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Stop Sending your Crap to Haiti and Africa

I wrote this post almost a year ago - in the Other Blog. It's a year later and people are still sending their crap all over the world.

The NFL is giving their mis-printed t-shirts to World Vision to send to "needy" people" (read why that's a stupid idea, here).

My friend working in Burkina Faso wrote the following in response to my posting that article on my Facebook wall:

"Finally (and quite ironically) someone makes sense of why stuff like that is retarded. I'm all for the school supplies and materials for clean drinking water etc because that stuff is frequently not available where needed. But you know even in Africa they have clothes.

Frequently what I see is clothing etc doesn't get 'given out' to the poor anyway. It gets sold - and often you'll see people who really don't earn much saving their money so they can buy a "white" shirt and they'll wear it til it's not recognizable as clothing. You can't imagine how many things I've seen here for sale with the tags from the stores still on them

Oh and by the way... there are LOTS of poor people who live in the US and Canada who could probably benefit from that without having to ship them half way across the planet. Why not give them to local missions instead?"


Buenos Aires - January 1-3Torres Del Paine - December 25-5Punta Arenas - December 27

I know - we all want to help. But make sure the help you decide to participate in is aimed at making someone else's life better, not making you feel better.

"if the quality of an item is unacceptable in the donor country, it is also unacceptable as a donation"

Here's the post, updated a bit with information from the past year. And since this is now primarily supposed to be a photography blog, I'll update the photos and make things prettier than the original post - and I've added more links and resources at the end.

Happy V Day.

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I am always fascinated and frustrated by the number of people who feel the need to send their used shoes, sports equipment, and clothing to developing countries and those affected by disaster.

There is a seemingly endless stream of misinformed organizations that collect and send shoes and other goods to Africa (and now Haiti).

Everyone wants to feel and think that they're doing *something* for people "over there" - but what on earth makes so many people think that people in Africa need or even want their used shoes?

That their life would be SO much better if only they had some leather or vinyl on their poor African feet.

You know - they HAVE shoes in Africa.

Shoes are widely available. The reason some people don't have shoes is not because they can't get them if they wanted/needed them. The reason they don't have shoes is because their life and needs are so vastly different from the shoe-wearer's that shoes are simply not a priority.

Food and water are the priority. Feeding their families, medical care and treatment, disease prevention (sometimes, not usually), staying alive. Those are the things that are important.

If you're privileged enough and at a point in your life where you take the above things for granted - then the least you could do is help someone else achieve those things. Then maybe think about shoes. And you don't do that by spending money on shipping, packaging and fossil fuels to send your beaten up Nikes to Africa.

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If you really have your heart set on making sure everyone in Africa has shoes - please don't send your shoes. Send money to an established organization based in that community so people there can buy shoes in the local market. That way someone in the market gets the money and someone gets shoes - it feeds the local economy - and the people.

Don't send your shoes - because then the local people who want shoes don't buy them from the local market. Imagine how pissed off and discouraged the local shoe dude is gonna get when he's got all these brand new shoes to sell and everyone is getting free/cheap beaten up shoes from North America?

But still - I think most people getting that shoe money would rather spend it on food, water and health care than on flip flops.

Iceland Day 5-5

Prologue and Resources:


More on Donating shoes and other fads

Not all of Haiti was devastated by that Earthquake. Many parts of the island (and Dominica) did okay - and many parts had stuff they could have sold to the parts that were devastated. But instead huge amounts of (non-essential) things were flown in from all over the world.

After the Tsunami - more orphanages were built with donated money than there were kids to go in them. More (shoddy) boats were built, again with donated money, than were destroyed in the tsunami. One of the major "Dos and Donts" of donating is not to earmark funds - more great tips here.

I'm sure most who don't know me are wondering what gives me any authority to write such a post on such a subject. I don't have much, really. But probably more than most people reading this. Besides traveling to many developing countries - I have done a bit of time with a certain Canadian-based NGO. One of the ones that actually does some good - and started this site. Which I hope more NGOs will pay attention to and contribute to.

3 Response to "Stop Sending your Crap to Haiti and Africa"

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Anonymous Says:

bloody brilliant and incisive commentary!

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Unknown Says:

My friends boyfriend just returned from Haiti where he was helping build an orphanage. He and his friends were saying how they gave all their clothing away to people who were badly in need before they left. They were happy to get it. People there scrambled to get it. Yes they can use these items and need them.

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Anonymous Says:

Unknown,

Hey there, I just wanted to say that it was very, very kind of your friends boyfriend to donate his clothing and things he no longer required to the Haitian people. It's really great that the people he donated to were happy about it, and could use the items.

However, that doesn't detract from the point of this post. Of course clothes and shoes can be used, and are needed by those people, but that doesn't mean they are what is MOST needed, or MOST useful to them. All that this post is saying, is that there are more important supplies needed by people in crisis, and while any donation is appreciated, there are better ways to help.

Primarily, this post makes the point that food, water, and medicine are the chief necessities of areas affected by disaster. It is these things that are the most important to provide. Again, it is kind to donate what you can, all that this post is saying is that the primary concern should be food, water, and medicine.

Secondarily, this post more or less only glances over the fact that providing items like clothing and other nonessentials has an adverse affect on the local economy. If foreign aide provides clothing and shoes, then those who live off of selling clothing and shoes will be unable to profit. This affects the entire community, since if the vendors do not have money from selling their items, they cannot then spend their money on other things. It's important that any aide provided not upset the economy of the area that it is trying to assist.

Food and water is different, because even if a vendor lives off the sale of these, their items are constantly in demand. One needs to eat and drink every day, whereas a shirt or a pair of shoes may last for many months, or even years.

I'm certain that the author intended no offense to those who have donated shoes and other things, out of the kindness of their heart. They simply wish to inform those who may not know, which items are most critical and the best way to provide those things. This is, of course, generally with money donations as that provides the area a means by which to obtain the things they need most, they can allocate funds where they are needed.

Anyway, that's my take on it. Have a great day! I'm so glad people are able to donate and assist when countries are in crisis!

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