Month: May 2014

Don’t You Just Hate Getting Asked For Money?

I mean seriously…

It seems like every time you turn around there’s someone else asking for money for something. Some other person or group of people needing help for food, for shelter, for education, for justice, for saving the whooping cranes, for whatever. There’s always someone asking for money and the needs are endless. You can’t walk down the street without being solicited for donations. You can’t go to church, or to a sports event, or through the check out at the grocery store without being asked to give a few extra bucks to some worthy project. You can’t even turn on the TV or check your email or your Facebook page without seeing some message about another place that needs your help, your partnership, your hard earned $$$.Give Here Graphic

As one of the people who is always asking for money, I just want to say that I know. I know it can seem overwhelming sometimes and I know that it can seem to be all in vain. With so much need, what’s the point of giving to help any of it and even if you do give, how are you supposed to decide what to give to when there are so many truly good people doing truly good work that truly deserves support? I know that it can even become annoying to those who are making money to feel like they can’t even avoid those of us who are always asking for them to give it to some new cause. I continue to be consistently responsible for adding to the saturated sea of solicitation telling you of more things that you really, really should donate to. And I understand how it often becomes the easiest response to just tune it all out, pass it all by, and pretend like you don’t notice the requests for help so that you can simply move on with your life. If you took the time to actually consider absolutely every message, ad, and request that asked you to consider giving to something, you wouldn’t have time to actually do the work that you need to do to make the money that they’re asking you to consider giving. You wouldn’t have time to live your own life if you worried about every opportunity you were presented to help someone else’s life. I know how hard you work for your money because I work just as hard to get you to give it up. I don’t take the task lightly, aware of the sacrifices I’m asking you to make. I know and yet I keep asking. After all, how many different ways can you really come up with to say no?

And how can someone really expect you to give away your money that you’ve worked so hard to earn? Isn’t your moral support enough anyway? You certainly don’t owe those charities anything and you didn’t work so hard to get your paycheck just so you could give it away to the first bleeding heart that you run into in the street or that pops up in your inbox. You have to take care of yourself and think about your family and plan for the future and download that new app that you saw advertised. Everyday we are flooded with opportunities to use our money for what is considered the greater good. But whether we give or whether we don’t, that same person is still going to be there tomorrow, still asking. Still needing. So how can we even be sure that our money is making a difference?

The truth is, we can’t ever be sure, but we shouldn’t have to be sure. As soon as we decide to give money to someone who has asked for our generosity and help, we need to be willing to let go of any personal expectations that we might have attached to that money just because it’s OURS. As soon as we donate it towards that person’s expressed need or that group’s particular program, it’s no longer ours and we need to move on with life. Because from that point, it is not our life anymore that will be impacted by the money, it is someone else’s so we have to allow that person to make the decision on how it will best serve them. Because even though it was our money, it’s their life. Whether that reality of what they decide matches our expectations or not should not be a concern because we probably won’t miss the money anyway. Even if you run into financial difficulty a few weeks after donating money, you probably won’t regret having given. When Jesus fed the 5,000 he didn’t give them a list of conditions for the gift they were receiving. He didn’t ask them to prove their hunger beforehand or to provide evidence that they ate the bread and fish that they received instead of sticking it in their satchels to go sell in the market afterwards. He even knew that most of them could have afforded to buy their own snack that day, but he knew that he was there at the time and he had the ability to give them what they needed in the moment. So he did. And he didn’t worry about whether or not those same people would become dependent upon him for food in the future and he didn’t worry about whether he could have performed a different miracle for a different group of people that would have more fully understood the importance of what he had done. He just did it.

Of course, Jesus’ ability to perform miracles wasn’t quit as finite as our financial resources, but, at the risk of getting too preachy, perhaps that’s because he didn’t cling to the idea of those abilities being HIS but he realized where they came from and that they were meant to be shared. Such an attitude has the power to make any resource manifest itself infinitely.

