Jul 17

Share Your Shirt and Make Someone Smile

We never get too worried when it comes to packing for trips. We don’t use packing lists and we generally leave our packing until the night before. Our view is that if we forget something or don’t take enough clothes, we can always buy something when we get there. If we take too much, we can always send things to family or give something away.

Because we’re pretty much travelling continuously, we end up giving away a lot, especially if we’re travelling to a different climate, new season or the opposite hemisphere. We’ll often give clothes to guides we use or staff at the hotels or holiday rentals we stay at. I recently gave a lot of leftover groceries and a few t-shirts to a Bangkok street food vendor we befriended.

In Cape Town, I gave some summery shoes to the housekeeper of the beautiful holiday home we stayed at. The shoes were a good brand and in good shape, but we were going into a northern hemisphere winter and I probably wouldn’t wear them for six months. It made sense to give them to someone who would.

The housekeeper was over the moon and told me so. She put them on right away, and wore them about all morning as she cleaned the house. “I love these!” she gushed appreciatively with a huge smile. To know my second-hand gift was so gratefully appreciated made me want to give more things away more often.

So when Janet Chan, the PR-Marketing Manager from Siem Reap’s Hôtel De La Paix, where we recently stayed, emailed me last night to ask if we’d support their ‘Share Your Shirt’ Campaign, we jumped at the chance.

The splendid Hôtel de la Paix (which we’ll tell you about in another post) supports many community projects in Siem Reap. This time they’ve teamed up with Cambodian non-profit NGO ABOUTAsiaSchools, which provides immediate, targeted aid to Cambodian children and schools.

The rainy season is well underway in Cambodia and the humidity is making short work of the locals’ clothing. The people in the greatest need, such as those living on the poor outskirts of Siem Reap (called “the garbage belt”), simply can’t afford to buy new clothes, not even a simple t-shirt. Their priority is feeding their family.

‘Share Your Shirt’ is an invitation to people like us to dig into the bottom of our suitcases or backpacks, tip out our drawers, and reach into the back of the wardrobe, to dig out those clothes we no longer wear and no longer need. You can post your t-shirt or if you’re in Siem Reap, you can drop it by the hotel or even buy a local t-shirt if you prefer, and therefore ‘give back’ twice.

Hôtel de la Paix will collect the donated clothing, which they’ll give to ABOUTAsia Schools to distribute to those who need it most. All donations are welcome, but especially smaller sizes, as the need for new clothes is greatest among rural children such as those pictured above.

Hôtel de la Paix will regularly update its Facebook page www.facebook.com/hoteldelapaix here to let us all know what progress they have made and how many people have received new clothes.

Post your shirts to: 
Hôtel de la Paix
Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap Cambodia.

For further info, contact:
Hôtel de la Paix
+855 63 966 000

ABOUTAsia Schools


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  1. Mack Reynolds

    what a noble cause. i’ve been giving away my stuff to goodwill for the longest time. it helps me gain space while it helps the unfortunate around me. when i lived in orlando i had a coworker who had many homeless friends. i gave him a huge bag full of stuff, of which he took some things, as he wasn’t doing so great himself, and passed the rest along to his friends. felt good to give to people who needed it.

    1. Lara Dunston

      It’s a great cause, isn’t it?! I can say that seeing we haven’t organized it – it’s Hotel de Paix’s idea – but we’re delighted to support it. Sounds like you’re doing some pretty noble stuff there yourself! Good on you! Thanks for dropping by, Mack.

  2. Dominique

    This is a cause I can totally get involved with. Thanks for making me aware of it.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks, Dominique. I’m sure they’ll appreciate whatever you can send.

  3. Roger

    The same without the typos, for some reason I could not edit before posting!

    My question is do Cambodians need T-shirts? I have visited the country a number of times and lived in neighbouring Thailand. Lack or want of t-shirts has never struck me as an immediate, urgent or critical need.

    Now I do understand that the recipients love the gesture, I myself bring my old clothes back the Thai village when I go there. They don’t really need them but they enjoy having them. Whilst I do not feel a gap I do make people happy. But at the same time, I create competition for the T-shirt seller on the local market, because yes, you can buy t-shirt in the street in Thailand as in Cambodia. People may not be able to afford new one, but clothes are shared amongst family and at some point in time, they are bought.

    Every T-shirt given away is a t-shirt not sold, a business not making profit, a family not getting the money they need and therefore, a family that will become in need… of donated t-shirt.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Roger

      You should get a chance to edit before posting – what browser are you using? – we’ll investigate.

      We were in Cambodia and Siem Reap recently, and of course, like you, have been travelling to (and writing about) and living in (on and off) neighbouring Thailand for the last 13 years. We just left there after 4 months in Bangkok and are returning soon. We saw the poverty in Cambodia and in particular Siem Reap, and especially noticed people, children in particular, wearing worn, ripped, and dirty clothes, so when Janet from Hotel de la Paix said they were embarking on this campaign, we offered our support. The need for clothes was identified by a local NGO, ABOUTAsia Schools, which distributes the clothes directly to those they know need them.

      I understand that there is a lot of opposition by some aid/development researchers, particularly in the USA, where a lot of money is wasted sending mass-produced t-shirts from the US to poorer countries, and that there have been some studies done that have shown that in some cases this kind of ‘aid’ has a negative impact on local businesses. I don’t believe that argument can be made across the board – *every* case is different, these situations are complex, and I don’t buy into it in many cases, especially when people are desperately poor. Where they are desperately poor, if they had money to buy t-shirts or any clothes they probably wouldn’t buy clothes, they’d buy food or medicine.

      We’ve been travelling for a long time, as I’m sure you have, Roger, and I’ve seen what a tremendous difference to people’s lives very small gestures can make, such as giving people a t-shirt or a pair of shoes, or buying them a bag of groceries. Or, by the same token, teaching them how to do something, sharing a contact, or some information, or giving them a gift of $20. For some people, this thing, this bit of information, this knowledge, this small gift… whatever it is, might be the only gift they get that year and it can be like Christmas.

      The aid/development researchers can do as much research as they want, write as many papers as they want, have as many arguments as they want amongst each other about what works on a macro-level – providing charity/hand-outs, establishing micro-financing, setting up training, whatever, and that’s fine – but while they’re arguing and, in the meantime, people are wearing crappy clothes and going hungry, on a micro-level, we, as travellers, are going to give whatever we can to whoever we can to make a tiny difference to how they live their day to day lives.

  4. Roger

    Thanks for posting my comment and for your response.
    Like you I have seen a lot of poverty around SR and PP, a lot of children walking semi-naked and wearing torn t-shirts; mothers and fathers with missing limbs carrying around naked child, begging for money. In these circumstances where we have the privilege to stay in a nice hotel and to enjoy the local food and hospitality, giving away t-shirt is indeed a gesture that makes us feel good but what does it achieve in the long term?
    We tend to “project” a lot of our needs and feelings to other and if you were to ask young children what they want, maybe they may well say yes to a free t-shirt but what if they want something else? Like money? A McDonald? A cigarette? (all real cases I have experienced) Will you give it to them? Many wouldn’t and would prefer to part with an old pair of shoes or an old t-shirt (that could have been made in Cambodia by the way). This is philanthropy on the cheap side and reeks of paternalism if not neo-colonialism.
    One also has to question the need for t-shirt in a tropical country like Cambodia. Western apparel is very much a recent adoption, and I find the westerner’s obsession with t-shirt and shoes revealing, nearly “missionary” in its essence.
    I have no doubt that the NGO you mentioned has expressed a want (not a need) for t-shirts but my question is how to best answer this desire so that it also make a long term sustainable difference locally?
    Like Matt who reacted on Twitter, I believe that the hotel initiative incidentally serves another purpose, that of making the customer feeling less guilty of staying in such luxurious place whilst children are running around naked on the street and somehow benefits the hotel (a lot of businesses specialise in philanthropy, see Gates). I would not say that it is intentionally done; just that it achieves a short term purpose other than the one that would make a real difference to these children.
    It you really want to make a difference then support a local orphanage or school to buy t-shirt locally produced (clothes manufacturing is one of Cambodia’s main export, they have no shortage of t-shirts). It is also possible to stay in a cheaper hotel and give the price-difference to a school or a charity, it has the advantage of relieving the guilt whilst contributing to local business and supporting a real good cause. But who is doing that? Charity nowadays is about the donor feeling good, rather than doing good. One of the last Oxfam campaign was very clear about that, sadly.
    Of course this should not stop you giving a away when you have the opportunity to make a small short term difference, but what I am cautioning against it to make it a business model to address poverty and development issues. I have personally chosen to support micro-finance projects in Cambodia, which – though much criticised, are more efficient than sending my junk to the poor.

    (Technical note: I use Firefox, I can’t move the cursor within the window. I am either on top or bottom of the window, if I try to move it with the arrows I can only move within the first or last line then it jumps to the top or the bottom line, making editing the text in-between impossible.)

    1. Terence Carter

      You really contradict yourself a lot, first by actually doing what you’re criticizing this project for doing, then by first saying that you didn’t think that t-shirts were an immediate, urgent or critical need then saying you saw kids semi-naked and wearing torn t-shirts; mothers and fathers with missing limbs carrying around naked child, begging for money. Which one is it?

      Instead of writing long-winded and cynical comments here, you’re really better off contacting the people running the campaign, I’m sure they’d love to hear your ideas. The links are in the post.

    2. Matt

      I was tempted to write another long response here, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can as we got into it a bit on Twitter earlier.

      The literature about gifts-in-kind is vast and you can read much of it via a simple Google search. I just wonder: did you speak to people in the aid industry (excluding those connected to the NGO/tourism company/hotel) about this before you decided to endorse it? You have a well-read blog and so I assume that you getting behind an initiative like this can have a lot of sway.

      Let’s say you see a kid without a T-shirt in the street. Would you automatically assume that he/she and all kids then need T-shirts rather than the equivalent money value of the T-shirt + postage given to NGOs working in the field independent of a business like a hotel. A stupid question but: how do you know that kind really needs a T-shirt? He may want one, but does he need one? If he does, then why does he need one?

      You seem to be saying that it’s better to post a T-shirt and waste $$$ on postage than get the money and buy locally. That’s the key here for me. I think I’m right in saying that the vast bulk of Cambodia’s exports are clothes. Is there nowhere in Siem Reap that sells T-shirts? How many T-shirts could you buy locally for the cost of posting one T-shirt from the US to Cambodia? How much money does the local T-shirt seller get if someone posts a T-shirt to Cambodia?

      Do you not think it would be better to take the equivalent money and buy locally? Is there any good argument to say that posting T-shirt is better than buying locally? The only argument I can see is that this promotes a hotel and makes people feel good for sending a T-shirt. To me that seems wrong. The priority is to help people.

      You can’t just dismiss what Roger is saying and tell him to contact the people running the campaign. You’re here encouraging people to take part in it. And if I were to give support an organisation, it would not be a luxury hotel or VIP tourism company. Hotel de la Paix and ABOUTAsia have a business relationship and I’m wondering why the hotel needs to be involved at all.

      I understand you’ve been kind of caught in the crossfire here and that it’s not your project, but things like this come up often. There is a well-used saying that “good intentions are not enough” and in many cases that rings true.

      Anyway, I hope what I’ve said makes some sense and I welcome further discussion on this.

  5. Christian de Boer

    dear all

    First of all a heartfelt thank you to all who have the best in mind for Cambodia.

    * Supporting local economy
    I absolutely agree with this and would do so if we were indeed given specific donations.

    The people who this is supposed to benefit are those living on the garbage belt of Siem Reap who have absolutely 0 ! When I went 3 weeks back I met a gentleman whose t-shirt was actually rotting on his back.

    Note that it’s currently 34 degrees (95F) and raining season and thus clothes don’t actually remain in a good condition for a long time.

    *Reason for this initiative
    This is my personal initiative and has nothing to do with any form of guilt-travel. We as a hotel have donated:
    * 1000 + bags and bikes
    * operate our own sewing school
    * put 156 women through an education
    * are donating 7000 + school uniforms
    * promote Khmer artists
    * made US$60,000 in pure financial donations in the past year

    I know the above isn’t a lot, but we are ony a tiny hotel with 100 or so rooms, so I think you will agree it’s quite an achievement.

    In the comment above it is suggested that ”if we really want to help” we should support an orphanage. Well, I am happy to say we support two centres that benefit children and form safe havens: Green Gecko Centre for Street Children and Sankheum Centre.

    We have supported those centres for the past six years plus have been operating the Hdlpaix Sewing School at WatDamNak Pagoda.

    We have sought advice from a number of professionals here on the ground in Siem Reap and all have agreed that this initiative (which will never grow big) will be the most beneficial for those who actually need clothes and need them now.

    I also understand that if this would have been arranged at a much bigger scale then it could create negative side affects (upon local businesses and employment etc) but I would like to advise you that this has never been our goal.

    All we want is for the 150 people living in dreadful conditions in Siem Reap to have a little bit of dignity. We will leave the big multinational problems to the aid/development researchers and one day they’ll find a solution.

    Once that day comes I am sure we will gladly adhere to their advice.

    Hotel de la Paix

    Please do feel free to email me personally if you (or anyone else) has suggestions… All we would like to do is to offer a little assistance to those that need a little help. sd@hoteldelapaixangkor.com

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