What bulk item will satisfy the mobs of children and my guilt?
June 14, 2009 7:42 AM   Subscribe

What bulk item can I bring with me to Ghana to hand out to begging children? Toothbrushes? Food? Toys?

Soon I'll be traveling to Ghana (West Africa) to work with a sexual health organization doing HIV awareness stuff. The last time I was there, I felt very guilty and overwhelmed by all of the children (generally ages 4-10) who would follow me and ask for things.

I'd like to bring something with me to give out. No, I can't give them condoms. Requirements:

-Can be bought in bulk online or in person (Indianapolis)
-Can be taken on a plane
-Not ultimately destructive e.g. sugary candy harms teeth, choking hazards, something so valuable its taken and sold by others.
-Low cost, max $1 per item as I'd like to have at least 100 of them.

Thanks, MeFites!
posted by BusyBusyBusy to Shopping (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
notebooks and pencils/crayons
posted by Planet F at 7:44 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a US Toy in Skokie, but I'm sure any teacher supply store will have more than enough little toys and trinkets for the kids. You can also order in bulk from the Oriental Trading Company. On the other hand, I think you've got a good idea with those toothbrushes.
posted by The White Hat at 8:05 AM on June 14, 2009

Seconding crayons and pads.
posted by fire&wings at 8:07 AM on June 14, 2009

posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:20 AM on June 14, 2009

Mini inflatable beachballs. Tons of fun and you can get 100 for 34.99 + 8.99 in shipping. They'll fold up flat and be light weight so they won't be too hard to transport in luggage and pockets once you're Ghana.

Also, these finger puppets all look awesome.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 8:34 AM on June 14, 2009

Best answer: If you bring toothbrushes, the thing I read in a DIY dental manual [for peace corps people? missionaries? somebody, anyway] was that you should only get toothbrushes with really soft bristles to prevent gum damage.

Also, really little brushes are better for reaching everywhere and not being stolen by bigger kids.

crayons are great, and I once brought like a million balloooons for making animals out of [you don't have to be good at it - the same shape with small variations gets you 'dog', 'weiner dog', 'giraffe', 'horse', 'cow', 'cat', etc.], but crayons or toothbrushes sound much better for where you're going.

Maybe ask at a restaurant that has those little plastic-wrapped packages of just 3 crayons where they order them from. That's a good number of crayons to get.
posted by Acari at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2009

sugary candy harms teeth

Is this really much of a concern, given how rarely (I presume) they would eat it? I get the inclination to only give them something that will help them, but man, kids really love sweets, and I feel like it would be nice for them to have maybe just one thing that was a pure and unadulterated luxury.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever you end up bringing, remember that most likely, their garbage collection/removal system is inefficient at best, and at worst, non-existent. Aim for things that they'll either keep for a while or are completely consumable - crayons and notepads are good, plastic-wrapped food items or toys are not.

Also, see if there are things you can bring that can be given to groups, rather than individuals. I spent some time in a church community in rural Haiti, and the priest strongly preferred that we not give things to individual children; inevitably, we'd end up visited by the same children repeatedly, or they would fight over the gifts, or smaller/less-mobile children would end up with nothing. Instead, he asked that we bring things the children could use as a group, and hopefully use repeatedly; this meant soccer balls, regular kickballs, small bat and baseball, jump ropes, one of those big colorful parachutes... there are many possibilities. This works best if you set up specific "playtimes" for all, so again, one small group doesn't grab a bunch of soccer balls and run off. Good luck!
posted by sarahsynonymous at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I do Oriental Trading Company orders for this sort of thing.

Pencils and sharpeners as well as small notepads always seemed to go over well.
posted by k8t at 9:01 AM on June 14, 2009

I've always enjoyed handing out noisy toys: usually an assortment of nose flutes, slide whistles, plastic harmonicas, and rhythm eggs. The cacophany that follows is a lot of fun.
posted by ecmendenhall at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2009

Big balloons. While the balloons for animal making is a good idea, frequently kids have never had a really big balloon to play with. Either the ones indicated for helium, or the kind that with an elastic that you put beans into and bang around, are both good.
posted by kch at 12:01 PM on June 14, 2009

Pens and candy are huge hits in rural India. Also cards with my name and address. Next time, I'm bringing self-addressed stamped cards. Another great thing to do is take pictures of kids, ask them to write down their address, and mail them their photo when you get back.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2009

Bubble blowing solution can be fun - either as a give away or as a demo.

