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Pack a bag, change a life
August 9, 2010 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Stuffyourrucksack.com is an online community that helps responsible travelers make a practical difference to the lives of those in developing countries.

After clicking on the map in the second link and choosing a destination/charity, the "What To Take" list appears on the left-hand side.

Apologies in advance for the annoying pauses on the Kate Humble video.
posted by gman (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish this was a joke.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:41 PM on August 9, 2010


..why would you wish this was a joke?
posted by pwally at 2:43 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I did the Inca Trail, I brought down bags full of notebooks and pencils for kids in Cuzco, and promotional materials for the charity that was distributing them.

There are a few times in my life when I've been really glad I speak enough Spanish to get by. One of those was when the customs guy in Lima opened my bags. For some reason all that stuff in a tourist's backpack tripped his Suspicious Person Alarm something fierce.

Which is to say, in addition to the items on the "What to Take" list, you might also consider a "What The Hell All This Stuff Is About" note written in the language of the country you're visiting.
posted by gurple at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2010


I think the premise is excellent and I would certainly look to this site next time I travelled.
posted by Kerasia at 3:26 PM on August 9, 2010


Sadly, my knapsack is invisible, which makes it very difficult to pack.
posted by flaterik at 3:57 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sadly, my knapsack is invisible, which makes it very difficult to pack.'

Yet... very necessary to unpack.
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on August 9, 2010


This is so awesome, its simple and practical.
posted by BurN_ at 4:12 PM on August 9, 2010


Awesome, I have often wished I knew ways to help people in countries that I've visited. Plus, my niece does a fair amount of nursing service tours so she may have organizations/needs for places that she goes - I will alert her, too. Thanks, gman!
posted by madamjujujive at 4:33 PM on August 9, 2010


I just used this site!

For our trip to Namibia, I organised half a suitcase's worth of material for the Bernard Nordkamp Center, helping Namibian kids from some tough backgrounds. I subsequently spent the afternoon at the centre helping with remedial reading.

It was a wonderful, unique experience. The kids were just like the children I cared for at an after school centre for five years in Australia, and the MaryBeth - the director - was an inspiration.

I realise that donating a few books, clothes, puppets or whatever isn't going to be able to end poverty in Namibia - or anywhere - but as a (relatively) rich western tourist taking advantage of how cheap things are in these countries, frankly I believe it's the least I can do to give something back, and doing it this way facilitates a far richer cross-cultural interaction than I otherwise might have.

Stuff your rucksack is a great way of making some local connections to charities in countries where you otherwise might not be sure where or how to donate. I wish it had been around when I went to Vietnam several years ago, my donations there felt more anonymous because I didn't know as much about the organisations.
posted by smoke at 5:09 PM on August 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


What an awesome idea! Practical on many levels, since it's always smart to pack things to leave behind to make more room for souvenirs or sloppy packing.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:47 PM on August 9, 2010


I don't think this is a good idea at all!

I think the main impact of an initiative like this is to make tourists feel good about having a good time in a "developing country" and to make them feel like more authentic or worthy tourists than other classes of tourists.

Is anyone actually convinced that taking pens and pencils to an orphange will have a significant impact on the lives of the kids there?

To me, this is much more about making the backpackers feel good and much less about having a significant positive impact on the world.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 7:21 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is terrific! I feel there's a lot more desire to do good than there is practical, obvious ways to do it...anything that can bridge that gap should be incredibly helpful.

I'd be interested to see statistics on whether or not this site has actually been helpful so far.
posted by EtzHadaat at 7:22 PM on August 9, 2010


I think the difference here, pick_the_flowers, is that the NGOs/charities in question are requesting specific items. It's a lot different from people packing pens or small trinkets to give out to random street kids.

Also, no, pens and pencils won't make a big difference. It will be a nice small benefit, though, that could lead to other good things - the visitors may donate further and/or get their friends and family to donate, they may be able to help locate additional resources, etc...

