Friday, June 4, 2010

Shipping Items to Guatemala

For the last week I have been working non-stop trying to figure out how to best help the village of Pueblo Nuevo and other areas of Guatemala that are struggling with the destruction caused by the eruption of Pacaya and tropical storm Agatha. The majority of people have no idea the extent of damage that was done and the extreme conditions people are living in so raising much needed funds just to provide emergency relief has been difficult to say the least. AAB is not the only ministry struggling with this. I have spoken with many other organizations over the last few days that are also having a difficult time meeting the immediate needs of those they serve in the communities they are committed to because they are finding it difficult to raise financial support. My discussions with them is for another post. All I can say now is that I love hearing the hearts of others that feel the way I do and I know that just like mine, their hearts are breaking with each passing day that they are not able to do more for the children and families that they personally love so much.

Between endless phone calls and emails, trying to raise money for basic needs like food, water, medication, home building supplies and all other necessities, I am trying to respond to a growing number of emails and Facebook messages asking if we are accepting donations of items such as clothes, shoes, blankets, food items, medication, etc. We sincerely appreciate the offers of these items that are, indeed, needed in Guatemala perhaps now more than ever, but we are unable to accept those items at this time. This is why...

We understand the desire to want to physically shop for items for the people of Guatemala. To want to clean out your daughter's closet and donate her outgrown shoes and clothes. Who would not feel good about packing a large box of supplies and sending them to Guatemala knowing that those items will be received by someone in need. Even I have done it in the past before realizing how much damage that can do to a community that is already in extreme poverty. I am not one to intentionally offend people and I know that I will likely receive emails or comments about this from people that disagree, but for the love of Guatemala, I think it is time to get as real about this as possible. I am far from the only person that feels this way, but until now have kept my strong feelings to myself. At this time, when there is so much devastation in Guatemala, I believe it is time to make clear just how much damage can and will be done by shipping items to Guatemala. I know that there are some groups that are already planning shipments and I commend them for their kindness and wanting to help, but I beg you...please consider what could really happen if shipments like these continue arriving in Guatemala (and in other poverty stricken countries).
It costs money to ship things to us and then a lot of money for us to get those items to Guatemala, either in excess luggage or in shipments. I want to show you exactly how much more can be done with all of those shipping fees if they were turned into monetary donations instead and tell you what happens to people in countries that we love so much when large shipments supplies arrive.

For the $20-$25 it may cost you to ship this box (the last USPS box we received cost $25.01 to ship) that includes a few pairs of shoes, underwear, socks and 10 stuffed toys.....

We could fill a reusable bag with enough masa harina, black beans, rice, consumme, salt, sugar, pasta, oil, potatoes, oranges, bread, cookies, oatmeal and laundry and dish soap bars (all basic items for making typical meals of torillas, rice and beans and some extra "goodies") for a family to have one meal a day for about 3 weeks.
(Photo of just some of the food bags we distributed in December 2009.)

For the nearly $50 that it costs you to ship this box (the last UPS box we received cost $46.11 to ship) filled with 15 pairs of toddler shoes, a couple of blankets, toys, school supplies and other items to us...

We could provide a family with a water filter that is capable of producing 10 gallons of clean water every day.

(Photo source:

For the $300-$400 PER BOX that it costs to ship all of those items to Guatemala...

(Photo Source:

We could provide at least 2 families with stoves just for the cost of ONE box ($150 per stove). So far, each shipment we have made has consisted of multiple boxes which could have resulted in a large number of families receiving stoves so that they no longer have to use...

(Photo source:

...these. This is the way most families in Pueblo Nuevo and many other families in Guatemala are forced to cook. These are usually found in their homes in front of walls and under tin roofs covered in black soot. No wonder many women have a cough that never fades and worsens over time. I can only imagine the illnesses that spending so much time cooking this way causes.

(Photo taken by Dana S. during our Oct. 2009 mission trip.)

Instead of spending hundreds, often thousands of dollars shipping things to Guatemala, we could build this, a stable home, for approximately $2000.

(Photo source:

All of this could be done with just the amount of money spent in shipping fees.

But why should we NOT ship items to Guatemala or anywhere else where poverty is an issue? The needs are great. People need shoes, clothing, blankets. Children need school supplies. Because sometimes, as I have said before and will never stop saying, sometimes when we think we are helping we are actually hurting the people that we desperately want to help.

In Guatemala and around the world, we can purchase shoes. We can purchase clothes. We can buy school supplies. And for the most part, while they may not be name-brand shoes and they may be second hand clothes, it costs less for us to purchase them there that it does to ship them there. There are places in Guatemala where I can buy shirts for 3Q and on ever corner there is a stand selling shoes for 20Q. There are piles among piles among piles of underwear and socks for sale in markets for very low prices. Much lower than the cost of shipping those items. And every time we purchase some of those items in Guatemala, someone makes money. Someone is able to provide food for his family that night. Someone is able to take their child in for medical treatment.

But what happens when Americans send boxes and boxes of supplies that are needed, but could be purchased in Guatemala? We destroy local businesses, we take incomes away from workers that count on their jobs to provide for their families. We close shoe stores because of the number of shoes we distribute. We close clothing stores because who want to pay for clothing when they can get it for free from us. We close those store fronts that sell very inexpensive school supplies. We create beggars. We ruin jobs. We end the availability to adequate medical care. We end the chance for children to receive an education. We create orphans. We could easily destroy lives in the long run.

I know it sounds harsh. I know it sounds almost unbelievable to hear that our well meaning intentions could cause such damage to people's lives, but please think about it. If we spend so much money shipping items to Guatemala that could be used to provide food, water filters, stoves, homes, medical care. To help create jobs, enroll children in school and establish programs that will impact entire communities for generations, shouldn't we re-evaluate just how important those few items that are packed in boxes really are and how much more could be done if we just donate the money to a ministry or organization that is working to alleviate poverty so those items will no longer be a need? And if our distributions of shoes, clothes and home items takes even one sale away from local vendors and artisans which causes them to not be able to care for their families which quickly puts them in the cycle of poverty, shouldn't we stop doing such distributions and start making those purchases in-country instead?

To prevent children from becoming orphans, we have to alleviate poverty. Poverty alleviation IS orphan prevention! It is not an option. The orphan crisis will continue to grow unless we start REALLY thinking about how we contribute to the crisis by trying to help in these ways. We cannot alleviate poverty by ending jobs. We have to create jobs and that doesn't happen by wasting money on shipping fees and handouts of items that can and should be purchased in country.

Even now in the aftermath of Agatha, emergency relief supplies, shoes, clothing, blankets and every thing else that is needed can and should be purchased in Guatemala. Now more than ever we cannot take away income from families by purchasing items here and shipping them there. AAB is working to be able to provide families with their immediate needs of water, food, medical supplies/care and home repair as emergency relief. Once the needs of families in Pueblo Nuevo are met, we will return to plans of development as we work to alleviate poverty in this area.

This is an ongoing debate in the field of missions and I know that some people reading this disagree, but I ask you to please think about it before becoming angry and bashing me for my opinion of this. Do you really want to help the people of Guatemala? Or anyone in the world living in poverty? Helping long term goes far beyond giving them a pair of shoes because those shoes are going to wear out quickly. What will he do then?

If you agree with this, take the money that you would have spent on shipping items and donate them to an organization that has the mission of poverty alleviation. As always, we welcome your donations as we work to provide relief to the village of Pueblo Nuevo and move back into the development phase (poverty alleviation) to ensure that fewer children in this generation and those to come become orphans. We want your support. We need your support. Not for ourselves, but for the same people in Guatemala that your hearts are broken for. We all want what is best and we want to see them live the lives that we are all meant to live...lives that bring glory to God. Imagine how much glory He receives each time a person is able to step of the bondage of poverty. When he is able to provide for his family without the assistance of foreign aid. And imagine how much glory He receives when He uses us to help them to do that. Lives are changed. Ours and theirs. It doesn't come from handouts and even in disaster, when distributions are necessary, it doesn't come by having your income taken by outsiders carrying in boxes of gently used shoes.

Please continue to pray for the people of Guatemala and those of us that are working on multiple ways to bring assistance to those in need. And please pray for wisdom to know the best way for YOU to help.

Thank you to those that have donated financially this week and to those that have offered to help in every way. Thank you to those that have offered to donate items to ship to Guatemala. I know your hearts and love the hearts of every person that has offered to donate items. It is so hard to know the best way to handle situations like this unless you have spent a lot of time on the ground learning about what works and what doesn't and researching every aspect of poverty alleviation. I do not have the answers to it all. I never will. But I do know that some things work better than others and sometimes we have to swallow our pride and realize that what we've been doing is hurting those we love.


Bobbi said...

You have many valid points in this post, and I do see your point. However, I am one of the people who sent items to Guatemala. I do not feel that by doing this I am destroying the economy. I do not have $100 to give to relief efforts. However, I did have well over $100 in items to send. These will clothe several children, blankets will keep them warm, and they will have shoes to wear. We all have to do what we can to help.
The economy in the US is suffering as well. However, noone speaks of us donating things here. It is perfectly accepted. but, I know I feel good when I am able to give things that I can no longer use to someone who is less fortunate than I am. But, I can't go and hand them money. It feels good to do for others.
So, yes, it is expensive to get extra bags to Guatemala, and/or ship things there. But, I know that the woman who is taking the donations that she collected and driving three hours and packing a crate is feeling good today. She too is in missions work. She is so grateful for what they are able to hand out, as are the people in the villages. As we discussed, they can give these donations to several families. However, they are not able to raise the funds to give to that many. Also, her hours are spent in the village working with the families not shopping. That too is worth value. There are many sides to this.
I do agree that buying there supports their economy. However, while you are there eating in restaurants, picking up goods at the local food store, buying souveniers, all supports their economy too.
Just some food for thought. As you have said, don't send me hate mail for my views. Just some thoughts. Good luck on your trip

RJ said...

Terry, well written and well said. I'll also admit that I have made donations in the past for international missions projects and felt I did something good. I think here lies the problem: the act made ME feel good, but I never thought through how my donation actually impacted folks in the country. And shouldn't that be the filter; the impact and not how I felt about myself? The book that helped to bring this to light for me is When Helping Hurts. Everyone should read it because your post highlights the title. I now save my clothes donations for local ministries that are requesting them.