“When we take a charitable approach to poverty, we are often hurting the world rather than helping,” stated Gretchen Huijskens, fair trade company co-founder. In 2003, Huijskens co-founded Three Angels Children’s Relief in Haiti, a non-profit orphanage, school, and medical clinic. “We touched many lives in many ways,” says Huijskens, “but I started wondering how Haiti would change if we enabled parents to keep the babies they were bringing to us.” She was finding that a community’s physical, economical, and cultural health are severely altered when people attempt to use charity as poverty’s solution. Micro-financing and sustainable business was heavy on her heart when Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 shook up Three Angel Children’s Relief’s plans. “The earthquake gave us a clean slate after all of our orphans found homes in America just days after the disaster,” Huijskens recalled. She took that clean slate as her opportunity to pursue a long-term, sustainable solution to the poverty and founded fair trade company, Trades of Hope.
“Charity has its place. For example, orphanages are necessary, but only for parentless orphans. Orphanages are not for children whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Many make the mistake of charitably giving when we often do not know what would be best to give. Rice is an example of this,” said Huijskens.
A long time ago, sweet potatoes were a staple in Haitian’s diets. A sweet potato nourishes the body and can help one survive impoverished situations. However, America donated tons and tons of rice to Haiti as a way to “help.” Therefore, now rice is a staple of Haitian’s diets, a grain that does not nourish the body so the population is not surviving; but this food is free. Free food, however, puts those who sell sweet potatoes or rice out of business because there is no longer a market. Not only did this “charitable” American donation disrupt the country’s overall health, but dismantled it economically. This is only one way that helping has in fact hurt.
Crocks is known to have donated tons and tons of shoes to places of natural disasters. What Crocks did not realize is that only a few days after the natural disaster, the shoe cobblers are back out on the street trying to make money for food or medical care for their families. Unfortunately, because there are free shoes available to those in the market for some, the shoe cobblers are unable to take care of their basic, or now urgent, needs.
“Who would buy something when they could get it for free? No one in American or Africa would do that,” Huijskens observed. What is left a week after said natural disaster? A community still physically and financially broken with thousands of shoes littering a disaster scene. “It is short sighted to authoritatively decide what a country or community needs after a tragedy without taking time to ask and truly heal the issue,” she said.
“We litter their land and their livelihood,” Huijskens stated in reference to Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, “I would not want a stranger giving my children a box of trinkets and toothbrushes.” In December without parental approval,Samaritan’s Purse annually sends children around the world shoe boxes of tiny toys and utensils, all the while pushing our materialistic view of Christmas on cultures very different from ours. Who decided children in South American could not possibly be happy without receiving disposable gifts on Christmas day?
All of the time, money, and energy used to ship these shoe boxes around the world could be used to create sustainable income in the developing world. Huijskens said, “How does giving a child a Barbie doll on Christmas compare to giving his or her parent a job every day of the year? Maybe by next Christmas, their parents can buy their family’s own Christmas gifts.” Often people want to “help” in an immediate way (like sending gifts) so that they can see how they are helping and feel accomplished. But donating to chase a good feeling is not changing lives. Taking the time to find out what someone truly needs and being patient to see the fruits of an investment is what transforms lives, communities, and the world.
Fair trade companies and businesses create a market place for entrepreneurial artisans in poverty stricken countries around the world to sell their products. When these fair trade companies pay them for their work, artisans can then provide for their family’s needs, save money, and buy more materials for their business. These artisans are more than capable. They do not need us to be their parents, change their diets, steal their customers, or manipulate their cultures. The dignified, sustainable cycle of earning an income is the single successful method to heal poverty’s wounds and welcome hope for the future.