7 thoughts on “Boxers without borders

  1. Phil

    October 18, 2009 at 11:07pm

    Oh dear.

    It doesn’t surprise me though. I was in Songea in Tanzania not long ago and visited a project that had identified the groups they wanted to help, but then didn’t really know what to do so they bought them clothes.

    This was a local project. They have a lot of people involved, and a lot of motivation. They *could* do so much good. I wrote them a very tactful five page report, making some suggestions.

  2. Roving Bandit

    October 19, 2009 at 9:55am

    Great huh? I especially love the non-sequitur on their website:

    “the reality is, when you are making $1 a day, underwear is last on the list.”

    “It was easy to make the decision that Underwear would be a priority on our list to bring to Kenya”.

  3. J.

    October 21, 2009 at 2:38am

    and….. yet again, aid being about the provider rather than the recipient.

    Send those white girls home!

  4. Leah

    October 27, 2009 at 4:11pm

    Please help me think through the objections to this.

    Conceding the point that these children do not really need underwear (although that is a question of fact that should not be assumed… Are there health benefits to wearing underwear, and are most of the recipient children not wearing any?), the issues seem to be these:

    1. The money used to buy the underwear could be better spent on other things.
    But what if the organization is only attracting donors drawn to the underwear campaign who would not otherwise donate anything? Is underwear better than nothing?

    2. Donating undermines local self-help efforts.
    But is there anything different about underwear, as opposed to other types of donations, that makes it a particularly egregious donation?

    3. The underwear should be bought locally, so as to support the local economy.

    4. There is something culturally inappropriate/ especially obnoxious about donating underwear.
    Is anyone making this claim? On what basis?

    5. The people donating the underwear feel good about themselves.
    So? This indictment is made over and over again concerning volunteer tourism initiatives, yet it seems a red herring. Either the underlying project is worthwhile, and executed thoughtfully and sensitively, or not. Whether the participants/donors feel good about themselves seems irrelevant unless they bring a smug attitude to the cross-cultural interaction.

    Ultimately, I can’t see why donating underwear, while not the best use of donor funds, is so offensive that it would merit the comment “Send those white girls home!” But I would appreciate learning differing perspectives.

  5. J.

    October 28, 2009 at 3:13am

    Leah – to your points:

    1) Is the point to enable donors to give or to help beneficiaries? Seems this is a case where beneficiary needs have been spun or adjusted to meet the giving capability of the donor. That’s bad logic, and terrible aid.

    2) The donation needs to be in response to an expressed need. If it’s not, then donating/distributing becomes about the donor/distributor (the two white girls) – not about what the beneficiary needs. The equivalent in the medical world is performing a relatively unharmful but totally unnecessary procedure in order to meet some emotion need of the physician who performs it.

    3) Even though you’ve conceded I have to say: as a rule of thumb, there are precious few occasions when it is appropriate to move donated good across national borders. Local procurement should be always be the default assumption. Most expections are in large, severe disaster relief settings – and even then, importation of relief goods is necessarily a short-term intervention.

    4) I’m not aware of anyone making such a claim, although there is something mildly twisted about a couple of middle-aged white women handing out undies to African boys. Makes one wonder, yet again, for whose benefit this is all happening?

    5) Whether anyone who does this feels good about themselves is absolutely not the (*$&^#^@!!) point. This is what the voluntourists apparently fail to grasp, as well. It should not be about them.

    And so, while donating a few pairs of underoos to some poor African children might seem innocuous enough, no harm really done, the problem is that it stems from fundamentally selfish motives that have more to do with meeting the needs of the donors than with meeting the needs of those poor African children. The poor African children have become emotional crutches (or excuses for charitable tax write-offs) for donors in another country…….. those white girls might think that they’re doing a good thing, but they’re basically misguided. Time for them to go home.

  6. Leah

    October 28, 2009 at 2:46pm

    J. – Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your response.

    I’m stuck on the motive question. In point #5, you wrote that whether anyone feels good about themselves is not the point. But a few sentences later you wrote “the problem is that it stems from fundamentally selfish motives” that include emotional catharsis, which makes it seem like how people feel about themselves IS the point. If we can condemn these trips based on the motives of the participants, it seems we must also exonerate them for the same reason, since you concede the girls “think that they’re doing a good thing.” If motives cut both ways, maybe we should focus on the project itself, which in this case seems innocuous, though that is an analysis that should be based on the actual circumstances of the project and not on judgments of this general type of activity.

    I suspect objections to volunteer tourism would drop sharply if everyone agreed it was just another kind of tourism, and scrutinized it through the lens of responsible tourism, or simply as a type of leisure/hobby, instead of holding it to standards of effective aid. If somebody had an underwear donating hobby, would anyone care? I think the fact that volunteer tourism is debated on aid blogs reflects the weight people attach to motives, even if the concern is stated to be with the effects.

  7. […] again about the controversial subject of underwear so soon. The last post, about an initiative to donate underwear to underprivileged Kenyans, generated some heat in the comments sections. Well, things have definitely gotten worse (hat tip […]

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