without spending a lot of money. I encourage you to think about adding that special little extra to the bonus that you give.


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