Foreign Policy

Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Yoga Mat

A visual history of the West’s misguided attempts to send its hand-me-downs to the developing world.

Most of us don’t have billions of dollars to give away like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. But the charitable impulse is still strong: combined, Americans gave away almost $300 billion in 2010. Sometimes, though, good intentions have questionable results. In the rush to help after a crisis, public and private donors from around the world sometimes give without quite realizing what the needs on the ground are. Do Haitians really need your used yoga mat? Do the Balkans lack for clowns?


Above, a young man eats a Pop-Tart in Kabul, Afghanistan, in October, 2006. Everyone likes a breakfast pastry, but in 2002, the U.S. was sharply criticized for airlifting millions of Pop-Tarts into Afghanistan, much of which ended up on the black market. In many cases, writes Foreign Policy’s Charles Kenny in “Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt,” this kind of aid ends up undermining the local economy rather than helping it.

It may sound curmudgeonly and cynical to question these good intentions, but there’s a reason some humanitarians are concerned about giving away “Stuff We Don’t  Want.”

View a slide show from Foreign Policy magazine depicting some of the more frivilous donations made in the name of humanitarianism through the years.