Published - Sunday, November 13, 2005
These gifts can make a world of difference
By Laura Gossman, Winona Daily News

Winona State University student Sarmila Basnet came to the U.S. from Nepal to get a college education, unsure of how her future could affect millions of children back home.

Basnet grew up in a city where most families were well-off. She graduated from high school and received scholarships to attend WSU. She is studying biology and computer science and plans to go on to graduate school.

“I chose to come here because I knew that I could use a U.S. degree anywhere in the world,” Basnet said.

Basnet’s story is one of success, but she has seen many Nepalese children whose dreams of an education aren’t as easy to reach.

Through an organization called Alternative Gifts International, Basnet has found a way she can give other Nepalese children the gift of education.

On Saturday, Basnet participated in Winona’s second annual Alternative Gift Market at Central Lutheran Church, where she raised money to help Nepalese children attend elementary school. Schools are sparse in the remote areas of Nepal. Only 47 percent of children are literate, Basnet said.

“A lot of children aren’t able to go to elementary school because work becomes more important for survival, Basnet said. “In some cases, children become slaves to labor.”

Alternative Gifts International allows people to donate money to a number of organizations worldwide in the name of friends and family members as gifts.

“The market is an alternative to the excess we have under our Christmas trees,” said market coordinator Gretchen Erwin.

Erwin was attracted to the alternative gift idea because she is able to better someone else’s life by honoring a friend or family member with a gift that’s tax deductible.

For $83, you can provide eye exams, surgery and glasses for a woman or child in Bangladesh or Nepal.

In Haiti, $28 buys 80 mango seeds. Not only do mango trees provide fruit, their roots prevent erosion on hillsides during floods and hurricanes.

Not all donations go to foreign countries.

Winona Volunteer Services was one of the 15 programs that received more than $4,000 in grants for its food shelf last year.

“Most people don’t even remember what they received for Christmas last year,” Erwin said. “But those who receive alternative gifts never forget.”

More information

  • Winona’s Alternative Gift Market is open by appointment through mid-December. Call Gretchen Erwin at (507) 454-6199 or Nancy Hauschildt at (507) 452-1764.
  • Visit the organization’s Web site:
  • The gifts come with cards that the buyer can send to the recipient explaining that a donation was made in their name.

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