TOMS shoes have become quite popular over the past few years. They make the statement that for every pair you purchase, they will give a new pair of shoes to a child in need.
As a missionary focused on working with children, I LOVE their one for one deal. The knowledge that I was buying a pair of shoes for myself and for a child in need motivated me to buy
TOMS last year. And when I was in Africa, I saw that
TOMS had been donated- which was comforting to know they were doing their end of the bargain.
But there is something they don't know. Something shocking about those shoes in the small African country, Lesotho. As you know, I spent 3 months in the country of Lesotho at an orphanage. The children live from what is donated- clothes, food, bedding, etc. They often receive donations of old, tattered clothes that they burn instead of use. If use saw the things that people donate, you would be shocked (and horrified!).
Sometimes my work at the orphanage involved separating donations of shoes & clothes into 2 piles: burn, and keep. The first time I did this, the 24 year old who grew up at the orphanage helped me sort the clothes and shoes. I saw Toms in the donation pile, and commented, "Wow, how cute! I love TOMS!" The 24 year old just rolled her eyes and told me to throw them in the burn pile. They weren't wanted. "Why?" I asked, "they are good shoes!"
She then explained to me that everyone knows that TOMS gives shoes to orphans. Therefore, by wearing TOMS, you announce to the world, to your friends, to your neighbors that you are an orphan. "We don't want to be labeled any more than we have to be, so we don't keep these shoes. They might be nice and cute, but we don't want to wear them. I don't like that people know I have no parents and live in an orphanage."
And then she took them from me and put them in the pile to be burned.
Are they ungrateful for burning what is given to them? No. They are kids that don't want to be labeled.
Giving is a good thing- it is Biblical to provide for those who don't have, to "clothe the naked," and to "feed the hungry." So how can we balance our giving? How can we make sure that what we are giving is put to good use- that it is wanted by the people we are giving to?
I don't have all the answers- but one answer is simply to ask. Ask the people what they need, ask them what affect the donation will have on their community and their reputation.