"to make them feel like more authentic or worthy tourists"


*shrug* Who cares? People do want to feel like they're benefiting the communities they visit, which is the whole idea behind eco-tourism and using local resources/businesses/staff. I don't think that's a bad thing.
posted by HopperFan at 7:27 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


And the post on the corrupting influence of charity is still open!
posted by clarknova at 7:43 PM on August 9, 2010


pick_the_flowers, you obviously don't work in the NGO sector with that kind of holier-than-thou attitude.

Newsflash: getting people to donate anything is hard. The best ways of doing it involve:

a) making it easy
b) making it fun/feel good

FFS, people don't have to get all Schindler "this ring could have saved a baby" about shit every time they donate something, and - shockingly - it's not a crime to feel good about helping someone.

The is the problem between the endless blurring of the line between political and personal action - both have their place, and both are valid. The kids who got a suitcase full of books, puzzles, puppets and clothes in Namibia are certainly better off than if I didn't bring that suitcase. Are they _much_ better off? No. Does my meagre donation counter the effect of generations of poverty and/or abuse, high unemployment and government corruption? No. Am I pretending that it does, or that I'm some kind of African Jesus for bring an extra suitcase? No.

So get off my freaking case, man, or feel free to offer a substantive criticism as opposed to your telepathic knowledge of how and why people donate, its outcomes, and how it makes them feel.

If you have a problem with hypocrisy, I suggest you move to Somalia - and if you're a westerner redact every purchase you've made from a third world country, and especially redact all the education, literacy, language, medical care, jobs and opportunities your citizenship has likely given you. Opportunities built from the pillaged resources and economies of the developing world.
posted by smoke at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is it at all rewarding to sit at you computer and talk shit about someone trying to improve someone else's life, even if it is for just a moment?
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:11 PM on August 9, 2010


I clicked on several of the charities in different countries which I've been to/lived in on that site. Pens and pencils were top of the list on all of them. I've never personally had a problem getting pens or pencils anywhere I've been to, so it's odd to suggest packing them from "developed countries" to take on your trip.

The sell here is "change a life". My criticism is that the life you change with such voluntourism activities is your own, not the child in the "developing country"'s. If you guys are cool with that, great.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 8:57 PM on August 9, 2010


Perhaps because people have more free time before they leave on their holidays? Or that there are many other things on the lists in addition to pens and pencils? Some may be harder to buy? Or people source second hand goods? People have empty luggage room for gifts they bring back? Who knows?

Who's to say whether you change a life or not? Or by how much? You don't *have* to bring only pens and pencils. I only spent an afternoon at the Bernard Nordcamp centre, but some teaching students had been there for three months - or more.

If these str your substantive criticisms that make you wish the "program" was a joke, then I think you need to examine your prejudices more carefully. Your false dichotomy of "all or nothing" volunteerism is a destructive and limited one that encourages apathy and inertia. Charities - and volunteering organisations of all stripes - strive to create a seed of motivation that makes someone think, "I might as well do something". That seed may germinate and grow in a thousand different ways, or it might not at all - but it's the first stage of action & change; without it, you have nothing.

None of these charities would begrudge the gifts they receive. Merely because they aren't valued in thousands of dollars or hours is not to render them worthless.

I say all this - not only as a volunteer myself - but someone who has worked professionally for a variety of NGOs in different sectors. Really, you couldn't be more wrong.
posted by smoke at 9:38 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


"I've never personally had a problem getting pens or pencils anywhere I've been to, so it's odd to suggest packing them from "developed countries" to take on your trip. "

I'm guessing you never had a problem getting them because you had money. I'm sure many of these charities are choosing between budgeting for stationery supplies and budgeting for food, medical support or utilities/rent to keep their buildings open & accessible to the people they help.

