Home > Aid and aid work, Featured > Diversion/rant: T-shirts, child trafficking, and how to lose friends & alienate people

Diversion/rant: T-shirts, child trafficking, and how to lose friends & alienate people

by Michael Keizer on May 27, 2010

'Dollar origami 4' by Piotr Bizior

The 1 million T-shirts saga goes on.

I really, really would wish that we could all just say that the T-shirt guys learned from what happened and we could move on to more rewarding issues. In fact, I thought exactly that had happened, and hadn’t spent even the shortest tweet on it for several weeks – and then they posted this blog post. Go and read. And cry.

Yes, that is right. They want to support what is probably the most badly conceived anti-child-trafficking initiative ever. I am not going to tire you here with why it is such a bad idea (others have done an admirable job on that, e.g. this post by Amanda Kloer, which was written well before the T-shirts ever came up). What I do want to draw attention to is that, evidently, Jason still has not learnt that it might be a good idea to stop and think before jumping off –  and preferably only do so while being informed by best practice and evidence.

Obviously, he was taken aback a bit by the criticisms and quickly took the post down, tweeting that he did so for ‘due diligence’. Perhaps it should be pointed out here that ‘due diligence’ is normally understood as something done before the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan. If you do this afterwards, it is more properly known as ‘negligent laziness’.

And then Jason and Stephen write a follow-up post in which they try to explain why they posted their first one. And fail miserably. What they do bring across is that they feel that it’s all about them. Take this sentence, for instance: “It’s frustrating and disheartening when individuals with a great deal of experience in various efforts seem to get pleasure in crushing the energy and desire of people who want things to be better in the world.” Seriously? You think that people get a kick out of kicking you? Is that why so many people who can use their time in ways that are much more gratifying to themselves insist in trying to explain to you again and again (and again, and again) that it would be a good idea to ask questions before you go off on your next hare-brainwave? I mean, of course I have nothing better to do than spend an hour on writing this blog.

“The story we shared was simply that… a story. … We simply shared a story that we heard and wanted to pass it on.” Again, really guys? So I guess that’s why you decided to donate those t-shirts to ‘Bob’, because it was simply… a story. That you wanted to pass on. Without any suggestion that you thought it was a good idea. Tell me, what exactly is the level of stupidity you expect from your readers? And while you’re at it, if you only wanted to share a story that should not have any impact, could you please explain why you did not keep it for your next session with your drinking buddies?

This post is a serious break from what I have written before on gifts in kind in general and on the t-shirt saga in particular; both in content and in tone. First, I don’t only write about the issues any more, but also about the people behind it; simply because I think the people have now become the issue. A mistake can happen, and the people who make it usually go through it growing a bit wiser and more knowledgeable – and get my full kudos for learning from their mistake. You can even make multiple mistakes and still get my support – if you learn from it and don’t make the same mistake over and over again. However, you lose it if you don’t learn from your mistakes and not only insist on making us all go through the same sorry arguments over and over again, but in addition make clear that you haven’t even tried to understand the central issue: that it is not about you, but about the people that you say you want to help, and that consequently you have a duty to do your due diligence – and yes, that implies thinking and asking questions before you do something stupid.

Secondly, up to now I have tried to write in a fairly dispassionate voice. I have left that behind me too, because I have started to realise that Jason et al. are apparently more reactive (if not receptive) to snark than to reasonable discourse. Yes, they go through the motions of being nice, reasonable people who listen to what is being said, but this latest little jaunt shows that it is a front. They don’t listen, not even to the people they asked themselves to advise them, unless the message is hammered home with a sledgehammer. So I guess that is what we need to do. Sad.

[Image: Dollar Origami 4 by Piotr Bizior – www.bizior.com]


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis Bours May 27, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Oh my dear Lord!!! I hope it would be over by now… This is actually the FIRST worst idea. His first idea now went to the SECOND place of worst ideas ever, since this is so bad I have no words for it…

What would you do if you are building up the LRA? Yes, pay your weapons by kidnapping children since you know there is a “Bob” you’ll pay you for the kid. And that kid does not go back to his family. “Bob” has not the capacity to find these people, since he is not the Red Cross. But he will ‘find’ them a foster family.

