The problem with good intentions


It is not hard to find people doing charitable deeds if one looks for them. There is an innumerable amount of charity organizations in the world as well as service organizations who raise funds and volunteer for charity organizations.

Every school in America seems to have a food drive or clothing drive at some point, including Bellevue College. There is so much charity, one must wonder if it’s all helping. Are good intentions enough?

Unfortunately, if charity work is done wrong, communities that are being helped could end up worse off than before.

For example, let’s say that a shoe company declares that if a customer buys one pair of shoes, the company will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need in a certain community.

On the surface, giving the community shoes seems logical. After all, those kids do need shoes. But then what will happen to the shoemaker when everyone stops buying the shoes he makes? He will go out of business and when the shoe company decides their work is done and stops giving out free shoes, the community might end up completely shoeless. By donating shoes, the company made the community dependent on them.

While these people did have good intentions, they could have helped the community more if they just did a little bit more research. If the people of the hypothetical community got money to buy shoes rather than the shoes themselves, they would buy from the local shoemaker. He wouldn’t have to shut down his store, making sure that when the givers of charity left, there would still be a way for children in the community to get shoes.

This is not just a hypothetical situation. The shoe company Tom’s is actually doing this in multiple communities and many people donate things like clothes rather than money without thinking about what effect they will have. There also seems to be a bad stigma around donating money. The phrase “throwing money at it” makes donating money sound careless when it can many times be better to donate money than other items.

One charity that emphasizes the idea of considering implications before donations is Medical Teams International. This organization focuses on the medical aspect of charity work, sending volunteer teams of doctors and nurses to scenes of disasters like tsunamis and major earthquakes, sending malaria vaccines and mosquito nets to help stop malaria and much more. They work with local medical teams to make sure that they can take care of their communities once the disaster is over and make sure to improve the quality of life to better than it was before the disaster.

As well as their work in other countries, Medical Teams International has mini museums called “Real Life!” exhibits where they show people what disasters others have had to go through. The hypothetical situation above is very similar to one that the tour guides presented in the Redmond “Real Life!” exhibit when I visited. I also experienced what it was like to walk through a refugee camp and saw how impossibly large a tsunami could really be. These exhibits are used to help clear up the many misconceptions about charity work.

To clarify, I’m not saying that people should only donate money. It depends entirely on the situation. Goodwill, for example, is a great place to donate clothes and shoes because they sell them and use the money to find people jobs.

Care packages, which include disposable items that may be hard to find in disaster zones like toothbrushes, toothpaste and clean towels are great things to send there. Buying a mosquito net or malaria vaccine for any charity can also help immensely. People simply need to consider all of the effects they may have by taking a charitable action before doing it.