What to send sponsored child in Zimbabwe?
November 1, 2013 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to send a package to my newly sponsored World Vision child (a girl) in Zimbabwe. I don't know what I should send, and I don't know what I can send.

I haven't received my info package in the mail yet and I can't find clear information on the World Vision site. I don't even know who to call with my questions, which is why I'm turning here. I'd like to send soap, vitamins, toothpaste/toothbrushes and medicine right away, but don't know if this is allowed and I worry especially about things like vitamins and medicine being taken improperly or just being unsuitable.

I like to do as much as I can right off the bat here to help my child and her family become healthier. I am worried about nutrition and sanitation for them. Of course I will send some notepads, stickers etc and the like too.

I'm sure there are people here who know how this is done. Your advice is appreciated. Thanks.
posted by kitcat to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My old work used to organise a "send a Christmas Box" donation drive. Nothing perishable, and I don't think we were allowed to put candies in. No medicines, IIRC. Not used stuff.

Toothpaste and toothbrushes were popular. Pens and pencils and notebooks. Soap. Unisex t-shirts and clothing. Toys. Games. Books.

Also, I remember being told that the stuff I carefully packed didn't go to a specific child. It's a device to get donations of stuff and they basically repack the boxes to even stuff out.

There are lots of ideas here.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:36 PM on November 1, 2013

The website suggests that your sponsorship guide will tell you what to send and how to get it to your child. Customs duties make it nearly impossible to send anything substantial.
I think anything medical would be problematic.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:45 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

This won't cover everything, but here is the Postal Service's link to Country Conditions for Mailing — Zimbabwe.
The prohibitions section says:

Articles made in prisons.

Coins; bank notes; currency notes (paper money); securities of any kind payable to bearer; traveler’s checks; platinum, gold, and silver (manufactured or not); precious stones; jewelry; and other valuable articles are prohibited in all classes of mail, including Priority Mail Express International shipments, that are mailed to Zimbabwe.

Firearms except under permit.


Lottery tickets or circulars relating to lotteries.

Perishable infectious biological substances.

Another one of their pages about International Mail says "Prescription medications can only be mailed by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registered entities. Similar regulations may apply to over-the-counter medications."
posted by soelo at 1:54 PM on November 1, 2013

I have always thought about what the child would like and might not be available to them, rather than what would be good for them. So basically, try to think of it like buying a gift for a child who lives far away, rather than a "sponsored child". The things you mention are well-intentioned, but it's up to the project to use your sponsorship money for health needs as required. I'd definitely not consider vitamins, for many reasons.

They recommend things that are small and flat to save custom duties at the other side, so I tend to get an A5 sized envelope and see what I can get to fit it. Things that children love to get but which might be a luxury are colouring pencils/crayons, stickers, small pieces of costume jewellery like little beaded bracelets or necklaces, badges, small toys or jigsaws. Writing paper is often in short supply so your idea about notebooks is a good one. Postcards of where you live are also nice, and a picture of yourself and family is nice especially for the first present. Also they ask you not to wrap the presents as they are sent to the project first and then distributed and they need to know what they are giving out. Happy shopping :)
posted by billiebee at 2:47 PM on November 1, 2013

This is the link to the World Vision what to send/what not to send list and it does state no toiletries or medicines.
posted by billiebee at 2:56 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hey there, I don't know if you're aware of this, but the "sponsorship" arrangement is much, much looser than you may be led to believe from the marketing material you receive - at least, this has been the case for many years; I don't know if it has changed recently.

Generally speaking, you are not buying anything for "your" child per se. Funds go into different projects which are typically community based, i.e your funding could help build a well in a town, or perhaps funding some resources for an entire school. The reason for this is that it's far more efficient funding things that benefit a whole community, rather than one person. The reason it's promoted as one person is because people are far more likely to respond if they have an idea some kid in africa is getting a pair of shoes because of their generosity (this can happen, but it's unusual).

This is a roundabout way of saying that anything that will benefit the community is a good thing to send - though having said that I would enjoin you not to send any second hand stuff, and to be completely honest, I would really think twice about sending anything at all.

I know it feels good and like you are taking an active in hand in making a difference, but the biggest need in these communities and charities is money. It sounds so... cold, but honestly money is the best donation you can possibly make.

Think about the cost of buying this stuff in the US vs buying it Africa, and then the cost of sending it over through the mail, only to find that the community already has toothbrushes or whatever - what they really need is a generator pump for the well that will enable them to stop drinking cholera-filled water. And then World Vision has to use their own resources to manage all the gifts that come flooding in from international donors, allocating them to the right people, tracking them through domestic shipping and postage, working out what to do when/if they go astray etc.

Money can provide all the same things - usually cheaper - and it comes with none of the pitfalls and challenges of gifts. It really is the greatest gift you can give for international charity.

I don't know if World Vision solicit for this in other countries - if so, feel free to disregard this answer - but here in Australia they certainly don't.

If you have other questions, mefite allkindsoftime works for World Vision, and I have memailed him, he might drop in with his take on things. Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 2:57 PM on November 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

This is not a Douglas Adams inspired joke, it is one of the suggestions for a charity box: a towel.
posted by Cranberry at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2013

I'm with smoke on this - giving money to World Vision is the most effective gift you can give. It's probably better to spend $5 on a polio vaccine than a notebook, and the charity will be able to source things like toothpaste much, much more cheaply in Zimbabwe (things like vitamins, toiletries etc do exist in these countries, it's only cost that makes them luxuries).

Having said all of that, if you want to make the process of sponsoring your child a little bit magical for them, send them / their community a picture of your family, your town and tell them about your life. The most mundane things that you do - going to the beach, what you have for breakfast, building a snowman - will be OUT! OF! THIS! WORLD! interesting and exotic to some kid who's possibly never even been on the internet.

