Rojas enjoys the comfort and warmth from blankets donated by World Vision. Photo by Martin Tindiwensi, World Vision
Something is not always better than nothing.
In the early decades of international development, the view was that poverty meant a lack of access to material goods – people were poor because they didn’t have things, and if we send them our things, we’re alleviating poverty.
Research, experience and failures reshaped this view: there’s now a more nuanced strategy that focuses not just on the lack of material goods, but on the lack of services, of justice, of safety, and of opportunity.
So is there still a role for sending physical goods overseas? Absolutely – if it’s done right, if it’s targeted at achieving a specific goal, and if it’s something a community genuinely needs.
At World Vision Australia, we work with corporate partners, community groups and other NGOs to source high-quality, high-impact resources that meet a genuine need. The communities that we work with overseas provide us a list of priority resources every year to help them achieve their development goals: tools for trade schools, textbooks for schools and universities, blankets for maternal health clinics, wheelchairs for kids with disabilities.
In some communities, a donated blanket might not make much of a difference. But when a donated blanket is linked with community need and a development goal, it means a lot more.
Take Rojas for example. Rojas is two years old, and lives in the north of Rwanda. For most of the year, the mountainous region is cold and damp, so staying warm is an essential to avoid hypothermia and respiratory illnesses. Through World Vision’s partnership with Wrap With Love, Rojas, his mother and his sister received blankets at a local health clinic.
Wrap With Love are an Australian community group of volunteer knitters who create thick, warm blankets that are integrated into World Vision’s maternal child health programs. The blankets are provided to mothers either during antenatal check-ups or at childbirth, to encourage attendance and ensure childbirth is as safe as possible. Once the baby is born, the blankets protect against hypothermia and illness, and help keep both mother and child warm and healthy.
There are a huge amount of considerations to take into account before shipping goods overseas. We assess items for environmental impact, safety, cultural appropriateness and potential risk. Crucially, we have to be careful to not damage local markets, as no local producer can compete with a free product.
In the case of Wrap With Love’s blankets, we’re careful to integrate them into areas without large-scale wool production. In the case of textiles, we only send rolls of fabric and cloth, as sewing and clothes production is a crucial industry in the communities we work with.
Last year, some of the donated goods we provided to our programs in the field included:
• New textbooks, stationery and other back-to-school items that have helped to improve education quality and motivate children to attend school.
• Clean Birthing Kits that have improved the chances of safe childbirth
• Blankets that have provided new mothers and their babies with life-saving protection and comfort.
• Wheelchairs that have provided mobility and more opportunity for children and their families.
• Trades materials, like fabric and work wear, that have equipped job-seekers with the tools to earn an income.
We know for sure that the helicopter approach – dropping goods into a community without planning, consultation or follow up – isn’t effective for long term development. We know that goods need to be part of a bigger plan to make a difference, and we work with communities to make that happen.
You can find out more about World Vision’s Program Resources here.