Operation Christmas Child – what’s wrong with it?
Every year we remind people why it’s not good to get involved with the Samaritan’s Purse scheme, Operation Christmas Child – search our website for previous posts. An article in Humanist Life explains the reasons, or some of them. Apart from the homophobia and evangelism aimed at children, it’s a huge waste of money.
Those who work in aid organisations have an expression, SWEDOW, or “Stuff we don’t want”. Every time there’s a disaster, people in need can expect a deluge of stuff collected by well-meaning people. It might include clothing, bedding, shoes and toiletries, or it might also include weird items such as a huge mattress, sex toys, winter clothing sent to a tropical area (all these things have been sent to disaster areas), and all sorts of other junk. None of this is helpful. After the extra planes hauling useless stuff have got out of the way, aid organisations on the ground have to sort it all, wasting valuable time that could be spent dealing with more urgent organisation. Many of the items that are needed can be bought in the country receiving all this stuff – it’s money that’s needed, to buy it. Then there’s the cost of transportation. Lorry and plane loads cost a lot to move from A to B. Organisations like Oxfam have had years of experience in taking essential items where they’re needed, like medical supplies, water purification tablets and plastic sheeting. Nothing is wasted, as they know exactly what to take and where to take it. Shelterbox has a store of tents and other equipment in its warehouse, ready to fly out to wherever it’s needed at a moment’s notice. They’d welcome financial donations to support their work.
Operation Christmas Children cultivate an emotional response in their donors. How wonderful to give Christmas presents to children who might otherwise not have any, they think. Many of these children live in societies where Christmas isn’t celebrated, so they don’t miss what they’ve never had. Their culture celebrates different festivals. The cost of distributing the boxes probably exceeds the value of most of the boxes. They may be filled with toys that could have been made by people in developing countries who are not much older than the children receiving them. The cost of the whole exercise would be far better spent on things that the recipient children really need, like vaccinations, education materials, and help with housing and healthcare. Children around the world will happily play with whatever they find – sand, water, tin cans, wood. Children in affluent countries might be indulged with expensive toys at Christmas, encouraged by clever advertising campaigns, blockbuster films and the latest crazes, but they don’t really need them. Play isn’t dependant on having shrink-wrapped toys with batteries. But that’s another topic…
The fundamental message about sending stuff overseas is – don’t. Send money instead.