Good luck - you're doing a truly wonderful thing in sponsoring this child, and the positive effect you will have on them and their community cannot be overestimated.
posted by matthew.alexander at 3:30 PM on November 1, 2013

I do a similar sponsorship program for a child in a similar country, and we're really encouraged to just send letters, maybe with something like stickers or hair-ribbons but nothing over the top. The program I support with my monthly donation is what helps with sanitation, nutrition, etc., and my sponsored girl benefits along with the rest of her community. I tuck very small things, like a little sheet of stickers, in with my occasional letter and my sponsored girl has sent me ecstatic thank you notes about how she's shared them with her friends. And if I include pictures of my similarly-aged nephew, she is over the moon. Pictures showing our weather, like changing leaves and snow are also really well received!

And truly - the letters she sends me back are so wonderful. We have similar first names, and she calls me her "name-mate." The little stories about what she's up to with her crew of friends - just snippets, tiny glimpses into a life I can't even imagine - really stick with me. I was on the fence about sponsoring and I'm so glad I did it.
posted by kittyb at 3:36 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Along the same lines as stickers: band aids with stuff on them. Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, etc.
posted by artychoke at 4:19 PM on November 1, 2013

We run a letter mentoring program, and the letters are the most important part, not any stuff in it. Stickers are awesome, photographs of your own family, especially children, are great, cute postcards too. Anything bulkier is a pain for the people processing the letters.

But the biggest part is writing regularly. Most people only write once or twice a year. The kids love these letters so much. Sending letters every month, even a brief note with some stickers - huge. Buy some adorable stationary, pre-address and stamp them and put them somewhere you will notice regularly to write her a quick note.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:22 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

*worked for WV (ftfy, smoke)

smoke pretty much nailed it and clearly has first-person insight to how child sponsorship works in the field, at least for WV. I don't work there any more but I did for the past 5 years and I was in Zim a few times (along with 20 or so of their other National Offices in Africa).

Speaking broadly, many WV offices do facilitate sponsor direct gift giving to sponsored children, but in my estimation this is more to keep the sponsors themselves happy than the kids taken care of. So, if it means keeping your $50/month of income, if WV Zimbabwe can pay some poor guy to sort through all this mess as it arrives in country (you better believe most sponsors aren't going to do as much concerted research as you already have), they'll figure out a way to do it.

Again, broadly. If you're in Canada, your money is going to WV Canada and then eventually from them to Zimbabwe, and you can generally expect your gifts to go the same route. I assume this is what you mean, if you somehow got an address for WV Zimbabwe or any other entity in-country, DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT send anything via international mail yourself. I would personally guarantee you this would get open by the Zim postal service and/or customs and anything of value would never reach its intended address.

To repeat smoke, money is what is needed and will best help the actual situation of your child on the ground. Unfortunately it's also the resource that is most prone to corruption, and I don't for a second mean just in Zimbabwe or any other 3rd world country. Neither do I mean just WV, or WV in particular. This is not a positive nor negative comment about WV or any other organization, but my perspective on the industry in general. Of course, if you want to know more about this, you can me-mail me.

As a last thought, my work in the field with WV was focused on supply chain (how things get where they need to go), so maybe I'm uniquely positioned to offer you an interesting thought exercise. You mentioned notepads, so let's use that example - but really you can apply this to anything - vehicles for WV staff, nutritional supplements, mosquito nets, school supplies, whatever.

What does WV need to do today in Zimbabwe? Well, get school supplies and supplements and whatnot to your sponsored child. They need staff and vehicles and whatnot to do that. What is WV's end goal in Zimbabwe? The development and self-sufficiency of the country and its populace at large. Speaking broadly (ad nauseum, sorry), if WV were to accomplish their end goal, they wouldn't need to be in Zimbabwe any more and you could start sponsoring a kid in Niger or wherever else was next worse off or closer to your heart, right?

This is where I've always seen a swinging scale, as it were, in WV and NGOs at large that nobody ever seems to get quite right. Your kid needs those notepads, so where are we going to get them? Well, WV Zim probably has about 50-75 Area Development Programs (ADPs), all of which maybe work with a couple hundred kids each. Each of those kids needs those notepads. How can we get them cheapest, so that your money can go the furthest? The first thought of course is to get them free, from you, or maybe even better directly from 3M as a corporate Gift-In-Kind (GIK), but then you have to figure out the logistics of getting a notepad from Calgary to Harare, and its not a very cheap notepad anymore.

The next idea, of course, is to buy in bulk on a negotiated contract with a centralized supplier in the country or perhaps the region. This is what we call strategic sourcing and many categories of supply are being moved towards this.

Now, your kid, let's say he/she is in Zvishavane, or wherever WV happens to be working. Maybe his single mother works in the local stationary factory, who employs maybe 20 other people in the community. We used to buy from him, and this kid's mom had a job, and so did 60-100 other kids' parents, and the local business community was developing thanks to at least one fledgling supplier in at least one industry. But now we take that business to Joe Mbwechmo in Harare or maybe for an even lower price to some regional guy in South Africa. Or maybe we don't buy those at all any more and we rely wholly on the GIK.

What's best for your kid?

The answer is "it's complicated." And it depends on the country, and the category of item (vehicles and IT are easy answers, notepads not so much), and the context, and the timing, and etc. etc. etc.. And who knows how detailed you want to get? And...whether or not people are going to be happy about you getting that detailed is another discussion altogether.

Tl,dr: your kid needs money. The money needs accountability. The former is easy to give, the latter is lot harder to get.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:54 AM on November 11, 2013

Good heavens I am the cynic now. Yes yes yes to stickers and photos and other heart-warming things that keep your heart in it. Do this.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:56 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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