Bringing donations: Clothing, tools, school supplies, etc.

articles Travel & Destinations

A MexConnect forum discussion thread

Posted by LJones on March 20, 2000

My family (2 adults and 2 kids, 13 and 8) are leaving for Puerto Vallarta (actually Nuevo Vallarta) this week. We would like our children to visit a local school and we would like to bring some gifts to the school. Can anyone tell me what type of items would be most useful? We thought of solar calculators, writing instruments, early English readers, etc. but any ideas would be appreciated. Also, are clothes and other items (ideas?) appreciated as gifts in the hotels? Many thanks,

Posted by JB on March 21, 2000

Visit a public school and a private bilingual school. For the bilingual school take any children’s books in basic English (garage sale stuff). The smiley stickers for doing a good job are also useful.

Posted by Bill on March 20, 2000

My personal experience has been that school supplies are in short supply all over Mexico. Items such as #2 pencils, writing paper (white 81/2” x 11” type, are greatly appreciated. English readers are fine, but they will, in all likelihood, not be in sync with the books in use. Inexpensive mochilas (backpacks) are always in need by many children. These items can be purchased locally and given as gifts.

Posted by jennifer rose on March 20, 2000

Money is always the appropriate fit. Seriously. Don’t waste your time picking out gifts for hotel staff, who would appreciate more an adequate tip as a show of your largesse. Tips can be more easily apportioned among hotel staff than a pair of shoes. I’m going to risk starting a flame war here, but giving the gifts you’ve described directly to a school is dicey, IMHO. Will there be enough for everyone, or will the gift go directly into the teacher’s or administrator’s pocket? Think real hard before doing this, and consider how you’d feel if some rich Arab bestowed solar calculators, writing instruments, and Arabic readers upon a poor school in West Virginia. I’m sure your intentions are very good, but think about the impact first. It might be a safer route to make a monetary donation to an umbrella organization with educational purposes (Maimonides had a point). Please remember when you come to Mexico, although there are certainly needy people here, poor folks aren’t contestants on the Queen for a Day show.

Posted by Dan the Man on March 20, 2000

I agree with what Jennifer so eloquently says. Giving these unsolicited gifts to a school could be perceived as an act of pity or condescension. However, I disagree with the part about giving a “monetary donation to an umbrella organization with educational purposes.” IMHO, that would guarantee that the donation would go directly into someone’s pocket. If you really want your children to visit a school, approach the school administrator and politely ask them if a tour could be arranged. If so, offer these items as tokens of your appreciation and invite them to visit your children’s school. Mexican educators, and students, are interested in two-way exchange- not one way donations!
Good luck!

Posted by juan on March 20, 2000

Thank you Jennifer Rose, your response says it all, and politely too.


Used Clothing

Posted by Lisa on September 07, 1999

We leave Thursday for six days in Guadalajara, my first visit to Mexico. I have been to three countries in Central America over the years, and I have always used one of my bags to fill with donated clothing and toys to give away. It’s provided many wonderful opportunities to meet people in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

I have just assumed I would take things with us to Mexico, but it suddenly occurs to me that I might appear to be insulting. Mexico is not considered as poor as the more southern countries.

Would this be an insult, or should we take them? My usual method has been to give them to the young women selling food and crafts in the markets.

Thank you – and please tell me FAST,


Posted by Ernie Gorrie on September 08, 1999
In Reply to: Bad manners? posted by Lisa on September 07, 1999

I’ve had two different experiences with this. A couple of years ago, a couple of friends came to stay at our house in Troncones. The woman brought with her some good used clothing she had bought in Vancouver.

(To give you an idea of the quality of clothing, this is the same used clothing she would buy for herself and her partner. She is a psychiatric social worker; he is the finance manager for a major psychiatric facility in BC).

She met with a couple of local women she had met on a previous trip to Troncones and spent a couple of hours socializing. As part of the socializing they went over the clothing together and the young women each selected several outfits. They had a great time together and the young women loved the clothes. The woman did a similar thing with our maid whom she had not previously met.

The next year I was going down to Troncones myself. I bought some similar clothing at the same place and took it down for our maid. I don’t enjoy clothing like the women do. For me, it is something to keep me warm in the winter and legal in the summer. I also have far less Spanish than my friend. I can’t imagine spending a couple of hours socializing with anybody with clothing being one of the foci, although they obviously loved it.

Anyway, I let our maid know that I had brought some clothing for her. She accepted it, but without much enthusiasm. I think the key differences here were:

1. In the first instance it was a social event, i.e., a time of mutual sharing of experiences. In the second instance it was more of a one-way giving of clothes.

2. In the first instance it was a “community” of women gathering. Regardless of how much I tried to establish a “community” with our maid, I think that, even if I were fluent in Spanish and enthusiastic about clothing, the women would not have the same feeling of “community” with a man.

My sense is that the clothing was appreciated in both situations. But what made the experience far more positive in the first instance was the development of a particular kind of social relationship.

