By Larissa Check
Elm Staff Writer
Considering the amount of time I spend “working” in any given area, I find myself noticing the finer details of my surroundings. It was at that point in my studies that I saw the marketing advertisement on five large containers in support for the charity drive “Shoes for Ghana.”
Immediately the first thing I acknowledged was the stereotypical “cry for help” picture of a couple of African children in reflection of the poverty–stricken country they just so happen to be unfortunate enough to find themselves in. It seems most people have come to believe every stereotype regarding Africa as a land full of destitution, poverty, diseases, and starvation.
In my opinion, it is disheartening, but fully expected because most westerners are enticed by the rather romanticized visions of Africa that we only see on the National Geographic channel and read about in books. However, this means many people are ignoring the beauty and complexity of Africa.
I am not from Ghana, but I was born in a different West African country, and when I see these generic photos, I see a reflection of an inner self. I like to think of myself as a “two-part self,” nurtured by different cultures—a cross cultural hybrid of being a West African and a westernized African.
Looking back at the picture, the little girl staring at me ignited the spark in my thinking. As a child I do not remember a time when I almost starved to death, but really wished I had a pair of shoes to help me walk around far and wide and fetch for food. I decided to do my own research on the sponsoring organization, Perpetual Prosperity Pumps Foundation, and was very impressed with the fact that they use the proceeds to support “training in Regenerative Agricultural practice, irrigation, and organic farming,” which would eventually increase harvest.
I was highly satisfied with that part of the equation, but I remain very skeptical about the true nature of the “shoe away hunger approach” to this organization.
Some charity organizations have heavily misleading components, and looking at the container ads, it seems to be claiming that donating your used but not abused shoes to poor Ghanaian children can “lift a family out of poverty forever,” “improve the economy of Ghana,” and is in turn going “green” by recycling the shoes, and creating sustainability training programs! Wow, although these big containers are not 100% recyclable, it seems like it all works out for everyone, right?
Wrong. There are so many things wrong with this notion. First, to go “green” means we have to have to rethink the way we make things so that they are more environmentally friendly. Sustainability is effectively managing the resources of a given area in order to adequately support the population within its carrying capacity. “Shoes for Ghana” somewhat supports sustainability, but it is definitely not support “ going green” because all we are doing is taking our unwanted shoes (used, but not abused) and sending them to be reused by “poorer” kids, which would eventually become waste product for them to deal with.
I therefore speak for the undeniable reflection of my childhood self on that container photo, in saying that if these shoes are not biodegradable, we would rather walk on bare feet! That, in my opinion, is a lot more “greener” than dumping away our unrecyclable polysynthetic compounds into our home soil. The use of synthetic raw materials is “less biodegradable,” and the materials used to make mass-produced shoes generally take “1000 years to degrade.” Some may or may not degrade at all.
As an aside, the shoes I wore in my childhood were locally made with natural raw materials such as rubber. They were comfortable, and even fashionable.
When I think about it, I would donate my “used but not abused” shoes, on one exception; they have to stay in America. We should take off our veil of ignorance in blindly supporting any cause that comes our way. They may carry a seemingly attractive message, but the cause may actually be damaging to the recipients in the long run.
Volume LXXXI Issue 16