28 April 2010

Cash Not Gifts (Please)

If you have not been following, I suggest that the 5 people who might see this post go to twitter and check out everything going on with the #1millionshirts tag. There has been a lively discussion that has lead to blog posts from aid watchers, texas in africa, blood and milk, Tales from the Hood and many others. They speak to the poor idea and mainly focus on the economic side.

To sum it up, Gift in Kind (GIK) organizations pose these issues and problems:

  • Prevent economic growth of industry (ie. textiles for donated shirts)
  • Flood an already saturated market with a good
  • Fix little by providing a material good that does little to improve true quality of life
  • Cause unintended changes by shocking local economies
  • Treat individual countries composed of varying cultures and peoples as if it is one blanket place called Africa where everyone is the same

I want to highlight some of my experience with this being that I lived in Kenya, one of the target countries for 1 Million Shirts, for a year. I also lived in the rural Western part where it seems that this initiative is hoping to be able to provide resources that apparently do not make it.

Malava is 90km north of Kisumu, a 2 hour matatu ride to Kisumu or Eldoret. Nairobi is 9 hours away by bus. Not quite as remote as the northern parts by Lodwar, but a good distance from any cities.

Each Friday we had a market filled with dried fish, women selling the exact same vegetables and clothing. Clothing ranged from cloth from Tanzania to a used Cintas short sleeve button up. I personally bought a handful of t-shits and dress shirts throughout the year. My overcharged white person price was 50ksh for a t-shirt and 75ksh for a dress shirt. That is roughly $.75 and $1 respectively. They were about half of the price for locals because they knew how much they should cost.

While much is made over the idea of living on $1 a day, people do save a little bit and pay to buy the clothing. Of everything offered, nearly nothing was from Kenya. Cloth was imported from Tanzania because it was supposedly better and pants, dresses, shirts, and t-shirts came second hand from the first world. The majority came from the US, I cannot say that with certainty or proof, but every shirt was adorned with American sports teams and communities. In my short travels to Uganda and Rwanda, I noticed that this was equally as easy to find to be sold and was worn by nearly everyone.

In Kenya, men dress in slacks and a button down shirt. Both bought from used clothes sellers. On the weekends they wear t-shirts, bought again at the weekly market. Other items are soccer jerseys and giveaways from local radio stations or companies.

With a high availability and use of clothing already coming in to Kenya via America, the need to give it away is not existent. People will of course take anything that is free, but that will not really provide any service. Even by providing the t-shirts to be sold, the current structure will alter and could possibly cause more harm than good.

To finish, good intentions are not enough. It is not enough to just want for the best and hope that you are doing right by intent. Here is an example of good intentions with little or no research. There are plenty of well established organizations (ie. MSF, Red Cross, etc.) who are involved with development and disaster and have the experience and knowledge to provide the necessary services in the third world.

Please, do not donate your shoes because Jessica Simpson tells you to do it, or send a t-shirt with one dollar to be shipped to Africa. Make a cash donation to a responsible organization that will make a real difference in the lives of people.