And yet, we live in a different world today than he did. We live in a world with much more infrastructure and communication and technology, all of which allows the bombardment of requests from the sick children and the volunteer firefighters and the poor in Africa and the victims of violence in Central America and the missionaries and the whooping cranes and the whales and the rainforests and the coastlines and so much more to leave us without room to breathe, constantly questioning our pocketbooks. And anymore it’s not even considered all that unique or honorable to contribute to these things, it has almost become normalized as an expected part of being human. Thus the good feeling that was once touted as a positive side effect of giving for the giver has become diluted, making the decision to give less attractive.

jarSo the askers keep asking. Those like me, we keep asking, because we have no other choice. The systems don’t exist for us to find the resources we need through any other avenue than by inviting others to join with us in the work by donating what they can. We keep asking, knowing ourselves that the needs before us are endless and in our moment of asking we can never truly express that adequately but we have to do what we can in the moment because we can. We do so with a faith in the purity of the reasons that led us to ask, without knowledge of exact details of how the response will carry itself out, but trusting that the infinity of the need will be satisfied by the resources present somewhere and we simply play the role that we can in the moment. We just do it, because it’s what we can do. We can’t make loaves and fishes and dollar bills multiply themselves, but we can share the need and ask people to give the loaves and fishes and dollar bills that they have.

There are plenty of people out there who prevent themselves from doing good work that they want to do and that they’re gifted to do simply because they’re not comfortable asking others for money to support that work. They know how annoyed people get by getting asked for money and they don’t want to be the annoying ones. I’ve never had a problem being one of those people. I’ll ask you to help until your ears bleed and your eyes water and my voice is hoarse and my fingers fall off. (It’s my gift.) And if you say no, I probably won’t hate you, but I’ll appreciate a response nonetheless, an acknowledgement that you at least received the request and if the response is negative, then at least I know not to hold on to any hope on your account. But if the response is positive then it was all worth it. Either way, other than the bleeding ears and the missing fingers, the asking didn’t hurt either of us. There’s no reason to be annoyed or offended if someone asked for your help, because the simple truth of the world we live in is that not everything that needs money makes money and not everyone that makes money needs all of the money that they make. Without asking we’ll never know where those inequities lie on both sides and how to make some effort at balancing them out in some way.

So yeah, maybe we all hate when we get asked for our money, but let’s not hate the asker. We can hate the situations in this world that led them to feel the need to ask and we can hate the systems that don’t allow for a better way. We can hate injustice and hate inequality and hate indigence and we can hate that those things can’t be solved for free. But let’s also not be afraid to entertain the foolhardy notion that perhaps we could be the miracle capable of multiplying what’s already there. Let’s not let our agitation impede our potential to be the answer someone’s looking for.

So seriously, tell me, don’t you just hate getting asked for money? Do you ever delete emails just because you think they might be asking for money in them?

Making Fashion Match Action

My pride as a blogger usually keeps me from admitting that I read other people’s blogs. But I’ll admit that I keep up religiously with Jamie the Very Worst Missionary and she recently posted about the weird contradictions that make up her life. Not an earth shattering post for her, but there was one thing that she said in it that I really identified with. She remarked how she can be speaking passionately about social justice at an event while wearing clothes that were made by child labor in sweatshops.

This is a conundrum that I’m constantly in as well and many of us who work in a sector where any money we make depends on donations from others, where we don’t make any profit. We are supposed to be the torch bearers for social justice and the advocates for human rights, but we can’t afford to buy sustainable clothing that would match our beliefs. We could be fighting in the field to get children into school and out of factories or into healthy homes and out of slave labor while wearing clothes that were produced in those very factories but purchased a million miles away in some store that makes it easy to ignore all the implications of the great deals that we’re getting.

It’s a hypocritical paradox that I’m always aware of but try to push the nagging of my conscience aside because changing the way I shop for my clothes seems to require an effort that I’m not ready to commit to. I would like to be able to be proud of where my clothing comes from and how it was produced in addition to how it looks on me. But I’ve realized that every garment usually has a story of its own which can sometimes be just as important as its style.

I have a pair of coral pants that I bought at Belk about a year and a half ago, and the first times that I wore them were during speaking events on behalf of the work I do in Haiti. They were the kind of pants that were cool the first few times I wore them, but after a while they just start making you look like a flamboyant Santa Clause out for a round of golf. So last week I took them and chopped off about a foot of fabric from the bottom, turning them into the Haitian fad they call swag. In the US we’d call them manpris. But they’re really popular for guys here, especially if they are women’s pants that are then made into swag for men to wear. I don’t know why, I guess they make your butt look better. So my coral pants worked out perfect and now they’ve been given a new life. I always find this paradox amusing for a culture that is so anti-cross-dressing, fashion gender lines still get crossed frequently and unintentionally simply because they’re not shopping in department stores separated into men’s and women’s sections. They’re just finding what they like in the street.