No this isn't going to make a substantive difference to the quality of life in these countries, but it will make a difference to the few people who get the supplies they need. A small act of kindness still has value.
posted by anotherkate at 1:18 AM on August 10, 2010


Mrs adamvasco and I travel to at least one third world country a year. Whenever we go we take a whole load of something - pens normally freebies collected from business conferences / shows, hotel soaps, shower gels whatever. The joy of seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids or their mums is something never to forget. What to you is nothing is often a moment of utter joy in a an otherwise very hard life. Kids in these circumstances often don't own pencils and pens. They often get issued at the beginning of classes and collected at the end.
Another idea is to take a whole bunch of old cloths filling your wardrobe, never worn anymore and find an orphanage or similar to donate them to. It has the added advantage that you now have an empty bag for more souvenirs!
Neat post gman; thanks. I've already contacted where I'm going at the beginning of next year. Without this post I would have had no idea they existed.
posted by adamvasco at 4:28 AM on August 10, 2010


I clicked on several of the charities in different countries which I've been to/lived in on that site. Pens and pencils were top of the list on all of them. I've never personally had a problem getting pens or pencils anywhere I've been to, so it's odd to suggest packing them from "developed countries" to take on your trip.

You decided it would be a good idea to kick this thread off with a completely vague statement, which, after some explanation, made very little sense. Why on earth would you want this to be a joke? What would actually be funny about the site?

Many tourists are unclear as to the best ways to help those less fortunate. Handing out money/goods to beggars on the street is counterproductive for a variety of reasons.

Just for fun, I decided to take you up on your pen/pencil challenge. Here are the first three charities I clicked on - 1 2 3. Now I have another question - Have you ever been to any rural areas in Central Africa? I assure you they don't have access to pens or pencils, let alone the money to purchase them.
posted by gman at 4:31 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you really want to play the role of the benevolent voluntourist surrounded by smiling "orphans" (whose parents or family members are most likely alive, just lacking enough money to take care of their children) while doling out trinkets, I would suggest that you go with an empty rucksack and buy everything in-country. The cost difference is going to be fairly trivial for you (work an extra week before you go) but then you will actually be supporting the local economy and strengthening the supply chain rather than dumping cheap imports on kids. Hand outs do nothing to build local capacity but buying locally helps the shop keeper, the truck driver, the middleman and the importer and that money recirculates in the local economy, perhaps helping the families of the same children you are visiting.
posted by ChrisHartley at 5:01 AM on August 10, 2010


If you really want to play the role of the benevolent voluntourist surrounded by smiling "orphans" (whose parents or family members are most likely alive, just lacking enough money to take care of their children) while doling out trinkets, I would suggest that you go with an empty rucksack and buy everything in-country.

I have no idea how many children's parents are actually alive, but the term "orphan" is often used figuratively to describe a child who's been abandoned. And I'm pretty sure these kids don't make a distinction; they just know they have no parents.

While I may not particularly like the tone of your first sentence, I do agree with your point in principle. Unfortunately, several items these charities request are not available locally, or at least not made of quality which will last.
posted by gman at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2010


I like the site a lot. pick_the_flowers, correct me if I'm wrong, but your criticism boils down to not liking the phrase "change a life." And, yeah, it's probably an exaggeration, but that's just the logo. The rest of the site makes it easy to contact the charities directly, find out more about them, figure out exactly what they need, and actually do something to help them. If you're already going to be in the area, wouldn't bringing something specifically requested be better than going and bringing nothing at all? I honestly don't see what's wrong with that.
posted by zerbinetta at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2010


"dumping cheap imports"

Where do you think those pens and pencils are coming from, should you buy them in-country, in most of the areas listed? That's right, they're CHEAP IMPORTS too.

"My criticism is that the life you change with such voluntourism activities is your own, not the child in the "developing country"'s. If you guys are cool with that, great."

It's highly likely that the tourist's life will be changed more by the act of giving than, say, by the recipient receiving a pen or two, but I think that's fine. Also, did you notice that not all of the charities were child-related? You seem to have fixated on that.

I get that you live in a developing country, and this kind of thing may bug you on some level - but isn't it better than the other kind of tourist, the one who doesn't interact with the local population and doesn't try to find small ways to help?

Personally, in the country I lived in, I appreciated visitors who wanted to help my community. Small things like wanting to give books and pens often grew into book drive efforts and grant money for computer equipment, and so on.
posted by HopperFan at 12:54 PM on August 10, 2010


I thought this was going to be a combinatorial optimization website :(

what with the P != NP business and all
posted by sidereal at 1:05 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


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