Monday, 31 October 2016

Lessons on Donor Mentality from a Mattress in The Hague

In a previous post, I indicated the impact of a stuffed animal filled mattress included in one of the exhibits at Humanity House in The Hague. It’s left me pondering the message behind the piece, and as a result, wanted to rant/share my thoughts about it.

The above photograph is of the mattress in question. As you can probably see, the contents of the mattress are made up entirely of stuffed animals. These stuffed toys are from those donated through organizations seeking resources for families affected by various disasters around the world – be they areas of conflict or natural disasters. In this case, I believe they were donated for children in one of the many refugee camps.

The point of this piece is to (hopefully) show the imbalance of priority, or what is perceived to be of importance in times of crisis between those affected, and those donating (usually from Western countries). That people would send stuff in a relief situation really shows the disconnect between what we in the West would think of as desirable in comparison to what is sought after on the ground. And, it’s not done out of ill-intent, it’s just, we’ve become accustomed to our views and how we should act when certain life events happen.

For example, when a child becomes sick, what do we usually bring? You guessed it, toys, stuffed animals, games, those sorts of things. Rarely would someone think to bring clothes, toiletries, or money. That doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about the needs of the child, or their parents, it’s just that, the customary gift in those sorts of situations are items thought to entertain the child - usually with the intention of cheering said child up. So, when we hear that some tragedy has taken place we immediately go to what we know as comfort items – the stuffed animals, toys, etc. We think children in these situations need these things in order to feel at home, or comforted. What we usually fail to see is that these items are not overly useful, when finding and maintaining a roof over one’s head, or having enough food to feed one’s family at least one meal a day are far more real situations than wishing one’s child had something to entertain itself. Ooohhhh boy, is my Master’s dissertation ever regurgitating itself in this one…

This piece also reminded me of several stories I’ve heard from friends working in, or recipients of, various charities around Christmas time. Gifts are often binned, because they contain items that likely wouldn’t make it to the recipient in a shelf-stable condition, or that have no practical application for the area in receipt. Collecting items for many of these programs requires months of preparation, so having a room full of chocolate bars or candy, for example, stored in facilities with fluctuating temperatures is not so great for maintaining the quality of said chocolate bar or candy. It also doesn't make sense to send items such as bubble bath or Burt's Bees Foot Scrub* to an organization intending to send these collected items to recipients who do not have access to hot water, or even a bath to shower. 

This mindset says a lot about how little we know about the recipients, because how is that of benefit to someone who can’t afford basic needs, let along a treat? And sure, we all like a treat from time to time. And sure they are likely given from a well-intended place. But sometimes a treat can just be something simple, like a pair of socks, or a toothbrush and toothpaste! My point being - donating material goods isn't necessarily a bad thing, so long as there is thought and consideration for the beneficiary of said item. 

Anyway, now that I’ve likely made you all feel terrible about yourselves – only 8-ish more weeks until Christmas!!! Ugh…

-the Orange Canadian

*Yeah, these are actual things someone sent to a group collecting for an area of the world where hot water and a shower aren't the norm...

1 comment: