Monday, December 14, 2009

Shoes for Haiti?

Re-thinking shoes for Haiti this Christmas

There's a cobbler at the end of our street. Lukner Clernier sells beautiful handmade sandals for men, women and children for a little over $7.00. He has five children, two of whom help him cut out, glue and sew together soles and straps. Business has been pretty slow lately - Lukner tells me he has a fraction of the sales he had this time last year.

Part of my job as MCC's advocacy coordinator and educator in Haiti is to analyze how actions and policy in North America affect the lives of Haitians. In order to do that, I read a lot of newspaper articles that reference Haiti. Recently, an increase in the number of North American shoe drives, requests for shoes to shod Haiti's barefoot children, has been bothering me.

For Lukner’s sake, I am asking you not to send shoes to Haiti. Here's why: sending your used shoes (or, alternatively, new shoes mass-produced by cheap labor in a country like Haiti) makes it really hard for Haitians like Lukner to stay in business.

Although well intended, this kind of international assistance works a lot like food dumping. When subsidized agricultural goods produced in North America are “dumped” on overseas markets they disrupt local markets, depress crop prices, and discourage local food production. In this case, shoes are being sent to Haiti for free and Lukner can't begin to compete with free. Many donated shoes also end up being resold on the street at prices that, compared to the cost of Lukner’s materials and labor, may as well be free.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be trying to put shoes on the feet of Haiti's barefoot children and I'm not trying to single anyone out for criticism. I know that the intentions behind shoe drives are loving and good and the children on the receiving end of these shoes are ecstatic to receive them. It’s just that when I talk to Lukner, I realize how desperately we need to rethink the way we do aid, not only on a macro level but on a personal, church and/or community level. When people send anything free to Haiti - shoes, blankets, soap - that Haitians are trying to produce for themselves, it doesn't address the deeper, structural reasons for the fact that many Haitians don't have shoes, blankets and soap. What it does do is constantly put Haiti on the receiving end of our leftovers and cheaply produced goods. Instead, let's encourage entrepreneurial and visionary Haitians like Lukner who in turn will reinvest the profit from his business into his local economy.

Especially now at Christmastime, if you're thinking about ways to give shoes to children in Haiti, I challenge you to go about it in a new way: raise money, get in touch with someone here that can order locally-made shoes from a Haitian cobbler with a business to run and a family to feed and know that you'll be making a creative and sustainable difference in someone’s life.

Alexis Erkert Depp is the Advocacy Coordinator for MCC Haiti and is based in Port-Au-Prince.

22 comments:

Kim and Patrick Bentrott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim and Patrick Bentrott said...

Well written, Alexis. Do you mind if I reference you on our blog? I think this message is SO VERY IMPORTANT and it reminds people to reconsider how they think charity verses support for sustainable development.

Bravo.

mateovan said...

or peanut butter, or clothes, or food, or. . . well done Alexis. Thanks.

HannahBG said...

Insightful and eye-opening. I posted a link to this entry on my FB, and actually, Kate O'Donohue copied it onto her profile as well. Do you mind? If you do, let us know, and we'll remove the links!

Lexi said...

No, I don't mind!

marc costantino said...

You are right but it is difficult for people like me to send cash for these things and know that the cash is not going to be used for other things. I would love to support Haiti economics but from the US, how does one do this? It would help if one had a reference of small businesses in PP, such as your shoemaker. that were reliable. For example, how does one find a shoemaker who will make 125 pairs of children shoes for $7 each?

Megan said...

Speaking of sustainable development...my Mom and I were at a shop in Charlotte today called Ten Thousand Villages. We got to talking with the manager about the products in the store (we saw one of those pottery bird whistles from Cameroon, which was fun! :), and he said that they are operated by MCC. His explanation was that MCC volunteers keep an eye out for potentially marketable products around the world. They alert MCC in P.A. regarding the products, then someone travels out to the artisan to see if the products can be marketed in the U.S. If they can be, then they sign a contract, providing money up front for product development, etc. I think he said there are like 180 stores in the U.S. and 45 in Canada, or thereabouts. Anyway, I just thought that was interesting given your post regarding internal sustainable economic development. There's another organization called Tearfund that operates out of the U.K. that does similar work with artisans around the world.

Regarding the shoes....what if people in "developed" countries can't afford to donate money for shoes, but are able to donate gently used shoes? Surely, despite the economic problems freebies cause to countries like Haiti, some shoes are better than no shoes for street kids. I can see what you're saying about it being most desirable to pay for internal production of shoes, but it also seems like any help/aid is better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Like many people in USA, I'm spending tons of time reading everything I can find about Haiti now. And just participated in an online fundraising effort that's paid for 101 Shelterboxes for Haiti. Tent for 10, supplies, etc. www.ShelterBox.org .

I found this article and it changed my understanding forever. Brilliant. Makes the point, well and thoroughly. I've linked it for a couple groups to read.

Thank you.

Howrd said...

I am dissapointed that you would discourage any competition or opportunity for Haitian families that have no means of support to make a little money. The very fact that you would charge $7.00 to families whose average income is $400.00 annually is also appauling. I make over $30,000 a year and I can barely afford $12.00 to $19.00 for my children's shoes. I will make it my mission to send these Haities all of the last years sandles and running shoes I can collect each year. Maybe you should sell these shoes for $.20 a pair to make them more affordable to the your population.

Roxanne said...

Okay so, since the earthquake, are we sending used shoes? This is the only way I can afford to do any thing.

MeldoyandAmber said...

See I think you are wrong. And people that are agreeing with you are wrong. How are you to make sure your friend even has his sandals to sell anymore and he is not sitting there in pain waiting for someone to come help him from the debris of the earthquake. His last thought is probably selling shoes and more thinking about if the nurse wants to amputate his leg that has been pinned under a building for a week. I think we need to send them anything and the only thing they are letting us send is shoes and money. I am also sure your friend will still have plenty of people to supply shoes to as they would not be asking us if there is no supply of them. The population in Haiti I can assure you would not be the same as the inventory your friend has. Please stop telling people to give as its almost disrespectful to the other Haitians all to save one person when you are most like unconsciously hurting them. I see where you are coming from but you have to look at the bigger scale in disastrous events like this. Besides their state of poverty they now have a natural devastation that has taken more than what their lives had before. So please please please please send your shoes and I promise you your friend will be just fine.

1stkidswholesale said...

This seems to be a great site for purchasing stuff for kids like baby whole sale clothing with fine quality - available with all top brands Barbie, Ben 10, Disney, Peppa Pig, etc.and i would surely like to try their service...i had been relying on http://www.1stkidswholesale.co.uk earlier and they too offered good stuff.

M. Haze said...

It is not enough to do well in the world. We must also do good. The company I work for is having a shoe drive. They are getting every shoe I can find on my block. Give a man a fish and you can feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime. Got that. But who in their right mind would try to explain the finer points of fly fishing to a man that is dying from hunger in front of you? What is compassion? Send shoes. Send money. Love is something you DO.

kate said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Lucy

http://toddlergirls.net

JB I can said...

Is Mr. Clernier able to get up and running now? What raw materials would he require, how can he partner with aid organizations to buy from him so he could employ locals to get their minds off their situation and to put some money in their pockets now? I thought shoes would be very necessary with all the debris about and the rainy season coming. Please reply so I can know how I may be of assistance. THX.

1st said...

This seems to be a great site for purchasing stuff for kids like baby whole sale clothing with fine quality - available with all top brands Barbie, Ben 10, Disney Wholesale, Peppa Pig, etc.and i would surely like to try their service...i had been relying on http://www.1stkidswholesale.co.uk earlier and they too offered good stuff.

Gucci Handbags said...

I love to read articles that are informative, Thanks again for a nice site.

Ben said...

For more discussion on this topic and a response to some of these comments, especially post-earthquake, see this recent post by Alexis: http://blexi.blogspot.com/2010/04/aba-blan-pepe_3098.html

buy viagra said...

In my opinion Haiti needs every help he can bring his people more bienestrar .. Very sad situation and the disaster

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