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Tis the Season of giving. With the holidays upon us, and a spirit of generosity and goodwill towards others, many of us choose to take hold of the opportunity to give back and teach our littles to do the same. However, sometimes our best intentions do more harm than good. They make us feel good as the giver, but if we are not careful can strip the recipient of their dignity and leave them in a worst situation. The book When Helping Hurts is a great resource for understanding common problems with many of our generosity efforts. I had the great opportunity to discuss this issue with the team of Culture Kids International. They all studied and have experience in the field of international development. They were able to give me some tips of what to look for when donating to an international organization, and from that conversation I’ve put together a few hands-on ideas for how we can engage our littles in responsible giving.
What To Look For
I am not going to give you a list of organizations to avoid. My heart is not to shame organization or individuals, but simply to educate so that we can do better. However, here are a few good ideas of what to watch for and avoid.
1. Avoid Giving Stuff
Giving stuff, especially toys, sounds like a great idea around the holidays. However, what most often happens is the toys are played with for just a few days and then become trash in the city or village. Most of the developing areas where these items are sent do not have a strong enough infrastructure to remove the trash that piles up, so this literally becomes an eye-sore to the community and degrades the quality of life for the children and family. I would say the exception to this rule is if an organization provides emergency relief and has specific items that they are requesting (as you’ll see in one of the activities I mention below). However, to avoid the practice of “dumping” it still may be better to simply send money.
2. Do look for programs that require participation from the recipients
Whether giving a microloan, a water well, or a goat look for programs that require participation from those receiving the donation. This not only ensures the donation will be put to good use, it maintains the dignity and gives pride to the individual on the receiving end. This is the difference between a hand out and a hand up.
3. Look for organizations that develop the community
Look for organizations that are creating leadership opportunities for those in the community. No one understands the culture and needs of the community better than the members of the community. Organizations should be partnering with community leaders to bring education and opportunity to the members of the community, not dependence on the organization. When an organization leaves, the help they have given should be sustainable.
Recommended Organizations and Hands-on Ways to Help
Now that you know a few things to look for when considering donating internationally, here are some hands on way to get your kids involved.
Donate an Animal
Donating an animal to a family in need is a beautiful way to give back. For example, a goat can provide milk for the family, as well as having the milk be sold to provide profit for other resources. It can also be sheared, and the wool used or sold. Then in can be bred and its offspring can be sold to provide more income. This provides participation from the recipient and develops the economy of the community. World Vision‘s catalog can be a great tool for getting littles involved. Let them pick out what animal your family will be sending to a friend in need. You can even get your friends and church involved by donating a heard of animals. Have fun and make a visual aid for your group. Let the kiddos in your group see how many sheep you guys have raised money for.
Convoy of Hope
Convoy of Hope is an amazing organization that “helps empower others to live independent lives–free from poverty, disease, and hunger.” They have so many great programs, and are one of the first people on the ground when disaster strikes. One of the more hands-on opportunities they have is creating emergency hygiene kits. These kits are given to individuals that have lost everything (i.e. during a hurricane, earthquake, etc). Find instructions for sending kits and supply list on the Convoy of Hope website. If building kits with younger children, consider watching Daniel Tiger’s “After the Storm” episode (Season 6, Episode 4). A main theme of this episode is when bad things happens we can “look for the helpers.” Explain that the people who work at Convoy of Hope are helpers, and we can be helpers too by making kits for those in need.
Find what needs are in your own community. Contact a local agency and find out how you can partner with them this holiday season. You can find some ways this may look in my post: 5 Volunteer Opportunities for Preschoolers.