This excellent article by Jessica Lockhart -about the dangers and challenges of gift giving was first published in Verge Magazine important advice for anyone planning to give or send gifts to thier host family, projects or friends made whilst volunteering…………….
Presents given with the best intentions can have disastrous results.
Four months after Angela McKay* returned from her volunteer placement in Fiji, she decided to send a Christmas package to her host family.
She wanted to say thanks, in some small way. While she was overseas, they had shared meals with her, helped her navigate cultural differences and most importantly, given her with a sense of family in a foreign place. Sending a care package was the very least that she could do.
After boxing up some maple sugar candies and school supplies, McKay slipped some leftover currency in the card. She was unlikely to return to the South Pacific in the near future, so she figured that it was better off in the hands of her host family.
The late night phone calls started shortly afterwards.
“My host mom began calling my parents’ house and asking for money,” she later told me. “She wanted to buy a house.”
It was months before McKay’s family was able to navigate the language and cultural barriers in order to fully explain that they weren’t in the financial position to help. But by then, it was too late—the relationship would never be the same.
Chances are that if you’ve ever visited a developing country, you’ve heard—or experienced—some version of this story. Gifts are almost always given with the best of intentions, but have the potential for disastrous results. The influx of “stuff” into a community can create a sense of dependency on international volunteers. Tension and conflict may arise when some beneficiaries receive gifts and others do not. And more often than not, the gifts that are given are not actually the gifts that are needed.
If you’re volunteering overseas or planning to visit a developing country, determining what gifts to present to new friends, host families and community partners can be a struggle.
Here are our top gift-giving tips for international volunteers:
Do: Always check with your volunteer organization first.
Don’t: Make assumptions about community needs.
Do: Choose useful presents instead of frivolous trinkets.
Don’t: Hand out supplies without conferring with community partners first.
Do: Instead of giving gifts, give prizes.
Don’t: Pack a bag full of dollar store goodies.
Do: Share a skill instead.
*Name and some details have been changed.