Friday, November 8, 2013

Operation Christmas Child

Samaritan's Purse has been around the globe many times over trying to convert heathens and shine God's light into the darkness ie. impoverished places with a lack of Christianity. While I don't agree with evangelizing people, especially vulnerable children who then try to convert their parents, I do like the idea of giving a gift to a child far away. (And I think Samaritan's Purse exaggerates how many people they've actually converted. Just because a child takes a free bible study course and signs a piece of paper, doesn't mean they've truly converted their heart and mind and soul. If I was poor and starving, I would say yes to anything that gave me a free gift too.)

Despite being an atheist, I decided to put together some of those famous shoe boxes for 3 lucky girls and 3 lucky boys aged 10-14. I did a lot of research for this project because I wanted the boxes to be of good value. The suggestion list on the Samaritan's Purse website was not very comprehensive and I found a lot of ideas elsewhere. The best ideas came from those who actually helped hand out the boxes to the kids and saw their reactions when they got opened.

It is suggested that I include some hygiene items such as soap, a face cloth, and toothbrush. However, the soap stinks up everything in the box and the children often don't use their soap if the smell is too strong. In many parts of the world, face cloth aren't used, so when children find these in their boxes they think they're rags and don't know what to do with them. Also, sending hygiene supplies sends the message that the way they clean themselves is not good enough and the Western way is superior.

What I included from this category: Mom gave me some hotel soap, a sponge, and some toothbrushes, so I put those in, but not every box got it. Each box got tissues and a First Aid kid and I added reusable sanitary napkins and cloth storage bag for the girls' kits.

It is suggested that I include various school supplies. School supplies are the most popular thing to add to the shoe box. They're in high demand and everyone cherishes them, so I wanted to put in as much as I could. Mom contributed quite a bit for this one working at a school and all.

What I included from this category: Each box got a handful of pens, pencils, package of pencil crayons, an eraser, pencil sharpener, notepad, scribblers, stickers, crayons, markers, and a pencil case. Not too shabby.

It is suggested that I include something soft for the child to immediately hug like a doll or stuffed animal. Toys are not the most popular things in the shoe boxes. Most children just don't know what to do with a stuffed animal or doll. Days are spent trying to find food and taking care of younger siblings, not playing make-believe and hugging stuff. Plus, I feel like most dolls sold in N.A. are not appropriate at all. Blonde hair and blue eyes with ivory skin, sexy outfits, make-up... not very relate-able.

What I included from this category: My shoe boxes were for older kids so I included 2 or 3 things like, travel magnet games like checkers, wooden dominos with animals instead of dots, Jenga, jump ropes, hacky sack, Sudoka puzzles, and connect the dot colouring books. I figured the missionaries could teach the kids how to play if they were interested, or maybe they'd figure it out for themselves, and if not, they could always sell or trade the toys to someone for food.

It is suggested that I include clothes, candy, and a photograph of my family and a short note. A lot of people add full outfits, pajamas, shoes, and socks. You're really taking a gamble adding these things because you don't know where your box is going or what size to get. (Apparently God makes sure the right box gets to the right child.) I don't believe that, so I chose not to include those things and just get something more universal.

What I included from this category: I added Cooler-style tote bags, (apparently sometimes the boxes get damaged and at least the child will have a way to carry all of their stuff home,) a large variety of hard candy, water bottles, and work gloves. For the girls' I added hair barrettes and head bands, wooden beads, assortment of embroidery thread, bamboo spoons and spatulas, bamboo skewers, and some necklaces I never wear. For the boys' I added twine and a solar powered flashlight.

I also wrote a short note that says: We hope you enjoy your gift! It was fun putting it together for you. Have a great year and best wishes to you and your family. Much love. And then I used Google Translate to translate the message into the 9 different languages of the countries these boxes could go to. (I read some missionaries have an overwhelmingly amount of translating to do, so I thought I'd make it simple for my boxes.) Some people send an international stamp and stationary so the child can write them back and thank them, but that would cost me another $12, so I doubt I'll do that. (Though I do love mail and pen pals!)

I wanted my gift to be practical. Everything could be sold or traded if it couldn't be used by them and that's what was really important to me. I wanted it all to be useful somehow and not some trinkety junky shit. A lot of people add kids meal toys, and random toys from the dollar store, but those aren't made to last and a lot of it isn't even culturally appropriate. (Kids have been known to eat Play-dough and Silly Putty for example since they don't know what it is or what it's for.) And I don't know why, but a lot of people think it's okay to include battery operated toys with an extra set of batteries. Once the batteries are dead, that toy is useless. There are no batteries to buy where these kids live. With Tesla's toys, her batteries are dead within months. It seems like a waste of a gift to me.

Each box cost me $21.67 to fill. The suggested minimum donation of $7.00 per box to help cover the cost of shipping would mean I'd have to pay $42 to the ministry. I'd get a tax receipt for it, but because this is optional and I'm atheist I don't want to the give the ministry anything. I'm already giving to the children. I bought the supplies and put it in the box. What they do with it from there is up to them I guess. (Or God?)

What these poor communities really need is money. I was willing to spend $130 on stuff for complete strangers who don't live in my country, yet I won't give $40 cash. That $130 would go so much further there compared to the things I bought here with it. That's just how we Westerners roll though. The way I see it, 100% of my gift is going to a child, where as only a percentage of my cash donation would actually go to the child and the rest would go to administration type stuff.

Samaritan's Purse's number one objective is to spread the gospel. That's what they use their money for and it's listed clearly on their website. Helping impoverished people get access to clean water, livestock, ect is just a by-product of their true goals. They give gifts as a way of accessing communities to convert others. Here's a goat, it's a gift from above, now listen to my sermon.

There is an "optional" 12 week bible study course the kids can take. It's a big deal with a graduation ceremony afterwards, including cap, gown, and certificate. Apparently 9 out of 10 kids are coerced into doing it. I guess I'm hoping that my 6 boxes will go to the kids that are in that 10% that choose not to go. Either way, I won't ever be making shoe boxes for Samaritan's Purse again. It was fun putting the boxes together, but there are better ways to give and make a difference and definitely better charities as well.

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