Good intentions…

The PYP encourages primary school  students to become aware of global issues, to develop a social conscience and to begin their journey towards becoming caring, responsible citizens of the world.

It’s exciting to see 8 year olds investigating environmental issues, 10 year olds becoming aware of the effects of their choices as consumers, 12 year olds exploring social inequities and the kinds of action taken to try to effect change. However, young learners dealing with big issues can be complicated. Our Year 6 inquiry into social inequity has revealed many misconceptions and a great deal of stereotyping by our students. Their conception of ‘action’ usually involves the ‘Whites in shining armour’ syndrome you can read about here at the thought provoking Good Intentions website.

Teachers will show the students these two videos to provoke their thinking and perhaps help break down some misconceptions. (They were brought to my attention by Ittay, who blogs here.) The discussion should be interesting. I look forward to hearing (and sharing) the students’ thoughts and reflections. And yours too…

A Day Without Shoes.

“I think sometimes we forget what we have, and occasionally it’s important to remind ourselves. Most people don’t even realize how many children in developing countries grow up barefoot and all the risks, infections and diseases they endure.” (Founder of TOMS shoes)

A Day Without Dignity.

“Every year millions of shoes and clothing are donated to various developing countries. This practice is expensive and competes with local business”.

Some further thoughts to consider: 

5 questions you should ask before donating goods overseas 

The Allure of the Quick Fix


9 thoughts on “Good intentions…

  1. Definitely one of my favorite blog posts of late.
    One question: once students become aware and discuss the issue (which is so greatly prompted by the two videos), what would the next steps be?


      1. I think that after generating a class discussion, students would be asked to consider an area that they would like to learn more about. They could be grouped in reserach groups according to interest, help to set the criteria for the project and then begin reseraching. Typically I could see this taking about 2-3 weeks after which, student groups could share out their learning in a personalized way – skit, poster, powerpoint, poem, song. The teachers role throughout this process would be one of facilitator and guide. This time would enable him/her to work closely with each group providing meaningful feedback and ensuring that the learning outcomes are being met or exceeded.


  2. In the US, do people know where their donated clothes go? To the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores that resell them at a lesser price to help pay costs at food kitchens? Some of the donated goods do end up there.

    Salvation Armay and Goodwill both have huge warehouses in the cities on both sides of the Mexican border…that’s right filled with clothes. These clothes are bought by the kilo by distributors throughout Mexico and shipped to buyers in all parts of Mexico where they are in turn sold by the piece to consumers in the open-air marketplaces.

    I have lived in Mexico almost 30 years, and I know this first hand, having reported it previously and having sold ‘American used’ clothes. There are complete sections in the bigger markets just dedicated to imported clothes, which are sold for at least double than in the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores in the US. More savvy Mexican buyers buy seconds or factory reject sports shoes for resale in the marketplaces in Mexico at half the price. Prices offered are often more accessible than clothes of Mexican origin sold in small shops in city centers.

    Important considerations must be taken into acount:
    1. Many sports enthusiasts would not be doing sports if they had to buy sneakers at the imported price offered by stores.
    2. Inflated store prices are due to inflated taxes paid to foreign govenment for the importation of goods, even with Free Trade Agreements. Stores charge the same price for imported clothing in Mexico as people pay in the US. There are no sales. However, Mexican salaries are 10% of American salaries. You figure.
    3. American clothes are different than Mexican clothes: Am. clothes are cotton, and they last longer. They come in a greater variety of sizes.
    4. Sizing issues: people who do not fall into the category of the Mexican small, medium, large or xl do not find clothes which fit them. For instance, Mexican-made pants and trousers hit me at mid-ankle. Jacket sleeves at mid wrist, etc. I am not tall but I have long limbs. I am not alone.
    5. Extra specific example: Mexican bra cup sizes only come in size b. And what if you are a DD?

    This business of selling donated clothes originated and grew like wildfire in the past 20 years due to a need. It is fulfilling a purpose and a need.


  3. Thanks for yet another thought provoking post. This is a complicated issue for educated adults as well as young learners. Having students begin to think about these issues at a young age is very important.

    First, I think it is useful to consider the reasons people engage in charity or social change outside of their community. I would argue that acts of charity or altruism are really just more efficient acts of self fulfillment. They are certainly undertaken with good intentions, but the underlying (subconscious?) motive is to feel good about your actions.
    Here is a frequently mentioned story about Gandhi (although I couldn’t find any concrete reference to where this quote comes from): It was known that once he settled in a village he would immediately begin to serve the needs of its people. When a friend inquired if his reasons for serving the poor were purely humanitarian, Gandhi answered, “Not at all. Rather,” he said, “I am here to serve myself only, to find my own self-realization through the service of others.”
    This doesn’t mean that “good deeds” are selfish or negative, I think it’s just important to bear in mind what the givers are gaining from their actions.

    With that in mind, it is easy to donate surplus goods to those “in need” and feel good about your actions.

    It is much trickier to really try to learn what a given community needs or wants. How does one go about doing this? The second video mentioned reading blogs or articles written by locals of the community that you are interested in helping. But do these blogs speak for the community as a whole? Who really represents the community’s needs/wants? Politicians? Business owners? Schools? NGO’s? As we know from our own local politics, consensus on social and economic issues is very hard to come by.

    About 15 years ago I spent 6 months in a rural village in Belize (Central America) working as a liaison for an NGO promoting community-based eco-tourism as a means of sustainable community development. At the end of my 6 months I was just beginning to get a grasp of what community life was like, never mind what was in their best interest. Within the community, and even within the small eco-tourism cooperative, there were widely different opinions about how “development” should proceed. In some cases, donations and aid seemed to build strife and competition rather than cooperation.

    I certainly don’t have any answers, but personally I think it is important to try and learn as much as you can about the situation in the community you wish to support and then determine the best way to aid that community based on their expressed objectives. But this can be extremely complicated and time consuming. It isn’t surprising that most people choose to simply donate or do some pre-established community service and feel that pleasant boost in their self-esteem. Is that bad? I don’t know.


  4. The best donation I gave to charity was blood to a Cambodian hospital after seeing the swiss doctor play. If you can, you should totally track down the story of beatocello music and social change one. Very awesome.


  5. Hi Jonah,
    I think you raised some great questions in your post. I agree with you that far too often, “acts of charity or altruism are really acts of self fulfilment.’

    In the Jewish tradition, there is no reference to an obligation of giving charity, but there is an obligation of donating towards justice (Tzedakah). The reason for this, is because charity usually occurs when someone makes you feel guilty, ashamed or selfish for not helping. The antidote to this shame is charity. It makes you feel like you are no longer self-centred, uncaring or ignorant.

    The problem with this model is, whilst charity is great at assuaging our consciences, it is not often good at fixing the problems it was designed to solve (other than white guilt).
    On the other hand Justice(Tzedaka) is about helping the poor even when it doesn’t result in public acknowledgement, a nice bracelet, a tax deduction or doing something you would already be doing in the name of cause.


    Thanks for staring this long overdue and important conversation Edna.


  6. Hi Edna,
    Thanks for this post. I read the Good Intentions blog occasionally and the issue of donating “stuff” is one I struggle with. I’ve been living in Tanzania for only a week but I’ve already noticed many people wearing t-shirts that obviously originated in the U.S.


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