20 Apr

Have any of you heard that priceless bit of charity lore, the story of the old woman somewhere in, like Minnesota or Nebraska? She was cleaning out her freezer and down in the bottom, came across a frozen whole turkey with an expiration date on the package that was something like 12 years prior. So she called the 1-800 number of the company that made it and asked whether or not she could still cook it and eat it. The person on the phone said something like “Heavens no! Don’t eat that thing!”, and went on to recommend that she just throw it away. To which the old woman responded, “No… I’ll just donate it to charity…”

Anyone beside me not getting misty at this story of generosity and concern for the poor?

* * * * *

This whole GIK (gifts in kind) thing is really driving me around the bend, lately. More than normal, even.

I’ve been annoyed with Soles for Souls for some time already. And although it came as no real surprise when Jessica Simpson signed on early to their unbelievably ill-conceived50,000 shoes in 50 days challenge”, I admit that I was genuinely a little disappointed to see Wanda Sykes jumping on board, too. (Girl… you’re funny, but this idiotic shoe thing isn’t.)

Then, I became aware of Pedals for Progress and thought we’d reached a new all-time low on the pseudo-humanitarian aid GIK front. I mean, with some kinds of particularly high-tech or special application equipment that is not widely available, I suppose under duress I can see how professionally refurbishing “lightly used” pieces and then providing them as GIK in very limited and specific situation might not be wholly inappropriate.

But bicycles? Seriously? Is there a country in the world that is running out of bicycles?

I could go on, but I’m tired.

*heavy sigh*

* * * * *

Logic and reason do not seem to have worked. So I’m turning to humor, or at least my version of it. May not get the idiots to stop sending their crap to the third world as “aid”, but it will be fun. I’m starting a hashtag. Or maybe a parody NGO – a potential Hand Relief International (HRI) affiliate. An NGO dedicated to “life-saving GIK.”

Stuff We Don’t Want (SWEDOW)


Add your thoughts in the comments thread below this post, or tweet your captions, slogans, bad GIK ideas to #SWEDOW

So far I’m thinking:

SWEDOW – sounds a little like “Speedo”, but a lot sexier!

“I give to SWEDOW, because it’s really all about meeeeeee!

“SWEDOW – you may not be able to sell it, but you can sure as hell deduct it!”

Actually clean out your basement; Feel like you’ve made the world better.”

“SWEDOW – ‘cause good aid is just too complicated.”

You all must have others… hit me.

HT’s: @karlincharge for the basic idea; @naheedmustafa for suggesting neck ties and underwear with the elastic gone; @texasinafrica for bringing “Ace of Base” into the conversation; @laurenist for the cat litter; @nobauerm for the outdated copy of MS Office; @zenpeacekeeper for several crates of old comics…

* * * * * * * * * * *

Other must-read posts about GIK and “good aid”:

What makes good aid good aid?

Why does this have to be so hard?


Still useful after all these years?

What IS it with the SHOES?

Where’s the baby?

The Best in #SWEDOW 2010

#SWEDOW branded merchandise available for purchase!

82 Responses to “#SWEDOW”

  1. Susan 20 April, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Oh my.

    I was in Port au Prince for 5 days in March. I came back with almost 800 photos. Many are of shoes being sold as you said, by street vendors. My native host shared the whole, “it’s their *stores*; it’s their meme; it’s what they *do*” thing that was actually one of the few positive things he could share (I loved the fruit stands; beautiful color in a sad and drab concrete-rubbled and sad world for now – a reminder of the soul of Haiti that needs to be allowed to shine.)

    Did not indeed seem to be a lack of either shoes, or clothing (got photos of fences lined with jeans for sale too; something my local high school here in No. Calif. held a “collect and send to Haiti” drive for that I knew you wanted to hear about🙂 … and reading your post & the way you decided to deal with it a) made me laugh because, well, what else can one do sometimes, and b) made me sigh … at indeed … the stupidity of it all.

    Then I made the mistake of clicking on the 50,000 shoes in 50 days link.

    What IS wrong with people?????

    How can I help ya ~ want some of my pictures?

