I’ve been pulled up on already on my comparison between a Gucci bag and a child’s education. It was not intended to offend, more to communicate how personally uncomfortable I feel buying a handbag at that price. And my post wasn’t intended to make anyone feel guilty about owning a bag. I would have said “you should feel guilty” if it was. I’m pretty straight up.
You can’t buy someones life for them. The money runs out. . All you can do is teach people how to live a life that sustains them. I support those causes. It’s easier to donate money, which does help, don’t get me wrong, but you have very little control over what happens to it, especially when it ends up in the hands of certain foreign governments. There are small things you can do, good things, that on their own wont change the world, but collectively make a difference. And have made a difference.
1. Get yourself a copy of From Spiders to Water Lilies.
Cambodia had it’s entire middle class wiped out just over 30 years ago. If you were a doctor, lawyer, French speaker, pharmacist, educated in any way, you and your family were brutally beaten to death to save bullets. What resulted was a society left without a skillset. The Khmer Rouge not only wiped out the middle classes, they destroyed the temples, the art inside the temples, all the books – including all the recipes. Many Cambodians feel that their culture has been irrevocably lost as a result. Enter Friends International, started by a friendly European guy who wanted to find what Khmer food was all about. He travelled the entire country, to rural villages, getting anyone who could remember recipes to write them down. He started Romdeng, a beautiful Khmer restaurant in Phnom Penh, then Friends, the training restaurant for Romdeng. Friends International provides outreach services to streetkids in Phnom Penh, giving them jobs, training them for the future, and paying them a fair wage. From Spiders to Water Lilies is the collection of those recipes, and the proceeds from the book goes back into those kids.
2. Donate your clothes to St Vinnies. This might seem really obvious and simple, but they need your donations. When you start that decluttering mission and lament how much you’ve spent, consider donating it. Consider that just because someone is poor, doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel good too. Sometimes life jumps up and bites you in the ass and through sheer force of will alone, everything collapses. These people need nice clothes for job interviews and if they’ve gone bankrupt thanks to a loan they made to their Dodgy Uncle Jack and lost everything, they’re going to need to get back on their feet.
3. Print out a sustainable fish guide and try to make choices that save fish. As a consumer, our biggest power is in the purchasing decisions we make.
4. Buy Mum a present.
Those wonderful people at Oxfam have a great range of products made by people all over the world who are paid a real wage. They sell Fairtrade chocolate and coffee and other things, and if you don’t have a shop near you, they have an online shop full of all sorts of goodies. Buying something from here means you are supporting a small business that is lifting someone from poverty. People in developing countries deserve to be paid for their work, they deserve to run their own business just as people here do, and supporting them in this way bypasses those governments more interested in funding their military than health and education.
5. Support a local designer.
Hate the thought of kids in sweatshops making your clothes but feel trapped by the complete lack of transparency in the industry? Accept that it’s not completely unavoidable, but make a point of checking where the garment was made, of wandering into a boutique of a local designer that doesn’t necessarily show at Aus fashion week (which bumps up the price considerably). They’re often more expensive due to higher overheads so don’t expect to fit out your entire wardrobe, but just a couple of purchases there instead of at a place that makes you feel guilty will make you feel better, it will support a local, and it will send a small message that you don’t support sweatshops. The more people that send that small message, the larger that message becomes.
And there you have it. I don’t think we need to radically change our lifestyles to make a difference. I think we need to rely on the collective for change, and do our part as an individual, for that collective.