Most of us from America have tossed our old clothes into a donation bin at some point.
Maybe you threw in that free tee shirt from your school spirit day four years ago.
Maybe your mother snatched those raggedy pants out of your closet and screamed, “Give these away now! I’m so sick of seeing you schlump around in them!”
Maybe you had to dump out an entire wardrobe after a miraculous weight loss, you impressive exerciser, you!
Whatever the reason, somewhere on this grand earth right now, some of your former clothes are making someone else happy.
But what does it actually look like, the first time this fellow human being accepts your much-appreciated wardrobe gifts???
Last week, for the first time in our lives, we were able to witness this moment in person.
Dalive, Ghana is a rural community in Eastern Ghana that is deep at the heart of the development programs of Sogakope’s Youth Creating Change, and Bright Star Vision, USA.
Ever since BSV’s founder, Mighty Marla first laid eyes on Dalive’s sweet schoolchildren five years ago, she has been mobilizing fundraising and donation programs back in Connecticut to bring vital supplies to Dalive’s youth.
When she sent her son, Dan, with our YCC crew to the Dalive school last week, Marla made sure Dan toted along a sporty black suitcase crammed with nearly a hundred items of donated clothing for Dalive’s schoolchildren.
After our Dalive school tour, some lovely student performances, a few speeches, and a meeting with the school staff, the moment to unveil the clothing came. Dan unzipped the black suitcase and threw open the cover.
A collective “GASP!” soared from the sea of kindergartners. They craned forward on their little benches to better see the mysterious pile.
We looked out at the innocent faces of the kindergartners. Indeed, these were children who could benefit from the clothing in that black suitcase.
About half of the students were wearing faded orange or checkered uniforms that were ripped at the collar, or missing a chunk, or frayed and drooping. The other half wore clothing that had been hand washed hundreds of times, bleaching in the hot sun on a clothesline.
YCC staff members Seth, Wisdom, and Prosper set to sorting the clothes into piles: large and small, boys and girls.
The highlight of this sorting was when Prosper dipped his hand in the bag and emerged with a full-length red sequined ballgown! Awesome.
We all stared in shock at the dress, paralyzed. I began to giggle awkwardly. The eyes of the students swiveled towards us, questioning. Who in rural Dalive had most need of a full-length red sequined ballgown?
At last, the kindergarten teacher laughed, shifted her baby from her breast to her hip, and hesitantly held out her hand. We know who’s going to be the star of the next Dalive fashion show!
By this point, the clothes were fully sorted, and so Prosper instructed in Ewe for the boys to form a straight line along the front of the classroom.
“Hooray!” the grins of the students sang as they danced out of their seats and into the most respectful and orderly line I have ever seen five year olds create (pictured).
And then the clothing distribution began!
Seth would call a child forward, and the YCC men would rapidly hold up a few different items of clothing until they found one to fit.
The child would then be handed the shirt, or pair of shorts like a handshake of triumph, and the student would gape in shock or grin in ecstasy, or make an expression that was a combination of both.
The student would then get a congratulatory pat on the back and trot merrily back to his bench. Once seated, the student would immediately snuggle his new piece of cloth, enraptured, and then pull it on atop his former outfit. So very, very cute!
This process was repeated with all the boys and then all the girls until every single student had great new clothes.
And then the celebrating began!
Students were given permission for a quick recess, and they spent it cavorting in circles of happiness, pointing to their new shirts, holding their new pants high above their heads, and striking pose after gleeful pose for Dan and my cameras.
It was a good thing!
There are a lot of feelings evoked in Westerners by this concept of “donations to needy African children.” It is common to shy away from the whole scene because, as privileged Americans, we often feel awkward being the high and mighty princes of material goods, and we think it might demean or exploit Africa’s youth.
But let me sincerely repeat to you what I learned last week in Dalive: these donations were a GOOD thing.
I will admit, I started to get that awkward privileged prince feeling when the suitcase was first opened. But within a few minutes, I realized that everything was fine.
In fact, everything was fantastic!
Let’s put it truthfully: the children desperately need new clothes, this BSV donation gave them new clothes, and any item that doesn’t fit or isn’t right WILL be used in some way by each child’s family, either on another sibling, or at market to earn useful funds.
How am I so sure that the donations will be well-used? Here is an example.
Several years ago, the insurance company that Mighty Marla worked for in Hartford had its annual “Take your Sons and Daughters to Work” day. To commemorate the grand event, they ordered hundreds of crisp white shirts printed up.
Lo and behold, the day came and went, and the number of participants was sorely disappointing. Oh, surly and independent teens of America! So what, then, to do with all those extra tee shirts? With permission, Marla packed them in her suitcase and lugged them along with her the next visit to Ghana.
YCC has no funds for an official student uniform. And so what do Youth Creating Change members wear when it’s time to dress up for big events like the Grand Quiz or Awards Day?
You got it: they all pull on their clean white “Take your Sons and Daughters to Work” tee shirts from the insurance giant of Hartford, Connecticut, and they look great!
This is part of two stereotypes about Africa that may actually be true, and actually be fantastic.
Stereotype one: fewer things here go to waste than in America. Yes! “May you all learn this lesson,” screams Mother Earth!
Stereotype two: singing, dancing, and drumming are everywhere.
I have now learned: there are few joys as pure and beautiful as watching twenty schoolchildren burst into harmonic, syncopated, choreographed song and dance to welcome you.
How do they decide who claps on beat one and who on beat two? How do they figure out who will harmonize high and who will harmonize low? How do they choose who will begin the call and response verses or who will lead the slow circle of flowing arms and tapping feet?
Answer: these things are figured out when you are in a culture that encourages the exuberance of music and movement throughout life.
After giving the clothing donations to the sweet Kindergartners, we traipsed to the classroom of the older students, and it was wonderful to chat with them and give a pro-school pep talk.
In closing, John declared: “I don’t want you to get swoley heads,” (note: this is my new favorite phrase), “but I see that you are all here in class, and many of your peers are not. Because you did the right thing and came to school today, you were able to chat with us during this unannounced visit, and you were able to get a new item of clothing. Please: keep coming to school every day and doing your best at academics, and rewards will continue to come, in so many ways!”
So the next time you’re considering tossing that tee shirt or skirt or red sequined dress into a donation bin, know this: the donations ARE needed, they ARE used, and they are deeply, deeply appreciated.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!