[For me I find this question a difficult combination of "What will be best the kids (and their parents)?", "What will give the best experience for me and my traveling companions?" and "What will be best for those travelers who come after me?". Kids who live in villages which are frequently visited by travelers will often pester tourists for pens, sweets, etc and the whole experience can be a lot less idyllic than many might think.]
posted by rongorongo at 2:01 PM on June 14, 2009

Best answer: I used to live in Ghana.

Please, please do not bring something to just give out. If you give them something, it will only further encourage this activity.

Anecdote 1: Ada Foah, Ghana. My housemate and I are walking to town and an 8-year-old asks for money. We decline, and he then says, give me money or I will cut you.

Anecdote 2: Havana, Cuba. Not Ghana, but same thing happens there. Sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the noon sun to pass over. Mother pushes her child towards us from around the corner to ask for money. This girl should be in school, but she is not, because her mother finds it more profitable to send her out begging.

Please realize that such free handouts encourage this kind of activity and discourage independence, entrepreneurship, etc.

So please, do not do this. if you feel you HAVE to, keep in mind some of the points above: garbage collection in Ghana sucks, so give something with no trash or biodegradable. Also, I would buy whatever you want there, so you can at least put some money into the economy somewhere in Ghana. Last, I would come up with something you can do with them for a few minutes (make a paper crane?) so you can at least interact, instead of throwing them cheap crap and going away. Taking pictures with or of them is also really appreciated, and doubly so if you can be bothered to get their address and send them a copy.
posted by whatzit at 3:33 PM on June 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I strongly agree with whatzit. The adventure travel company I work in has a very strict policy about advising our clients NOT to bring gifts for children. So often I have witnessed the following: travelers arrive in remote destination bearing cheapie gifts. Kids swarm travelers. The joy of seeing kids smile last for all of 7 seconds as chaos ensues, pushing and shoving gets out of control, etc. Travelers leave 5 minutes later, confused and upset that the experience felt too overwhelming. Yes, even scary.

Here is what I recommend:

If you have a digital camera, take pictures of the kids. Show them the pics. This always elicits smiles all around. So many of the people I've met in remote places have never seen themselves. The gift you're giving costs you nothing, but it'll be a moment none of them will ever forget.

If you are still intent on distributing gifts, I also suggest that if you've got a "handler" or guide with you, that he/she takes a minute to introduce you and to set some rules in place to keep order. It doesn't take away the joy of spontaneity, but it will keep you from getting hurt and from people taking advantage of the moment.

You're already giving the people of Ghana something more valuable than candy, a pen, or a balloon - your commitment, time and your earnest effort to help stop the spread of AIDS.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:55 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Please, please do not bring something to just give out. If you give them something, it will only further encourage this activity.

Nthing. I live in Africa and have worked in Ghana, and could give you a seemingly endless list of anecdotes.

Support people selling stuff on the street - buy your fruits and veggies from the street stalls rather than the ShopRite. If you need something simple, thanks to Accra's horrible traffic, there's likely someone walking down the street selling whatever it is you need.

There's plenty of ways to assuage your guilt that help the community and don't serve to foster this issue.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:20 AM on June 15, 2009

Perhaps there's some way the OP could give out candy/toys and not encourage begging- maybe giving the things to a local charity or church to hand out to the local kids instead?
posted by tachikoma_robot at 1:29 AM on June 15, 2009

I agree with those that say not to give out individual things to anyone. It encourages begging and they will learn that the most persistent annoying aggressive kids get more stuff. Ive' seen kids get into fights, other kids take form smaller kids etc. I've also seen tourists throwing kids pens from a boat in India and as the kids ran alongside the boat I noticed that one of them had about 5 pens in his hands. He may use them, but I'm betting he sold them. I'm pretty sure he didn't give them to the little kids trailing behind with nothing.

I've also seen kids take whatever it is, unwrap it and throw the wrapper on the ground. This will happen even if you explain not to throw the wrapper away.

If you really want to contribute bring school supplies to a local school and give it to the teacher. Even better if you buy it locally to support the local shops.

The best thing you can do is give in some way (not to individuals) and be at peace with it. You will never be able to help everyone. I've traveled to a lot of developing countries and never gave kids treats. I got over feeling guilty quickly (same goes with adult beggars). Once the aggressive kids realize you don't have anything they will leave. If some other kids actually seem to hang around why not engage them in conversation, teach them words in your language, play a game with them. Kids love it when I draw a quick portrait of them. I've sat down and drawn with little girls in Uzbekistan (I gave them a piece of paper and pencil to draw with). This was a great way to spend time with local kids and share yourself with them. Granted, the kids stole my pencil after that (man, it was really hard to find another pencil in Uzbekistan, as strange as that sounds!).
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

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