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Want to send shoes or clothes to an impoverished country? Think again.

Before I moved to Cambodia in 2011 I had an idea that I thought was absolutely brilliant at the time. ‘Clothes for Cambodia’, I called it, and it would involve setting up a stall at the local markets and getting tourists to donate their unwanted clothes so we could distribute them to those in need. After a few months living in Cambodia I started to realise how naive and ignorant I had been. There are so many issues involved with handing out clothes, and these have recently been addressed in a segment on TruTV (click above).

The segment is about Tom’s Shoes, a company that gives a pair of shoes to a child in Africa when you purchase a pair of shoes. I know that that at first glance this seems like a great project, however we SHOULD be questioning:

  • Do people in these developing countries actually need these handouts?
  • What is the impact on the local economy when we do this?
  • How are the recipients attitudes affected?
  • Could the money from the shoes be better spent on a more pressing social issue?
  • Could the cost of shipping also be better spent?
  • Will this cause jealously amongst villagers who do not receive shoes?
  • How can you ensure the shoes are getting to the most impoverished villagers?

There are many individuals, groups and organisations who believe that sending clothes to developing countries helps people, however I urge them to think twice. We need to stop enforcing our beliefs on people, and find out how to ACTUALLY help them, which would tend to be in a way that involves the locals and has them take ownership for a solution themselves.

And I guarantee, that solution is not free shoes.