I was alerted yesterday morning by Linda Raftree alias @meowtree on Twitter to the existence of a project to send 1 million tee-shirts to Africa. Run by a certain Jason Sadler, you can find out all about it here
Jason asks each t-shirt donor to enclose a minimum of $1 to contribute to shipping costs. The garments will then be sent to Africa's t-shirtless and grateful poor. Jason is using social media to promote the message, including Mashable the high-profile social media platform, I assume because of the 2.6 million viewers following the site. You can imagine my fury when I went on to see the project being promoted on numerous sites as a means to helping Africans. As usual, I like to check the excellent Aid Watcher blog to see if people are talking about the project. Sure enough, they are, and I am clearly not alone in my frustration and anger, which only increased as I read the coverage of the project. I wanted to stay rational and calm, but I just could not help myself!
Having already emailed his colleague and got nowhere, I googled Jason, found his telephone number and called him in the USA. I wanted to find out what was going on in his head and get an answer from him. When I managed to speak with him, the conversation was heated. He could feel my anger. Why was I angry? Well, first of all, his idea is conceited, amateurish and idiotic. It will not help Africans. It is just another form of aid that is inefficient and unsustainable and will end up doing more harm than good. Those who know Africa well will agree with me that once the t-shirts arrive, they will end up in a warehouse - provided someone from the government authorises it of course. The possibility that the kids the shirts are intended for will never get them is therefore very real. And even if some are distributed, Jason will not be able to track who is getting them. But most of all, supplying a million old t-shirts, apart from being incredibly inefficient in terms of cost, does not address any of Africa's many pressing problems. Lack of t-shirts is simply not an issue! All those who donated their $1 and t-shirts might feel good about themselves, but they will have achieved nothing!
Jason admits that he does not know Africa. Sadly, he has never been to Africa, like many Americans I meet. They think they can magically impose their 'solutions' for Africans from America. Maybe Jason means well. Maybe he wants to help. But his idea is bad, the timing is bad and the project is insulting to Africans and Africa as a whole.
This is not an isolated event. Ideas come from America all the time. People with little knowledge and no direct experience of African decide they want to 'help' the continent. But these projects are more often than not damaging for Africa. This pattern needs to stop now and we need to recognise that some NGOs have failed and are still failing Africa!
I was born in Africa. I understand poverty and what is good for my continent and how we can reach out to the poorest of the poor. I visit Africa almost monthly and the dignity and pride of the poor are plain to see. They are not crying out for used t-shirts! How would Americans feel if we reverse the project and ask Africans to collect their old t-shirts and send them to the USA? Would Jason wear one? I think not. So please, treat people the way you yourself would want to be treated!
I and others are urging Jason to see the error in his idea and change strategy. He appears ready to listen .There are millions of ways to help people in Africa. Those who want to help just need to speak to the right people!
You can find excellent coverage of this story here:
I am on twitter if you want to reach me @mjamme