As our journey to South Africa nears we are beginning the physical preparation of organizing and packing all of our donations. The past week a group of our class ventured to a storage room to sort through the donations we already have and organize them into suitcases. Going into the “packing party” I expected to see the typical clothes to be donated such as shirts, jackets, pants and shoes but I was not prepared for what we found.
Amongst the garbage bags of clothes we found used under garments, opened Pez candies and shirts stained with markers. I can understand that people thought they were doing a good deed by donating such items but it broke my heart that we would be handing these over to people in South Africa. I looked at the clothes and couldn’t help but feel like we,as a class, could do better. If we are putting so much effort into this journey the least we could do is give back to these people in a way that we would be proud of. Looking around I just felt that we have so much and for us to give them such unacceptable clothes is giving less than our best.
It’s very difficult for me as an average American who wants for few things to be able to not only comprehend but accept the fact that to these people of South Africa those ratty old clothes are exactly what they want and need. I have been raised in a society where high priced labels and conforming to ever changing styles is considered the norm. It took a while for me to fully come to terms with the fact that even the most seemingly unusable items were in fact going to make someone very happy and grateful. The people who will receive the clothing do not care what name is on the label or what symbol is on the clothing, they just care that they will have clothes on their back and shoes on their feet.
Leaving the packing party I had a sense of accomplishment not from physically packing the clothes but knowing that this was our first real look into the good that we will be doing. To us it may seem such a small thing to donate a few shirts or shorts but it will end up amounting to something so much bigger once we get to South Africa. There will be a day that we are standing handing out this clothes to people and in return we will receive that greatest gift of a thank you. I can imagine that something so simple and small will be the most rewarding and gratifying “thank you” I will hear in my life.