Posted by Matthew Cutler at 11:59 pm  Ghana
Feb 032013

Let me preface my remarks by saying that the Internet is slow and unreliable in terms of its server. I haven’t been able to communicate much since Friday.Today I had change internet cafes, hoping for better service. Well, it is not so great– maybe a little better.

The big city of Tema is bustling, people moving back and forth– shops looking like the shuk in Jerusalem, with a variety of goods being sold– very little touristy stuff [other than the Methodist church in town which is smack in the middle of Greenwich Mean Time– kinda cool for 30 seconds, mind you]. There shops selling kitchen goods, plastic goods, construction material, …. and second hand clothing. Many people here are wearing those second hand clothing that we dropped in bins all over our communities that are then sent here and SOLD.

I must say, after celebrating a birthday and feeling nostalgic, the second hand clothing is like a trip down memory lane. I mean, I remember when Frankie really said relax! [come on, you know those shirts from the 80s band “Frankie Goes to Hollywood”?]. I smiled as I saw the Acton-Boxboro lacrosse jersey and the  Stubenville Rec Soccer t-shirt. I was hoping maybe I would see a “Savage, Gordon, Eidens For Schenectady County Legislature” t-shirt– but to no avail. However, “Vote for Joe Smith for Sheriff” was around [not sure if that was real or a joke, though]. And there were no bar/bat mitzvah t-shirts to be seen, thank goodness! I am not sure how  would explain that to peopel here!

After the chuckles of seeing old American clothing being worn around town, the reality set in. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for our clothing to be sold in Africa? I mean– peopel are making money off our donations! It is a thriving business– and what we thought might be for noble causes, is actually being used for commerical purposes. Don’t get alarmed– if we didn’t drop them in those bins? Would we drive to the shelters and other sites to donate our clothing? Maybe…. maybe they would just get tossed.

My cynical approach about this is shaped from an African perspective– people make their living by selling these items. People buy them for very cheap prices and wear them with pride. They bought them– they are not hand outs, they are not charity… they are clothing they selected and paid with their own wages. That is a source of pride for many people here.

So here is the quandry– we in America want to do noble and righteous acts. We want to give so that the porr and needy can receive. But many here want to buy so that they can hold their heads up with pride– the are self-sufficent and provided for themselves. The nursery school teacher at the Bethel School has her 3 year olds repeat every morning: “Give a man a fish, he has food for a day; teach a man how to fish, he has food for a lifetime.” She has a point and thus buying teh clothes is something that is important for them– it teaches them to budget, provide and take care of what they purchase. The hand-outs, while noble, doesn’t build the self-esteem!

So in this quandry of what to do, I need to do some soul searching when I get back. i also need to investigate about the organizations selling these clothes. Do they operate as not-for-profits? Do tehy take proceeds and donate them back to the communities hee in Africa? That message probably won’t be posted on this blog– but it is food for thought.

Georgia is right– teach a man to fish and he can provide for himself. And Frankie was right– Relax! This is not a major problem– it is an industry that we may think was charity but it is not; it is a business.

So now what?


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