Listen To Their Needs First
When you think of philanthropy, you often think of a wealthy person or group of people who are donating a large amount of money or goods, and as a result they are helping a group of people who are less fortunate. But why do these philanthropists decide to donate shoes to African children or donate money so that people can be vaccinated against certain diseases? These people who live in large houses with cable television, a full fridge, a happy family, and a white picket fence surely can’t understand what someone in a far off country needs to help them live a better life; can they?
So often, philanthropists and organizations get the needs of the people they are helping wrong. Instead of helping people become self-sufficient, philanthropists often just try to throw money and products at people and hope the problem goes away. For example, in Africa, children cannot attend school unless they own a pair of shoes. Tom’s, a shoe company pledges to donate a pair of shoes to a child who needs them for every pair someone purchases for themselves. That’s all good and the idea seems very helpful, but the company passes the shoes out to children in schools who already have shoes. This is where the problem arises because if people who could already afford a pair of shoes are being given free shoes, they aren’t purchasing them anymore. If these people aren’t buying their shoes, then people selling shoes aren’t making money, and if they aren’t making money, they can’t buy other things they need to survive like food or clothing.
In this case, above all else Tom’s is a shoe company who is trying to sell shoes. Companies, like Tom’s, want to sell products and to sell the products Tom’s needs some reason why their shoes are better than other companies. This reason just happens to be that they help people. They claim that these shoes help children in Africa have a chance to go to school. As American’s we buy in to this claim because we feel compelled to buy a pair of shoes so that a child in Africa has the chance to go to school because as Americans we have an ethnocentric view of the world. We think that we have a superior mindset and that we can help everyone because we know how to solve their problems better than they can.
After the 1998 hurricane in Honduras, ports were being congested by unnecessary donations of unneeded supplies and outdated medications. The military personnel who were needed as police and medics were being used to sort through the useful donations and the not so useful donations. This same type situation also occurred after the 2006 tsunami in Indonesia. Many charities donated rice to feed the people who were devastated by the natural disaster, flooding the country with foreign rice. The problem arose when rice farmers only a quarter mile inland who had been unaffected by the disaster were unable to sell their flourishing crops because people were being fed for free by the foreign rice regardless of their circumstances. Nobody was going to pay for rice when they could get it for free. As a result, the devastation of the tsunami was more far reaching than just the people who lost their families and homes. The donations of rice from other countries took away the livelihood of the indigenous rice farmers further putting the economy of Indonesia in the hole.
Another example of misunderstanding of needs is polio vaccinations. There are different groups going around to different villages giving out free vaccinations to people who want them and tracking down the people who don’t but still “need” them. As a result of these misunderstandings, the people we were trying to help are left frustrated and even needier than before. In some cases, people who are meaning to do good have even been killed because of misunderstandings and frustration. Polio is not a major health issue for people living in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, where the disease still exists. The fact that people come knocking to give you a free vaccination for a disease you’ve never seen or heard of has created suspicion among the people of these countries. In India, some residents protested against the polio campaign because most of them had never heard of polio, while malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea are very serious diseases being ignored.
Why do people feel the need to donate things without taking into account the needs of the people they think they are helping? People donate for two reasons; people want to help or they want a tax break. People that donate to do good trust what big companies tell them will help the needy. Ignorance and a rush to throw goods at a problem often create an even bigger problem for many of the people receiving the “help”.
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