Wednesday, October 19, 2011


There's an interesting situation going on in the international development world.

Have you heard of SWEDOW?

Stands for "stuff we don't want". As in, "please don't send that stuff over here to our country, cause we don't want it".

This whole thing picked up steam with several recent high-profile donations of items that, while seeming to help, actually hurt poor nations. For instance, the NFL printed 100,000 tshirts declaring each Super Bowl contestant the winner, and then after the big game donated the 100,000 incorrect shirts to World Vision to be sent to the Third World. This actually drives down local clothing markets' demand and thus prices, hurting local shopkeepers.

If you search "SWEDOW" on Twitter, you see thousands of mentions, some links to articles with titles such as "Haiti Doesn't Need Your Yoga Mat" and headlines like "Used US hospital sheets sent to Brazil still have bloodstains". Ick.

Somebody created a handy dandy flow chart to decide if you should actually send the items:
Click here to see the chart larger, or download it.

This catches my eye because:

1) I live in Haiti, land of the donated tshirt (you will frequently see something like an elderly man wearing a "Chi Omega Formal" shirt).

2) Ben recently posted about the total mistake of a US church that sent thousands of jars of peanut butter to Haiti, when Haiti has an actual peanut butter manufacturing industry.

3) I have begun reading When Helping Hurts. I know, I am officially the last Christian on the planet to read this book. But sweet Kellyanne got it for me on my birthday, and it's made it to the top of the bedside stack. The subtitle is "alleviating poverty without hurting the poor, or yourself". I'm eager to learn.

Side note: pretty much everything you need can be purchased in Haiti. For instance, my friend and fellow QCS teacher Amber attended a church in Dallas called Watermark. Watermark is sending a team down to Haiti next week. Instead of filling their suitcases with Poptarts and Kashi granola bars, they sent a shopping list to Amber, and she bought all their food for their team ahead of time locally.

I hope I don't ruffle feathers unnecessarily when I say this, but there really is no reason to be shipping most humanitarian aid items to Haiti. You can buy toothpaste, soap, blankets, clothes, shoes, bandaids, food, deodorant, water bottles, soccer balls, toys, etc. right here in Haiti. In fact, almost all of those items could be purchased within 100 yards of my front gate from a marchan! Sure, some things are hard to find, or marked up (brand name imports), but when you factor in airline baggage fees, shipping costs, customs fees, and the unholy nightmare that is getting a container through the Haitian port, it's worth your while to buy locally.

I'm speaking to myself here as well- really the only three things I cannot get here that I use regularly are medicines, organic toiletries, and makeup for paleface girls (Giant market does carry one bottle of Revlon base.... but I am not, nor could ever hope to be, "mocha").

All this to say. I am delighted by the fact that many in the wealthy world, and the American Christian communities, have a fire in their hearts to help the poor. And I'm further delighted that we're all trying to figure out the best, most effective, efficient, respectful, empowering ways to do it. I hope we honor God with our efforts, using both our compassion and our wisdom.



  1. Katie -

    You are really going to enjoy "When Helping Hurts"...Our office went to hear Brian Fikkert speak and it was incredible!! Looking forwarding to hearing your thoughts on it!


  2. first of all, you arent the last one, and i appreciate this post. How little we think about the receiving side when giving.
    and another goodie is The Hole in Our Gospel. now i am far behind everyone on this book so giggle you may but it continues to speak to me.
    love a little mocha katie.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...