Saturday, October 29, 2011

Good Intentions Gone Awry....

I will admit it... we have collected shoes for Haiti and clothing for Africa and blankets for disaster areas.  I will admit it... there is a certain parochialism that delights in offering cast offs as good enough for those who have nothing.  I will admit it... our good intentions often get in the way of real help to real need.

I have posted before about the confusion over real mission trips and pious vacations that masquerade as mission trips.  I have posted before about the way we avoid dealing with the real needs of the mission field -- money -- and instead feel that we have done something if we have cleaned out our closets and sent off what we no longer want or need.

I will admit that this little article has got me thinking...  We are putting together health kits for Lutheran World Relief (along with money) but this is something that they request and they have laid out what they need.  We send out those shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child (though the sentiment of a Christmas gift for someone who has never gotten one probably trumps the value of this one).  Anyway, as I said, this little article and its pictures have gotten me thinking... Not all good is the same good and not all good for a moment is good for the long term....

You listen and read and think about it, too! Haiti Doesn't Need Your Yoga Mat...


Anonymous said...

After one year of receiving some
used and useless blankets for
Lutheran World Relief, our parish
decided to accept only NEW BLANKETS.
They had to still be in the wrapper
from the store.

We also send NEW GIFTS to Bethesda
children each Christmas. Our people
need to understand that giving to
others in need costs money and is not
an excuse to clean our closets.

Anonymous said...

I would argue that the author criticizing donors is far more misguided than the donors. His suggestion to send money instead of children's clothing to Haiti is, to be charitable, naive. These countries are profoundly corrupt. What they really need is folks who know how to organize and manage. The greatest real shortage they have is ethics. Too bad we can send our old used ethics we aren't using anymore so that they could benefit from it.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

I've heard most of the concerns in the slide show from our local Orphan Grain Train representatives. There is a difference between doing a good thing with good intentions and doing a better and more effective thing with wisdom, discernment and experience. In some cases it is better to use donated funds to buy shoes locally than to ship them from the U.S. In other cases shipping supplies is better because so little is available in country. This sort of discernment is necessary regardless of whether it is a foreign mission or a local one. Our local rescue mission gets a lot of useless junk donated, as well as nice things that are of little use. Its up to us to use our heads as well as our hearts to do our best to make sure that our assistance doesn't create another and more abiding problem, without discouraging the generosity of our churches.

Dan Ruth said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post. As a representative of Lutheran World Relief (and a Lutheran Pastor), I have to say that any relief and development program is complex. Different contexts call for different responses.

In the immediate aftermath of an emergency, often the first thing that's needed is an influx of cash. People need the bare essentials: food, clothing, shelter, etc. Often those resources are available locally. But funneling that cash through organizations that have the knowledge and capacity to put it to use is key.

We heard stories after the earthquake in Haiti about local hardware stores having to shut their doors, because of the influx of things like lumber and nails. They were not in shortage in Haiti, but well-intentioned donors sent them anyway. That puts even more local people out of work and multiplies the devastation of the disaster.

An well-run organization should have relationships on the ground where it's responding, so it knows what is needed and when. Sometimes it's cash; sometimes it's Quilts or Personal Care Kits.

And, I suppose, maybe there are even times that what's needed are yoga mats.

The point is that having the relationships and on-the-ground knowledge of what will make the greatest long-term impact is key to responding responsibly.

There's a great post on the blog Good Intentions are not Enough about the "Dos and Don'ts of Disaster Donations." The author doesn't just give negative feedback, but offers constructive and helpful ways to find out if your donations are making a positive impact. I highly recommend it.