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Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Ottawa, Canada
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Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Last Sunday, I was the woman of honour at the football field. I was escorted up to the highest level of the stand which had been created for Pope Paul II's visit in 1992. As all things Africa, it is covered in red dirt. They have found 4 plastic lawn chairs – most likely from a local cafe – so that I have a seat. I am kept company by G, the Programs Manager. All of this honouring is being done because upon arrival in Tanzania, I passed on two team sets of youth uniforms and various other donations from my community soccer team.

After the game, I am brought down to the teams. Coach explains that I brought the uniforms and supplies from Canada and that the games were to show their gratitude. The team captain speaks in english with the coach translating kiswahili for the team; then handshakes and “asante” all around. Uniforms can be bought here – relatively cheaply, but the work to obtain them is long and time consuming so donations are happily accepted. Balls only last 3 or 4 games as they are played on the soil rather than grass fields, and are expensive to buy here.

The special thing of this event is that Tanzanians are not known to be demonstrative in their appreciation. The fact that Coach organized this and that the donation was recognized publicly was a great gesture and quite uncommon. Other donation items were asked for and distributed to other projects and organizations but without a word of thanks or acknowledgement. Having heard of this beforehand, I was okay with it. The value to me was in providing the item, not participating in the use or having any control of the outcome.

Pearls of wisdom (warning – will not be palatable to all; but are my opinions, observations and experiences):

If you decide to bring items to donate; please understand that you should give over any emotional expectations. Gifts are generally opened in private afterwards and made little of, though some are learning to understand the Mzungu way of obvious signs of appreciation and thanks. If you want to see children playing with your donations – please don't expect it. The teachers or manager know best when and how they should be distributed or used and kids can only use so many toys, crayons or books at a time. Tanzanians do not put the same value on material possessions and they are not very organized, so things get damaged or lost – or used by another and not returned – this is, after all, a communal society. The environment of Tanzania is also very hard on things so things wear out or look bad very quickly. Please give it as a gift with no expectations and consider that unless it is something specifically requested then the best gift to bring is money so you can buy something here that is truly needed. I will also go onto a limb and suggest that we nix the concept that “anything regardless of how out of date, is better than nothing” I have been just as guilty of this way of thinking, but it is not the case. They are as much in need of current electronics, cameras or products as others. A computer with an old operating system that cannot support current software is no more useful in Africa than in our home country. Please, work with your company or NGO closely of what is relevant and useful and ask what type of reception or expectations you should expect. A generous gesture and spirit should not become clouded because of lack of acuity or insufficient information; but you might need a little self talk in preparation before you come with donations in hand.

Isle of Man, United...
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1. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Thanks QM. Lots of sound advice and practical advice there for the asking.

Toronto, Ontario
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2. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Hi Quiltingmamma

We are arriving in 2 weeks and the tour operator suggested that if we wanted to donate, soccer balls and used running shoes for children were very greatly appreciated. Apparently even used shoes cost $15. We will be visiting at least 1 school, and I am hoping the guide will assist us to distribute along our journey.

As Canadians, we live in such a different world, where we don't think about our used items as being a valuable. As for the soccer balls, they are new and hopefully they will add some joy to a few children's lives.

I'm not expecting anything in return, except perhaps a few smiles.

PS. I have been reading your posts with great interest. You are a noble woman for wanting to do a long term volunteering project. All the best.

Lancaster
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3. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Great post and really helpful to me.

Ottawa, Canada
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4. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Thanks. Penny, yes, new soccer balls would be very helpful. One day during soccer practice, most of the kids were wearing mis matched shoes, and sometimes only one shoe, so yes, any shoes would be great. It may be that you might not see the kids receive the items but you will get a big thank you and smiles from their teacher or coach. If there isn't enough to go around to all, then sometimes they accept the things privately and give them out on a needs basis. Hopefully, you will be able to deliver directly though.

Minneapolis...
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5. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

We left our soccer balls at a couple of schools and an orphanage - but next time we'll inflate a couple and keep them in the vehicle... we often saw groups of kids playing with the alternative - plastic garbage bags rolled and held together with rubber bands. We would have loved to just pull over and toss out a good ball and wave...

Minneapolis...
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6. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

and

Good tips, QM. We experienced what you are talking about. For example, at a very poor school out in the boonies we gave the headmaster a couple hundred pencils and pens and a couple soccer balls and a pump. The headmaster didn't really look at them, just very casually put them into his desk drawer and went on with our discussion.

We heard Karibu! (Welcome!) frequently, but Asante! (Thank you!) much less often... Quite different from other cultures we have experienced. In Latin America, the gracias-de nada (or in Costa Rica, gracias-con mucho gusto) can almost get tedious... different ethic in Tanzania...

So it really does make one get straight with the idea of a gift... of passing something on with no strings or expectations...

thanks again, QM!

Ohio
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7. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

A great message, QM. We carried over a large bag of school supplies and several soccer balls to a Maasai school. The teachers looked politely at the bag of supplies but got huge grins on their faces when they saw the balls.

I wish I had thought of the shoes. That is a GREAT suggestion. Next time, we will bring soccer balls and athletic shoes for the kids. I made a cash donation to the school besides bringing supplies, and I think the cash is the way to go. It was duly recorded in a guest registry, and we later received an email thanking us and saying that food had been purchased for the children's lunches.

north of Toronto
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8. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Thanks QM, we are in the process of putting together items for donating and soccer balls were part of our duffle bag. It was also suggested on another forum to bring personal hygene products for girls, what is your opinion? Any other suggestions would be helpful.

nyc
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9. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Besides personal items for girls, consider tooth brushes and paste. Maybe your dentist has samples he/she can donate. Or find these in the Travel Dept of your local chain store... rather inexpensve at about $1-2.

Toronto, Ontario
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10. Re: Mzungu queen for an afternoon; or on the topic of donations

Thanks to QM and everyone else on this forum. I've learned so much about Tanzania, our itinerary, tips for packing, etc, etc. The advice on donations has been particulary useful and I'm really pleased that the shoes and soccer balls were suggested. I was a bit concerned about taking an entire large duffel bag over there and then saying... what do we do now?

Does anyone know if we will have any problem at customs?