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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 17:42 GMT
Do goats make great gifts?
By Stephanie Busari
BBC News

Ethical gifts are billed as the perfect antidote to the conspicuous consumerism of the festive season.

A goat
Goats are a popular gift choice
Whether buying a goat for a family in Africa, or the materials to build a toilet, we are told that these simple items can make a big difference to people in developing countries.

Such presents have been growing in popularity and last year Oxfam sold 3.9m worth of ethical gifts from its Unwrapped range.

The charity has this year launched a celebrity-led campaign to encourage more of us to send useful gifts - which may include items such as dung, condoms or even a can of worms - to help communities in the developing world.

However UK-based education charity Worldwrite says that far from being welcome, these gifts are often seen as "demeaning and patronising".

Volunteers from the charity travelled to Ghana to make a series of documentaries investigating life at the receiving end of these gifts.

Demeaning

Two of the films, called Keeping Africa Small, and I'm A Subsistence Farmer - Get Me Out of Here premiered at the Rich Mix cinema in London on Sunday.

Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty
Godbless Ashier
Ghanaian teacher

The films offer a critical look at the work of charities and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the country, with people such as shanty town dwellers and media professionals airing their views.

In Keeping Africa Small, one man says he was given a grasscutter, a rodent like animal, to breed and sell to provide food for his family.

Charity director Ceri Dingle claims this is a prime example of how aid workers do not take into account the dreams and ambitions of people in developing countries.

Worldwrite director Ceri Dingle
Worldwrite director Ceri Dingle says ethical gifts are patronising
She says: "Giving someone a grasscutter to feed their family reinforces the assumption that these people are not like us.

"Would you like a grasscutter for Christmas? People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too.

"Giving these things assume they want to continue to scrape by on the land. Survival is not development."

People in the developing world are like us - they know the sorts of things we have and they want them too
Ceri Dingle, Worldwrite

As local teacher Godbless Ashie puts it in the film: "Africans have big brains, big aspirations and want to live in liberty."

Ms Dingle also argues that far from encouraging development, buying someone a goat or a hoe for Christmas only conspires to keep recipients at the same subsistence levels year after year.

However, Oxfam fundraising director Cathy Ferrier said: "The items included in Oxfam Unwrapped are identified as needed by the communities that we work with and to say we are being patronising and demeaning is misleading and confusing for consumers.

"Oxfam Unwrapped is a popular gift range where people can support Oxfam's work and it is a fun way to support charity at this time of year."

'Passive and obedient'

The film portrayed Ghanaians who had aspirations beyond living in mud huts and toiling the soil with hoes and cutlasses to survive.

The filmmakers also claimed that however well intentioned NGOs and charities were, they felt some projects epitomised "low horizons" and irritated locals who say they are offered "peanuts" with endless "accountability" and "target" forms to fill out.

Worldwrite's views are echoed by Ghanaian De Roy Kwesi Andrew, a teacher and translator, who says: "Our people and government have become merely the passive, obedient pupils to be preached to."

Do you trust people you are trying to help and give the cash to them directly or do you give gifts in kind where you know how the gifts will be used
Adam Rothwell, Intelligent Giving

However, development organisations claim they do listen to local communities and provide what they ask for only after extensive consultation.

Jane Mayo of ActionAid said: "We don't impose our solutions on people, everything we give, whether it be money or in kind would be what the communities have asked for."

One of ActionAid's bestsellers last year was a donkey and a cart, which were supplied to women in Ghana, Guatemala and Mozambique, she said.

Ms Moyo explained that even though people buy an animal from ActionAid's catalogue, sometimes the cash will be used on a related project instead.

"We are always clear in our catalogues that it may not be an actual animal that you are buying. We were able to raise 300,000 in this way last year," she says.

Solidarity

She added that buying ethical presents allowed people in the UK to show "solidarity" with those in developing countries.

"People buying these gifts in the UK want to send a message to those in developing countries that we support you and want to help you and they feel they are making a real difference to people's lives," she says

"Also let's not forget that there is huge poverty in the developing world and 854 million people go to bed hungry every night and anything that can help has to be considered."

But as the debate continues Adam Rothwell, from charity watchdog Intelligent Giving, says the choice should be ultimately up to the consumer.

"For those people who are wondering how to give, they have to decide whether they like the Worldwrite approach or that favoured by the big players like Oxfam," he says.

"Do you trust people you are trying to help and give the cash to them directly or do you give gifts in kind where you know how the gifts will be used?

"But it is important to be aware that the gift might not be what the community wants".

SEE ALSO
Teachers 'prefer ethical gifts'
22 Jul 06 |  Education
Goats: four legs good?
16 Feb 06 |  Breakfast
A goat's not just for Christmas
13 Dec 04 |  Magazine

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