The Art of Giving
Many of our clients ask us “what can we bring as gifts” when they visit Africa. And we’re glad they ask us, because there’s nothing worse than packing a bag full of items that may not be useful at all in a northern Tanzanian village, or township outside of Cape Town. Giving really is an art, you don’t want to corrupt or create dependency. Also try your best to perhaps buy text books and school supplies in the country you are visiting so you can help the local economy and be generous! In order to make sure that your gifts go to the right place, and the right people at the right time, here are some tips:
Supplies for Schools, Health Centers and Orphanages:
We at African Portfolio are happy to arrange visits to schools and orphanages for our clients going on safari. It’s difficult to imagine visiting a school or health care center without bringing bags of supplies, but think about it carefully. Also consider being open to mailing something that is needed when you return home from your trip. Past clients have been asked to send all kinds of interesting gifts, from nail polish to a CD with Gregorian chants!
Soccer balls and sports equipment that needs minimal maintenance, are usually welcome. In general, bringing toys is not a great idea, since there’s often not enough for everyone. A few toys for your Guides’ children or other staff that work hard to ensure you have a good trip, is a nice gesture and of course welcome. But you can start a near riot by bringing toys and distributing them out to children at school or in their village at home. Imagine a Chinese tourist wondering through your neighborhood one day handing out things to your kids. Make sure that you hand the things you bring to an adult, headmaster, head nurse, chief, etc.
It’s really best to just give the director of the school money to buy appropriate supplies. You can always bring pencils and crayons, but you may find that school uniforms are actually what is needed most. You may think you can’t go wrong with books but imagine a Maasai child trying to figure out what Elmo is and why he has a pet goldfish. Books are also difficult and expensive to transport. There’s a very handy web site Pack for a Purpose that partners with lodges and hotels in several African countries, and they list the supplies needed at local schools in the area.
The African market has been flooded with outdated medicine from the West, so make sure you are in touch with the staff of a medical center you plan to visit, to get exact details on supplies they need. You should also check with your airline and the embassy and make sure you are allowed to bring the supplies in, to avoid anything getting confiscated. The airline won’t allow you to board with a bag full of syringes, no matter how good your intentions are.
Old computers and cameras are not useful at all unless you add in a technician, an electrician and you manage to solve the problem of eternal power cuts. Unlikely. So, donating a new i-Pad with a 3G connection is much more useful. It has a long battery life, cell phone access is widespread throughout the continent, and you can charge it up with a solar battery.
A good pair of shoes will never go to waste, but in general, the used clothing market is saturated in Africa. So much so that it has actually almost wiped out local tailors and clothing industries. Instead of bringing more, go to any market and buy used clothes and shoes there, and then give them to a community leader to distribute. You’ll be helping out the local economy and providing clothing at the same time.
Remember, if you wish to sponsor a school, health center, orphanage or any non-profit, make sure it is well established within the community it serves. Community led projects always work better than those that are imposed upon from the outside.