I recently read a great article about Toms. The shoes. But more so the real purpose of the company.
It’s a great idea, right? You buy a pair of shoes and they will give a pair of shoes to kids who don’t have them. I’ve seen kids with bare feet and gone on medical clinics to see them treated for hookworm and other things because of it. By golly, I will pay $50 for a pair of canvas shoes for a good cause! Who wouldn’t?
But, the article I read made a point. Even though this is a good cause (it is, no one is disputing that). It’s not really solving any real problems. Why? Because the company works from outside of the countries that are in need. They make the shoes, consumers buy them, and they are delivered to countries that need them. Who feels the best about what they do? The consumer. It’s a company model built around a good cause, but in the end it’s meant to make the consumer feel good about what they buy.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Intrinsically. But it isn’t solving the real problem…the reason the kids don’t have shoes isn’t that they aren’t available. The reason the kids don’t have shoes is that they are in poverty stricken countries where they can’t afford shoes. So, they get shoes. They also get rice and beans from a charitable aid organization, shoe boxes filled with well-meaning gifts once a year, but they are still living in poverty. Have we fixed the problem or have we simply made ourselves feel better?
I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, quite the opposite! They are good things! Don’t stop supporting organizations that help underprivileged countries! They need all the help they can get! But is our help a momentary fix or a solution? That’s all I want to ask.
I recently read a post on my brother’s wall that basically said that sometimes it takes a cold cup of water from a person’s hand before you will accept the Living Water from their hearts. I get that. Meet a physical need to gain access to meet their spiritual need. Christ exemplified that. There is nothing wrong with that. But, the old Chinese proverb holds some truth, too – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” So the question I’m pondering today is this, in my good deeds am I simply making myself feel better for the day, or will their lives be different?
There is a time and place for every purpose under heaven. Solomon drives that point home. But, there are organizations that are making permanent solutions in war-torn and poverty stricken countries not just momentary fixes but hard core “We see this need and we are going to fix the problem not slap a bandaid on it.” I want to see more of this.
Toms could do more to make a difference, a permanent difference. They could teach the locals how to make their shoes (honestly, it can’t be too hard!). They could buy the canvas, the leather, and the cork from those people, and sell them very cheaply so that the poor make a profit… then those leftovers that don’t sell…they could be given to the kids that desperately need them. That’s just a thought. But the point is, one pair of shoes at a time is only going to last at the most a year. Whereas teaching them how to make the shoes and sell them, that could make a lifetime of difference to ailing countries. Like, Digging wells. This is a permanent solution. This makes a complete and total difference in the areas that get this privilege. We take for granted our easy access to water as we fling another bottle in our purse as we leave the gym, we don’t even think about famine or drought or the fact that the animals bathe and leave waste in the one stream we might share as a village…which is like 3 or more of our subdivisions combined. Organizations and missionaries that teach a trade in order to help villages to support themselves, not to live off of temporary handouts, these people are heros…life savers…fixers. Artists that take their time to teach African women designs for necklaces that they can make and sell to raise money to invest in their families and communities, this is life-changing work. Funding goats and livestock and corn and seed and feed, these are donations that are going to make a failing community prosper! These things will feed and clothe and aid multiple families and pass on hope and knowledge and wellness to the next generation. And, these are just a few roles of amazing organizations from medical to agricultural that are making life-restoring differences!
I will probably still buy Toms. And I hope you will, too. I’m not out to sabotage good works. I just want to ask the question, “Am I doing this for the love of them…or me?” I am not leading a crusade to fight economic injustice; I just want to ask myself the tough questions, the raw questions that get to the quick of my motivation because I want to see their lives changed for the better for GOOD not just for the moment. I don’t want there to be any doubt that the work that is done IS for them and not for me, and that the One that sent me provides not just for a day but for all eternity.