So I’ve tried to make an effort while living here to buy my clothing locally as much as possible. I even own a couple pairs of those swag that were originally tailored for women’s bodies. Back in Iowa I would get a lot of funny looks if I was caught shopping in the ladies department but these pants were once purchased in one of those big stores by a woman who happened to have my size waist and she probably got plenty of use out of them before donating them to a Goodwill store where they got packed up in the excess bails of clothing and shipped to Haiti. Then some merchant found them in her bail, sold them to a tailor, who chopped off the bottoms of the legs, sewed them up, and resold them to a swag dealer who laid them out on a railing in Jacmel and resold them to me for 150 gourdes (about $3.75). These women’s pants probably started off in some sweat shop in Bangladesh or Taiwan and went on quite the journey before ending up on my body, now being the cause of multiple compliments. “Oh those pants look great on you… but aren’t the pockets a little small?”

So, now do I feel guilty that I am still wearing clothes that were probably originally made in labor conditions that were probably less than humane or do I find solace in the fact that at least a few Haitians made a few gourdes off of my purchase of these pants in the process? Do I accept that that’s just the world that we live in and do what I can with my meager budget or do I start sewing all of my own clothing out of bamboo fiber and potato sacks?

There are expats who take their fashion consciousness to this almost absurd extreme, making themselves look like they just popped out of a genie’s lamp or came from a 70’s hippie festival. And maybe in the grand scheme of things that route may be socially responsible but it still excludes the local market, which however imperfectly it fits into the global movement of goods, it is what is available to the local population that we are presuming to serve and represent. So I continue to believe that buying from them still has its merit however crooked the path may have been for the clothing to get to that point.

I have another American friend who works here that once introduced me to some visiting friends of his as “the only expat he knew that buys his clothes locally”. I took it as a compliment because I think I still look pretty damn good. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also enjoy a little retail therapy whenever I return to the States. I’ve still got plenty of those clothes from the department stores that aren’t very ethically produced and every time I travel I stock up on cheap t-shirts to bring back for my roommates. So I’m still part of the problem.

What does this even mean?

What does this even mean?

On my last trip to the US I bought some t-shirts for this purpose from Kohls and when I got back to my house to take the tags off I noticed one of the shirts was marked “Made in Haiti”. I could probably pinpoint the exact factory that it was made in and now I had purchased it in Iowa to take back to Haiti to give as a gift to one of my roommates. And I knew whoever received it would love it, it was a nice shirt. It brought to mind the Haitian proverb, “The donkey sweats so that the horse can be clothed with lace.” Some Haitian mother in another region of the country had gotten a job in a garment factory, probably hired by a Korean company, to make enough money to feed and clothe her own children by making clothes that would be shipped to the United States where I would buy them and carry them back to Haiti in my suitcase to give as a gift back to another young Haitian man who can’t afford to buy his own clothes, but still feels lucky to get “American” clothes because they’re more unique than what you find around here, even though I probably paid no more for the shirt at Kohls than I would have at the local market in Jacmel.

I may not know the particular woman who worked at the machine that made that shirt that I bought at Kohls, but I do know her. She is a woman who lives in every part of this country and would do absolutely anything, sacrifice her dignity and work like a dog to make even the most minimal amount of money, to be able to care for her family and send her kids to school. She doesn’t have any other choices and considers herself fortunate to have that opportunity however imperfect it may be. At the same time she’s tough enough to tell her boss to go screw himself if she feels mistreated and smart enough to walk away if she feels the situation isn’t good for her or her family.

So, does my purchase of the shirt made in Haiti condone an imperfect system in which she is provided an imperfect job where the alternative is no job, or would it be better to spend more money to buy some shirt that can be proven to be ethically made, possibly even in the US, thereby eliminating this Haitian mother from the cycle completely? It’s certainly not a cut and dry situation. As in most things in life there is plenty of grey area to be explored and discussed surrounding the issue and maybe no perfect solution that anyone can agree to. There are even some bright spots of some people trying to change the system and provide better alternatives that I hope can grow, but those might need to be the subject of a different blog post. For now, as long as we can all reach a consensus that without a doubt fanny packs and socks with sandals are injustices against humanity, all of the rest may just have to remain up for debate. Until a time when we can all live in fashionable, affordable, justice, may we continue to look good with the means that we have available to ourselves and continue to love one another no matter what we’re wearing.

So what’s the story of the shirt on your back or the swag on your shins? Have you ever had an identity crisis caused by the source of your clothing conflicting with your lifestyle?