Today is A Day Without Dignity, a campaign first launched last year by the creators of the blog Good Intentions Are Not Enough in order to highlight some of the ways that international charity projects may actually do more harm than good for the people they claim to help.
In fact, last year's Day Without Dignity was set up with a very specific target in mind: the One Day Without Shoes campaign run by the TOMS Shoes footwear company, which seeks to send shoes to children in developing countries, who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
(If you're wondering how sending shoes to poor kids could possibly be a bad thing, Good Intentions released a video highlighting how flooding an area with free shoes can actually serve to drive local vendors out of business, thereby, they claim, exacerbating poverty.)
Good Intentions accused TOMS and its supporters of being Whites In Shining Armor, the term they give to charities they think reinforce the notion that only Western organizations are capable of helping people in the rest of the world.
Criticizing efforts to help people in poor countries can be a controversial move (as the reaction to the recent KONY 2012 campaign suggests). This year, however, the organizers of A Day Without Dignity seem to have taken a deliberately less combative tone: Rather than criticizing a supposedly well-meaning campaign, they are instead focusing on the other side of the equation and highlighting what they call Local Champions - organizations and efforts by local people in developing countries to help those most in need.
To that end, Good Intentions has asked for blog submissions and T-shirt ideas that highlight Local Champions doing work on the ground to make their communities a better place, all of which are listed on their site and posted to Twitter with the hashtag #LocalChampions or #Dignity2012. Some highlights? Rural women clearing landmines in place ranging from South Sudan to Laos, an HIV activist in Kenya, and the founder of a girls school in Afghanistan.
Not all alternatives to the traditional aid model from the ground up: Oliberte is a Canadian shoe company that sought to create actual jobs in Ethiopia by building its factory there, although it faces significant risks and may not be able to overcome a series of bureaucratic setbacks.
Of course, this doesn't make it easy for those who simply want to help where they can: Is it really wrong to send shoes to poor kids around the world, or to ask that a warlord be brought to justice? Tom Murphy, one of the founders of Day Without Dignity, says that his campaign is about "highlighting the dignity of individuals, rather than how they can be saved"; TOMS, meanwhile makes the case that kids who actually do lack shoes in some parts of the world face serious hazards to their health and welfare.
And, of course, they both have videos:
TOMS' One Day Without Shoes 2012 Trailer
Day Without Dignity 2011 (TOMS counter campaign)
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