Posted by Frank Simons on September 08, 1999

We put our used clothes, the good, bad and ugly, in plastic market bags and put them out near the garbage can. They always disappear before the garbage is picked up. This anonymous method avoids embarrassment to everyone. I don’t worry about who gets the clothes. Someone somewhere is wearing them or at least using them for rags. Better than the trash bin.

Posted by John Cummings on September 08, 1999

I would be somewhat discriminating in whom I give the used clothes and toys to. Otherwise they will more than likely be sold by the person that you gave them to. Try to pick people that you know.


Posted by Bob on September 08, 1999

Hi Lisa, we spend 6 months in Mexico and when we go down we also take clothes and toys, but we give them to the families we employ to do housework and yard work. What happens is that if they can’t use them they usually find someone that can. So if you can befriend someone I think that would be the route to go. I think I would feel uncomfortable also handing them out to people I didn’t know. The toys are another thing. I’m sure any child would be thrilled to receive them.


Posted by geri on September 08, 1999

As with everything, it depends on WHERE you go and to WHOM you offer the clothing. I have had young children knock on my door on cold winter days in Oaxaca asking for “ropas.” Not for money or for food (they had a bag of vegetables in their hand) but for clothes. We have cold snaps here in winter and the poorer children probably don’t have warm enough clothes. I’m sure you will find many people in Mexico grateful for your thoughtfulness, if you follow your heart and the suggestions offered in this thread.


Posted by roberto on September 08, 1999

Lisa how would YOU feel if I met you in a public place & gave you one of my old sweaters??? These people down here may be poor and they may take your cast offs, but believe me, they’ll despise you for it.. much as I would if I had to accept charity from a “rich gringo.” Please don’t do it !!!! Make yourself feel good somewhere else….

I think there’s a big difference giving used clothes to children that ask for them & passing them out to complete strangers.

Posted by stan gotlieb on September 08, 1999

This looks like another “everybody’s right” thread. Yes, it does depend on whether you know what you are doing, and whom you are doing it with, but in any case, giving is always appropriate. If you suspect that the person you are giving it to doesn’t need it, ask them if they know someone who does, and if they would like to give it to someone else, or if you should do it yourself. And if they end up selling it, so what? Clearly, they need the money worse than the clothes, and the person who buys it has the money and needs the clothes, and when they get done with it, they will give it to someone else, etc. The hardest thing in these situations is to play God, deciding who is more deserving.

If the object of the giving is to maximize your pleasure at being a benefactor, then it is your problem… (not that I think anyone here has that kind of ulterior motive going, but I am sure that there are those that do, and I am speaking to them).

Posted by Jim in Cancun on September 08, 1999

…that the best way to do it is through an agency the DIF or an orphanage or a home of some kind or a hostel. I am also assuming that this is something that one does in one’s own hometown first (as in “Bloom where you are planted.”) as well as while traveling.

Real Charity (IMHO) is not a tool for making friends and influencing people or even of feeling good, and less of feeling superior and content when someone says “Thank you.” It is a recognition that in this world, sharing is a necessity and not an act of kindness. And, another thing, the more anonymous the better: “Who builds a church to God and not to fame, will never mark the marble with his name. (Alexander Pope)

Posted by Lisa on September 08, 1999

I must disagree strongly that donations are most effective made through organizations. Working in a group aiding Kosovar refugees last May (we sent 3 volunteers over) I saw what a very small portion of NGO donations reaches the needed people. But remember, I am talking about my son’s (and his friend’s) outgrown good clothes. It is not a matter of feeling any particular way; it is just a matter of getting some useful things to whoever might most need them. It really is that simple. I normally would donate them to the Salvation Army here, but we know that there are fewer North American children going without enough clothes than there are in other countries. I just like to see that they get straight to someone who can use them.

Since I’ve promised this is the last word, I want to pass on a little story regarding the re-sale of clothes given someone. In June, I was in Antigua, Guatemala, and in this large community of North American expats, I was asked to PLEASE not break the Antiguan rule against begging. You see almost NO ONE ever begging, and the idea is that if the willingness to not give in that way produces better experiences, tourism will benefit the area more greatly than any handouts of cash. So one day I was headed to the square with a small bag of children’s clothes to give the young (oh, so young) mothers selling tipicas. An old (at least 80) woman approached me, speaking an Indian language and rubbing her stomach. It was a difficult decision. Who wants to say no to an 80-year old hungry woman? Instead, I asked her – mostly in sign language – if she could use these children’s clothes. She was ecstatic, UTTERLY ecstatic. I felt that her health improved right before my eyes. Of COURSE she was going to re-sell them, or exchange them for food. But what better use could I EVER have found for my son’s outgrown clothes. I guess it DID make me feel good – I’ll confess. But I know it made HER feel good too.


Published or Updated on: March 20, 2000 by Discussion Thread Forum © 2009


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