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The Haiti EarthquakeInside HumanitarianismInside the Documentary

Donations Hall of Shame

“You don’t get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense,” says aid critic William Easterly, in describing bad donation practices.

Whether it’s old shoes, used soap, or broken computers, the efforts that made it into our Donation Hall of Shame all have one thing in common: they’re well-intentioned ideas that ultimately made their recipients’ lives worse, not better.

Much of the information in this piece was drawn from Saundra Schimmelpfennig’s excellent aid blog, Good Intentions Are Not Enough; you can also follow Saundra on Twitter here.

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Are there misguided donations you would nominate for the Hall of Shame? Do some not deserve to be there? Let us know in the comments, below.

Now that you know how not to donate, read about our Donation Best Practices in the next section.

Karleen Gribble
November 3, 2010
10:48 am

Great to see infant formula on your list of dangerous/unhelpful donations. It’s worth noting that even when prepared properly with clean water (and in fact even when it is sterile as with ready to use liquid infant formula) that infant formula damages the immune system of the infant, destroying the integrity of the protective lining of the intestine and thereby actively facilitating infection. Thus, even in the most developed countries, the formula fed infants of wealthy, educated, well resourced mothers are 4-5 times more likely to be hospitalised with infections than babies that are exclusively breastfed.
Donated milk products of any kind are a problem because they are commonly given to babies.
A single exposure to foreign milk protein in infant formula or other non-human milk products can make a baby more vulnerable to infection for weeks.

    November 3, 2010
    1:33 pm

    Thanks for your comment! As well as in the Donations Hall of Shame, we tried to really really drive home the baby formula lesson through Inside the Haiti Earthquake, our first-person interactive experience where users make decisions from the point of view of an aid worker, journalist, or survivor in Haiti. The aid worker has to decide what to do with the baby formula in their shipment – check it out:

December 6, 2010
4:21 pm

In Canada, sleeping mats are made out of crocheted strips of plastic milk bags and shipped to Haiti. It takes 250 bags to make an adult-sized mat. These mats are supposed to protect the user against parasites. I work for an NGO in Haiti and I think these mats are a terrible idea. I cannot figue out why this idea has become so immensely popular in Canada. Plastic will break down quickly in the heat. These mats are also not very durable. What happens when one starts to get too many holes or wears out? It gets tossed out on the street with all of the other plastic. The garbage problem is a huge deal in Haiti. Walking down the streets of Port-au-Prince, one can see that Canadians should not be adding their own plastic waste to the incredible amounts that are already present. Most importantly, Haitians have been making their own sleeping mats and beds for centuries. Instead of shipping more stuff to Haiti, why not support the local economy and buy sleeping mats directly from Haitian enterprises? The money you save on shipping costs will probably be able to buy a lot more beds anyway. And they will most likely be more durable and more easily disposed of when they do wear out.

January 3, 2011
6:40 pm

Thank you for highlighting how good intentions are not always enough to assist countries in need. As well, thank you for providing us with more education on this topic.


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