  2. morealtitude 20 April, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Dude… warehouse in eastern Niger at the height of the 2005/6 nutrition crisis. 10s of thousands of under-five kids in feeding centres. I walk into the warehouse of a nameless NGO (identity withheld to protect the guilty) during a monitoring visit to find said organization had been providing the village with ‘useful’ GIK from Canada: Boxes of anti-aging skin cream. WTF.

  3. Anonymous 20 April, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    This makes me think of stories of family members going back to “the old country” during a hard time and bringing suitcases of toilet paper. Yes, it was useful, but also completely unnecessary, unlike the medications that were unavailable.

    I know of an organization that did something similar to Pedals for Progress but they also wanted to provide new bikes. Naively I got involved with them only to quickly realize how many problems there were with some of the things they wanted to do…

  4. Rachel 21 April, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    *Paying Someone to Clean Out Your Basement: $25
    *Driving with a Bag of Used Junk to Collection Point: $2.50 in gasoline
    *Chartering a Jet to Ship Bags of Goods to [insert disaster-zone here]: $100K
    *Spending Days Fighting to Get the Goods Through Customs Where They Have Been Stuffed Atop Bunches of Medicines: $500
    *The Look on an Orphan’s Face when He is Handed Your Gently-Scuffed Manolo Blahniks: Priceless

    SWEDOW: Because there’re some things money can’t buy. And because your basement’s a mess.

  5. Kathy 21 April, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Order for 15 mobile clinics: syringes, gloves, gauze pads, tape, antibiotics, scissors, various other medical supplies.

    GIK delivery: 15,000 rolls of toilet paper and sunscreen.

  6. Ben 21 April, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    How about some crappy PHP code that you did at a geek “camp”?

  7. lraftree 22 April, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Now let’s be honest. The real challenge here is local beneficiaries that are unaware of or uninterested in the American people’s generous global recycling efforts. SWEDOW should build in complementary recipient education programs to accompany the donation programs to help local people change harmful traditional practices such as manufacturing, purchasing and using locally produced goods. Use of IEC and social marketing campaigns would be a good start, as well as some research into underlying causes and recipient attitudes around use of global recyclables such as those offered by SWEDOW, and perhaps on ongoing Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) study. Another idea would be for youth from the US to visit for 1 week periods to lead these local efforts and teach local youth to be entrepreneurs by developing ideas for using America’s cast-offs. I mean, local people can mostly use anything, they will be really grateful. And they are really really really creative and smart sometimes!

    • Kristy Dodson 14 October, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      I agree. Items may be available for purchase but if you don’t have the money to buy them than you don’t have them. That’s true here in the US too. I loved my hand-me-downs as a kid because that was sometimes the only way I got new clothes. I do agree that we should be sending thing that these people actually need and that not all our junk should go over there but people do some amazing and creative things with junk. I saw a purse recently made from aluminum can pop tops and grocery bags. Does someone in a 3rd world country need that, no. Can they make money selling it back to the U.S.? Yes they can.

      • Kristy Dodson 14 October, 2011 at 10:51 am #

        O, I realize your comment (lraftree) was sarcastic and that is what I was agreeing with.

  8. George D 22 April, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    I don’t think that all gift-in-kind aid is a bad thing.

    Baisekeli have worked out a practical aid model that involves bicycles. To answer your question – yes, there are many countries in which there are too many people with barriers to transport, and providing cheap or free bicycles reduces those barriers.

    As with everything, the key thing is “done right”. If there is no need for them, then they’re needless. And if there is…

    • J. 22 April, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

      I’m almost positive I never said that all GIK is bad.

      Call me narrow-minded, but I’m very skeptical of any “aid model” that is based around the delivery of GIK, perhaps especially if it is a very specific kind of GIK (like shoes… or bicycles…). In my repeated observation this almost always leads to defining problems in the field in biased terms based on the GIK on offer – defining the problem in terms of a predetermined solution. That is bad aid, and in some cases plain unethical.

      • placenta sandwich 12 May, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

        Oh man, I’m really sorry I missed this thread while it was active – but sharing it with friends asap anyway.

        When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, right? Aid/development/etc agencies with plenty of experience do this too, often due to perfectly well-intentioned, but terribly narrow, selective educatedness (i made up a word). Me, for example: name pretty much any problem and I could find a way to respond on the importance of access to family planning. Simply because it’s what I eat, sleep and breathe. Really speaks to the importance of talking to people outside of your one little subspecialty.

