Courtney posted a very poignant post on their blog about how misguided and often inappropriate our efforts are to “help” Africa are. I’m not talking about huge governmental organizations but I’m talking about us as individuals. Let’s see if this scenario sound at all familiar:
Someone at your church, work, or just someone who knocks on your doors says, “Hi we’re collecting things for poor people in Africa, do you have anything that you’d be willing to give away?” You sit there for a couple of seconds and you start thinking about all the things you’ve been meaning to get rid of: a box of books, some old clothes, some toys that the kids don’t play with anymore, some old computer parts, those weird Christmas presents that you got from some distance relative. After rummaging around your house you produce a couple grocery bags worth of stuff and you are now quite pleased with the results of your “purge”.
So now you’re wondering, ok so what’s your point? Let’s take a closer look at these imaginary items and frame them within the following question, How will these things help someone in Africa?
Books – Are your books appropriate for the people and culture you are giving them to? What type of books did you give away: fiction, cooking, gardening, religious, self help books? Do you know if the people that are receiving these books are even literate in English? Are the books appropriate for the climate, culture, predominant religions?
Clothes – Unless you know your organization is giving your old clothes directly to someone, your give-away clothes are being sorted and bundled into big bales and then sold at the local markets. BUT what sort of clothes did you give away? Skirts above the knee, tank tops, low cut shirts, women trousers, in Kenya all of those things would be inappropriate to wear in the village.
Computers – Technology changes at a very rapid pace. Hardware and software become outdated so quickly. In Kenya almost all of the computers we found were running XP. If you give away software that runs on Windows 95 or 98 will it a) even run and b) actually help them develop the skills they need?
So what’s my point, leaving out the whole issue of creating dependencies on donors, poor people in countries all over the world don’t just need our random things we don’t want anymore. Kids have very specific needs, paper, pencils, educational material appropriate to their age, culture, and language. Mothers need food, clothes that can withstand the harsh and highly “manual” lifestyle they lead. I don’t have a solution for you, but we can be more mindful about how we help, and I think that we should be holding organizations that we are giving to to a higher degree of responsibility, why should they waste our money shipping useless items overseas? I think organizations like http://www.kiva.org/ are steps in the right directions, highly targeted giving.
Anyway if you made it this for, or just skimmed past my rants, read this post, you’ll understand what I mean: