SCHOOL SUPPLIES. pencils and colored pencils, crayons, pens (useful but also useless after the ink runs out and the empty pen is litter), paper, rulers (metric and feet), flash cards, solar calculators, colorful notebooks, children’s scissors, current world maps, backpacks.
– Children living in the mountains in Lao PDR came running to us when they saw we were giving away pencils.
– We had a friendly chat with 3 girls in Tangier, Morocco, and gave each one a pencil.
Photos: 1 hour by car from Luang Prabang, Lao PDR (left and center); Tangier, Morocco (right)
BOOKS. English-language books are desired in developing countries where English is an official language. Worldwide, non-English speaking children are also studying English. Books in the local language are especially appreciated, as are picture books.
American libraries and schools sell used books. Prices are often 20-50 cents for soft covers, about 50 cents – $1 for hard covers.
Anticipate airport security and remove metallic alarms in former library books.
Soft cover books are cheaper and weigh less but are less durable.
Appropriate topics include: nature, animals, stories about children, local folk tales.
Avoid: war, magic, science fiction, American history, comics featuring action/super hero figures many children are unfamiliar with, topics with a bias, or preaching a religious or political message.
TIP: Ask a local librarian if used English-language books or books in the local language of the country you will visit are available.
TIP: If you have time before you travel, use a permanent marker and neatly print or carefully write a message in bold letters on the inside front cover of each book,
In English “A gift from friends in the United States of America.”
Or print a translation:
In Spanish ”Un regalo de amigos en los Estados Unidos de America.”
In French ”Un cadeau des amis aux Etas-Unis d’Amerique.”
In German “Ein Geschenk von Freunden in den USA.”
In Italian “Un regalo dagli amici negli stati Uniti d’America.”
In Portuguese ”Um presente dos amigos nos Estados Unidos da America.”
Internet websites, like www.babelfish.yahoo.com/free, provide free translations.
TIP for translating languages like Chinese or Arabic: Locate a native speaker and ask the speaker to print the translation on a piece of paper, photocopy it, cut it out, and tape it to each book’s inside cover.
Near the message, place an American flag sticker (craft & scrap-booking stores sell them in strips that cost about $2.50 per strip or 3-5 cents per sticker.)
TOYS. Dolls. White face dolls with modest shapes are okay, but brown/black faces, like Dora the Explorer, are the same color as children in many developing countries. White dolls, especially princesses, send a negative subliminal message to vulnerable, impressionable Brown or Black girls in developing countries that not only is being White superior but also that princesses are White.
Soft toys, like Beanie Babies, are inexpensive and easy to find. They aren’t filled with beans but pea size, plastic pellets.
TIPS: Soft toys and dolls are readily available and inexpensive at garage/tag sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. If the soft toys are soiled they can be safely cleaned in a washing machine and dried in a dryer. Before putting soft toys in a washer or dryer, check them to ensure there are no weak or broken seams or holes through which the pellets could leak out inside your machines.
If you have time before traveling remove the plastic pellets inside soft toys and replace them with fiber fill. This makes the toys lighter during their weigh-in at the airport, easier to carry, and environmentally friendly (if they break open). Polyester fiberfill costs about $4-6 (using a discount coupon) for a 32-ounce bag at sewing or craft stores. (They often have discount coupons in newspapers and on-line). A 32-ounce bag will be enough to replace the pellets in dozens of soft toys.
Plastic toys should be sturdy so they don’t easily break disappointing a child and becoming litter.
GAMES. Frisbes, jigsaw puzzles (educational or pictorial), playing cards, balls of all sizes (soccer is the #1 sport in much of the world).
STICKERS. Nature, animals, and subjects that local children will recognize.
Consider the climate at your destination. 100% cotton is coolest in hot climates.
Underwear, socks, shirts, pants, baby clothes, shoes, flip-flops.
Many children worldwide are familiar with, and like, baseball caps and T-shirts with slogans, but some cultures find them insensitive, offensive, inappropriate, or incomprehensible.
Muslims do not permit images of people and living creatures.
Consider your destination’s culture if you are thinking of gifting jeans or pants, desired in some countries, never worn in some places, and frowned on in some cultures.
No skimpy shorts or tops.
HYGIENE ITEMS. Fragrance-free soap in a plastic box or bag, wash cloths, hair brushes, combs, tooth brushes. Learn whether local children know how to use tooth brushes, and be prepared to demonstrate correct brushing techniques.
Avoid tooth paste that will be used-up and the empty tube will be come litter. Many people cannot afford to replace tooth paste and may incorrectly assume that without the paste the tooth brush is useless.
Exceptions: If your air carrier or lodging gives you free items (eye shade, tooth paste, tiny tooth brush, comb, etc.) give them away rather than tossing them in the trash or hauling them back to the U.S.A. and, if you think it’s necessary, demonstrate to recipients how to use unfamiliar items like hand lotion.