    • Andrea 14 October, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      Buy bicycles in country. This supports local retailers.

  9. Jason Garrett 23 April, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    In the UK we seem to have a better system for disposing of our unwanted crap while still doing something for ‘charity’. Instead of sending the unwanted crap to a poor country or disaster zone, we take our unwanted crap to shops run by charities who then sell our crap to other people who would like our unwanted stuff, and the charity gets the money, which they can then use for more appropriate projects than GIK. Oxfam in particular has a huge range of shops that sell donated second hand items. In some parts of the UK, you can get some great clothes that have been worn once by a rich bozo and then given away to Oxfam, or whoever, to sell on at a much lower price. Roaring trade in second hand books as well.

    Seems a much better way of getting rid of your stuff while actually giving positive help to people.


  10. terence 25 April, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    SWEDOW: Changing the world one basement at a kind.
    SWEDOW: Now your mess can help with their mess.

    • Anonymous 14 October, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      That’s funny

  11. terence 25 April, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    grrr…time not kind.

  12. JP 26 April, 2010 at 4:44 am #

    SWEDOW, because they’re not worth THAT much.

  13. Michael Keizer 12 May, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    #SWEDOW: waste not what they want not.

    • Anonymous 4 January, 2013 at 8:15 am #

      SWEDOW, same crap different country

  14. RandomVida 17 July, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    On a site visit today in Haiti with an organization who told us of receiving donated goods from the US, the best include- used golf pencils, used tea bags, frostbite kits, and my personal favorite- breast implants…

  15. Schnieker 8 December, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    65 long, black velvet winter dresses to a girls’ orphanage in a city with an average annual temperature of 95 Fahrenheit.

    • J. 8 December, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

      Schnieker – that’s a great nomination and one that I’d expect to see place very well in the overall competition. However, I’ll need you to include the link to this #SWEDOW provider’s website. Thanks!

  16. Steve Nuchia 26 August, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Bringing coals to Newcastle and ice to Eskimos is just the beginning. Garments, shoes and rice to Haiti? Yes we can!

  17. Matt 10 October, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    How about sending crappy, sugary peanut butter to Haiti . . . even though they grow peanuts in Haiti and there is a thriving domestic market for PB pruduction and consumption.


  18. Dr. fertlity 14 October, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    After serving 4 years in Africa I woud’nt be cynical regarding GIK.
    Belive me, there are some more issues out there which should attracts our attention.

    • J. 14 October, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      After having worked twenty years in humanitarian relief and development, believe me – inappropriate GIK is a real problem that causes real harm. It deserves our attention.

  19. Good Samaritan 14 October, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    I always donate money (or time) unless those in need specifically ask for food (like canned or dry goods), clothing (warm coats, etc.), blankets, or personal hygiene items. The bicycles really do not make any sense, and I don’t understand the shoes either. Scenario: I haven’t eaten a decent meal in a very long time and have inadequate shelter. Your solution: Give me shoes or a bicycle. ?!? Why not give those in need your old paper shredder or your toaster that burns toast regardless of the setting…or how about discarded plastic bags and bottles that way you can also claim they were recycled?

  20. Nai Alai (@NaiAlai) 14 October, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    #SWEDOW: My junk is now your junk.
    #SWEDOW: Donating junk. One cause at a time.
    #SWEDOW: Because nail polish can feed an entire village.

  21. Coins into cash 4 February, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    This short article covers the actual chinese language lunar cash created by a number of significant mint candies. These kind of money have become well-accepted.silver dimes

  22. Jennifer Ochieng 15 February, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    #SWEDOW While volunteering at a small NGO in Kenya, a huge nameless American Organization sent a container of “medical supplies” to this small org. After spending nearly $10,000 in customs bribery and shipping costs from the coastal city where it arrived, it finally arrived. The contents: 5 broken laptops, expired meds, and disposable nipples for baby bottles (no bottles).

    • J. 19 February, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

      Care to name the organization?


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  50. Good enough for the poor | WhyDev - 4 July, 2016

    […] sets my teeth on edge. Whilst plenty of people have written about not donating our junk and about not giving away expired food, these patterns continue because the sentiment that promotes them seems to be very naturally […]

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