a VirtualTourist member from Edmonton
Im planning a long trip of backpacking through Central and South America with my boyfriend and have been wondering what is 'acceptable' to give to kids and families in need of clothes, books, toys, diapers, school supplies, ect.
Also, i will be backpacking, so i can imagine it would be difficult to carry all the extra weight around with me. Has anyone tried buying things IN the country and giving them away there?
Also is it acceptable to approach people and give them things?
You are correct to suspect that cheap clothes are available in almost all LA countries -- either new Chinese (etc.) junk or used US or European clothes imported in bulk.. And to recognize that carrying lots of stuff just to give away is impractical. Of course, giving to individuals requires sensitivity and some common sense (Do not just start handing things out on the street; you do not want to cause a frenzy or riot.) School supplies can be cheap and readily available. Finding out what is needed can be a challenge, but the effort can be rewarding.
If you are going to carry something it should be worth the effort by being either unique or hard to get in the countries by either the people or organizations you hope to help, or something you will use and then give away like a USA t-shirt or cap and replace with one from the country being visited.
For small things, I prefer pens over candy. I will carry a couple in my pocket and find an excuse to give a pen in gratitude to a young reader. (For example, I might ask a child where something is, make a little note on my map or book and then give the child the pen while saying thank you.)
(I have written more on this question of how to donate/share when traveling on my VT pages, so you might want to check it out.)
I agree with Melosh, don't bring anything into the country. Only if you have contacted NGO's and they tell you they can't get something in Guatemala. The materials you suggest you can find here easily and are pretty cheap. You can always leave behind clothes when you're going back home, throw nothing away, even if it has holes! They can use it to repair clothes or other practical stuff. The space you have now you can fill with typical Guatemalan textiles and souvenirs.
But about giving away things, be careful, everybody wants free stuff, even if they can afford it. Not everybody is poor! The best thing is to try to get in contact with an NGO en give through them. They are here for a long time, and they know who really needs things most. It's nice to give things yourself, but there are plenty of examples in the world, where you can't walk over street as a tourist and be bothered by kids asking for candies and pens.
Giving is great, but in the past there are examples that just giving doesn't help. People just ask for new things when the old ones are broken. Subsidizing and sponsoring seems to work better. If the local people have to pay a little bit they're more careful with what they get. You can give money for kids to go to school, but there is no guarantee the parents really use the money for school. If they can proof they are really attending school and you buy the materials for them, you will be more sure somebody is getting educated.
I am sorry if I seem a little pessimistic, but there are a lot of examples like these.
Stickers, balloons, pencils... all great items to give to kids.