It’s here! Our favourite time of year. The house is cosy and warm, streetlights twinkle outside and living rooms across the country are lit up by fairy lights, trees or Chanuka candles. And of course - the kids are making gift wish-lists. If only it were so idyllic in every home. Too many children in the UK and around the world will be cold and hungry while the rest of us are enjoying the festivities. Barnardo’s tell us that there are currently 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK. That’s over a quarter of children.
It’s a time for giving. We all want to help. But is it really enough to donate bags of old clothes to a charity shop after a clear-out? The main ways in which we can all help are donating clothes, time and money. But which is best? Which option is most likely to really help less fortunate children than our own?
There’s a very common misconception that high street charity organisations distribute second-hand clothes freely in the developing world. They claim to give jeans and T-shirts away for free, but the bulk of donated clothes are sold to local traders to retail. Market stalls in Sub-Saharan Africa are brimming with second hand clothes from the developed world. In Nigeria they are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites). A major advantage of this system is the fact that it creates more jobs but used clothes are often in bad condition, and come in unusual shapes and sizes, which make them difficult to sell. Donated underwear raises issues of human dignity, with some countries such as Zimbabwe moving to ban imported underwear. And as cheaper imported goods flood African markets, workers in local clothing factories lose their jobs.
So although donating clothes is a kind act, it does not always ensure a positive outcome.
Donating money can also be tricky. Many charities are affiliated to political groups or causes, who often take a cut themselves, which the donor is not always aware of. Ideally you should read a charity’s website before you decide to donate, but it’s not always practical to do so.
Which leaves the third option. Donating your precious time. This is the charitable option that I encourage my children to explore most frequently. There’s something so rewarding and immediate about seeing the smile on someone’s face when you are physically helping them with their daily routine or making them smile. It’s especially important to show your children that there are people living with severe disabilities or a lack of food and clothing, to help them develop their social conscience and grow into giving and caring adults. Our society simply could not function without those selfless people who give so much of their time to others.
So as you’re wrapping presents, decorating your home and baking up a storm, please spare a thought and preferably a day, to help make the festive season a happy one for everyone.