After the 1 Million Shirts debacle, the Twitter debate on gifts-in-kind (GIK) has continued. While some of us enthusiastically trumpeted the drawbacks of sending one million of anything over to Africa (and just how degrading some of the initiatives seem for Africans), it seems the general public missed the blog posts, Tweets, and conference call. People are still trying to send large quantities of “stuff” they don’t want anymore overseas. Let’s round up a few of the highlights:
Bras Without Borders (targets Uganda)
50,000 Shoes (targets Haiti — not in Africa, but same idea)
Books for Africa – Actually, this organization has sent 22 million books to Africa since 1988, and some computers. And I don’t entirely disagree with the notion of providing something that cannot otherwise be purchased in country. I’d appreciate some other wise insight on this one.
And now, my brief reflection. Why are Americans so drawn to the concept of donating our used stuff to people overseas in the first place? Are there not hundreds of thousands of people here in our own country, probably in our own community, who would love a gently worn shirt, pair of pumps, or copy of a book? Or an under-funded daycare that would really appreciate a box of gently used crayons? Is our hesitation about giving locally, instead of domestically, somehow related to an inherent belief that our used *crap* may not be good enough for our United Statesian counterparts, but is somehow acceptable for those nameless individuals living in what so many think is a remote land full of uneducated people roaming the savannah?
Two friends are arriving from Kenya tomorrow, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating having a chat with both of them. One, Anthony, is a huge advocate for women’s education and empowering Kenyan individuals to change, refresh, and renew Kenya as a nation. Despite this ideological perspective, the girls’ home he founded and runs relies a great deal on donations that usually arrive in the extra luggage of carefully selected volunteers (who need to have a reason for being there and a skill to offer), not in boxes levied with a hefty duty and shipping fee. I’ll be curious as to what his thoughts are on our American obsession with “donating” our used things, and will write a follow up post tomorrow about his reflections.
Dr. Phillip Shriver, former President of Miami University (my alma mater), said in an address to the class of 1997: “We all treasure freedom but we are free because we accept responsibility for our actions as they relate to others.” We’re free to do whatever we want with our used things. But how do our choices of what to do with them affect others?