SEWING SUPPLIES. Fabric (100% cotton is best), thread, embroidery floss, balls of wool, buttons, scissors, safety pins, needles, beads. Hand sewing is still practiced in many developing countries. Selling tourists their hand-sewn, embroidered or beaded items is a way people of all ages earn money.
Due to airport security, put needles, safety pins, and scissors in checked luggage.
- In a Lao village we saw women and girls of all ages creating intricate, counted cross-stitch items that they were sewing to sell.
Photos: South Africa (left); Lao PDR (right)
Tip: BEAD BY BEAD: Reviving an Ancient African Tradition, The Monkeybiz Story, ISBN 978-1-7709-382-9 is an insightful book about South African beaded art. www.monkeybiz.co.za
MISC. Solar-powered flashlights, candles, mosquito nets and coils.
If you are in touch with your chosen recipient before you travel, ask if something special is needed. You may not be able/willing to provide what is requested but do not let this stop you from giving something else.
If possible, ask an organization staff person to write a letter to you, on their letterhead stationary, saying the items you are taking into their country are gifts so they aren’t confiscated or you aren’t asked to pay duty on them when entering at their customs. Keep the letter separate from your gifts and have 2 copies: 1 for you, in case you need it later, and 1 for customs or other officials.
This letter, written by Antonio Prado, Director, Spanish Institute of Puebla, Mexico, explained to anyone who might wonder (e.g. customs officials) that the books and toys I was taking into Mexico were for children living in Casa Alto Refugio (www.casaaltorefugio.com) orphanage. He also asked that the gifts be admitted without any misfortune. www.sipuebla.com.
Just as U.S. customs prohibits some items from entering the U.S.A. (some food, fruit, plants), find out what is not eligible for entry at your destination if you think you may be taking something questionable.
Learn how gifts are given. In Asian countries, gifts are given with both hands. But in many countries the left hand is considered unclean because it may be used for hygiene purposes. Muslims consider the soles of the feet impure. Patting a child on the head who is Buddhist is a grave insult.
If you want to give something, but for a variety of reasons you didn’t acquire items before traveling, and you enjoy shopping and bargaining in local markets, consider buying gifts at your destination. You will feel good 3 ways:
1st by helping local vendors,
2nd while giving away your gifts,
3rd within yourself when you recall your experiences afterwards.
Of course, cash is always useful. See Frequent Questions for websites that detail the complicated subject of giving cash to beggars.
RULES OF THUMB:
Consider what will happen if the item(s) you are considering gifting:
- Are insufficient for the number of children anxious for a gift.
- Are poor quality and easily break (children will be disappointed and there may be no designated dump site).
- Require replacement batteries.
- Will be used up.
- Are culturally insensitive.
- Are given in a destination with sporadic or no electricity.
Create Goodie-Bags if you have time before you travel. In small, see-through, resealable PLASTIC BAGS put SMALL GIFTS like a soft toy, 2-3 stickers, 2-3 crayons, 1-2 pages from a coloring book. Plastic bags with resealable closures or twist ties keep items secure inside.
Photos: Children in a Habitat for Humanity preschool in Urubamba in Peru’s Sacred Valley play with small gifts in their “goodie bags.”
Recollection: In the mountains an hour drive from Luang Prubang, Lao PDR, we saw plastic bags being carefully washed with water from the village well and hung on trees to dry so they could be reused.
At your destination:
Demonstrate how to open and close the resealable plastic bag or turn the twist tie because some people do not know how to do this.
Recollection: A South African boy did not know how to open the bag we gave him so we showed him how to open and re-close it so he could reuse it. (photo on right)
Give them to people as a thank you for allowing you to take their photo.
Recollections: After taking a photo of a Black South African mother with a baby on her back snugly wrapped in a kanga (cloth) she smiled broadly when we gave her a plastic bag filled with small toys. (photo below)
After chatting with a Cape Town, South Africa, salesman, we asked if we could give his daughter and her friend, off from school for Woman’s Day national holiday, a “goodie bag” filled with small toys. He agreed and, holding their gifts, the two girls posed for the photo below. Our rewards were their delighted faces, big smiles, and a warm “Bye, Granny” in farewell when we left the market.
TIP: Always ask an attending adult before giving gifts to children.
MORE TIPS: If you have extra time before your trip you might enjoy having help filling plastic bags from:
1. Children who are important to you.
Recollection: A young friend (pictured) helped prepare 60 plastic goodie bags by filling each one with 3 stickers, 3 crayons, 2 coloring sheets, and a small soft toy. As we worked I described for her why we were doing this and the lives of the children who would receive the gifts.
2. Dexterous seniors who use a senior center or who live in an assisted living facility.
TIP: When you return home, show your helpers your photos of people receiving the gifts. Perhaps people you show your photos to will want to PACforKids sometime in the future.