Is clothing collection a disservice?
When I was in the middle of the media circus back in January and heralded Jambo Shule, I was contacted by an old friend of mine who asked me if we also could collect clothes and toys for an orphanage in Kenya. I liked the idea right away so when I was in Kenya with the Children's Foundation, I asked my friend in Nairobi, if he could establish a contact with an orphanage. My friend had worked on Lyma Centre in the slum, which is more of a school so I settled for that as a contact. After visiting the families in the slum, I could clearly see there was quite a need for clothes.
When we got Jambo Shule started I began to establish a network within the kindergartens in Frederiksberg (Copenhagen) that could help us collect clothes. Everything seemed to go the right way just until I presented the idea to one of our contacts in Jambo Shule.
At Jambo Shule we have no real experience in NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) work, therefore we gather information from people, who have experience in this area, but do not have the time or opportunity to be with us 100%. So, this contact that previously worked for the Red Cross told me that it was a "NO GO”!!
Just like the cultivation of organic coffee, aid work also needs to be Fair Trade. She even knew the stories about women who in good faith, including my own mother, had sat down and knitted baby clothes and crocheted rag rugs for Africa, just to help. Unfortunately, the donations affected the local merchants who had to close down their shops. To lose ones business in Denmark can be bad, but to do that it in Africa, is the same as losing the entire living foundation of an entire family, and in addition to this, children can not attend school.
When I was in Kenya with the Children's Foundation, I discussed the topic “clothing collection” with the CEO of Boernefonden (The Children’s Fund). She told me that it was practically impossible to get used clothes through customs in Kenya because they tried to protect the giant industry that already exists with the sale of used clothes. Later I visited one of the Metumba markets in Nakuru (recycling markets). The market was huge and I was told that they sell more recycled clothes than new clothes in Africa. While I walked around I wondered where they got the clothes from and if it was donated in the West, was it okay to it was sold here, and no donations?
Recently, someone collected 73 boxes of ball equipment in Viborg and sent them to Nakuru in Kenya. I must admit that I think it is a huge achievement and shows the dedication and heart-felt warmth from the right place. But when I saw the link with one of my old school friends on Facebook I still could not help but comment on the issue.
Another commented: ... "Maybe it will affect the merchants but there must be many people who can not afford to buy it from the merchants. So why not donate to those who do not have so many resources. In this country most of us live in abundance. Instead of throwing it away, it might help a good cause " …
She shows quite clearly that she is socially conscious and has a heart in the right place. However, I also do think that it is the fruit of poor emergency aid handling throughout many years. There are probably not many who can afford sports equipment in Nakuru and although it isn’t one of the poorest areas in Kenya, it is one of the places where there was a civil war back in 2008.
When it comes to collecting sports equipment, computer equipment, furniture and school materials, the philosophy of many small streams counts.
What should one do?
In my opinion the Red Cross has an excellent concept. We can only encourage people to go to their stores, both with one's old clothes and when there is an opportunity to supplement your everyday purchases with second hand stuff. Then Red Cross can use the money to support the ones in need of aid.
Six months ago I knew very little about aid work and thought, "What is the idea of building schools that children do not attend? Then the country remains underdeveloped."
Now I can add, " … what good will aid work do if it kills the local business community? "
We should try to get some entrepreneurs to create jobs in stead.
My time with Jambo Shule has also convinced me that it's easier to launch clothing collections and similar projects than it is to get people to donate money.
But one thing is certain. Jambo Shule is Fair Trade! We are working with several ideas on how to collect objects in Denmark but that is only if we can start projects in Kenya that creates life, provides livelihoods and at the same time contributes to make a "small difference in a big world".