It is called ‘Child trafficking’ Bob! Wake up you Fu&$ing Id@#ts…

Sorry for that Michael… But jeez….


Michael Keizer May 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Hmm… I am not too happy with people swearing at other people on my blog. Please don’t do so again.

Apart from that, I am of course totally on board with what you are saying about the total insanity of the idea.


joe May 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Well y’know – dumb people have dumb ideas which are promoted by other dumb people on twitter. No surprise there.

What is interesting is that according to the most recent post, the H.E.L.P people are sending the collected t-shirts to Jerusalem. A couple of things – 1) Jason distinctly told me on the phone he was interested in giving t-shirts to Africans who had no clothing – a) Jerusalem is not in Africa and b) I’d be interested to know which people in particular are so poor that they’re walking around without clothing in Jerusalem.

Given the apparent theological bent of H.E.L.P, I’d be interested to know where exactly this donation was going. Finally, I have muchio experience of the clothing manufacturing industry in Bethlehem – which I could go into great depth about for anyone who is interested in how the Palestinian economy is tied to Israeli customers. Lest it need saying, there is no need to import t-shirts, used or otherwise. I have not checked recently, but I’d be willing to bet you could buy a million Bethlehem-made t-shirts for less than $1 each. They certainly have the capacity to make them.


Michael Keizer May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Oh, help. Or perhaps: oh, H.E.L.P.

I won’t say it’s even worse than I thought it was, because this is of course not even nearly as idiotic as the child trafficking episode. But if it weren’t for that huge clump of 24-carat bad-aid gold, your nugget would definitely rate high. Sigh.


Amanda Makulec May 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

What amazes me, beyond anything else, is that the “due diligence” which should have been performed before Jason posted his story about Bob would not have been terribly difficult. Child-trafficking is an issue with a long history of discussion and research, and a number of reputable organizations work to combat the practice. As so many people have noted, he has been in touch with a number of the top minds in aid, and a quick Google search could have easily dug up a few articles and blog posts which should have made him stop and think.

And, as a side note, his comment which you reiterate (“It’s frustrating and disheartening when individuals with a great deal of experience in various efforts seem to get pleasure in crushing the energy and desire of people who want things to be better in the world.”) hit right at the core problem here: he still never got the message that good intentions are not enough.


Michael Keizer May 27, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Both very good points, Amanda. Personally, I think the second might go a long way to explain the first, but that is guessing.


Jason Sadler May 28, 2010 at 12:18 am

The post should not have been written, research should have been done and I honestly feel foolish for it now in looking back. It’s hard to hear a story in person, one as gripping as we heard, and not want to share it and help. That’s where I came from and realize my emotions took over any thought process. I thought sharing the story with an audience that never would have the opportunity to hear about these things would be helpful in some way, it’s not.

This isn’t about us and posts like the human trafficking one won’t happen again. We need to stay focused on collecting shirts, I need to gather all my information about a village in Uganda (Masese) that we’re focusing on and tell that story.

Someone left a comment on our blog post that was well put. Because of the reach of 1MillionShirts people are going to come out of the woodwork looking for help. We need to direct them to the right and more intelligent/experienced people and focus on our goals/missions.


joe May 28, 2010 at 1:15 am

Which are what, exactly, Jason? Seems like you change your goals/missions every other day.


Jason Sadler May 28, 2010 at 3:07 am

You are right Joe. We have too many people coming at us and should be focusing way better. I am going to talk with Teddy and Mirame. They have offered advice and I need to lean on them instead of my emotions or own uneducated thoughts.

I need to learn my place in the non-profit world and stop trying to do everything. If we have a good cause I can promote, that’s what I need to do.


Michael Keizer May 28, 2010 at 8:17 am

Allow me to be a bit sceptical, Jason. I think that your track record implies that we cannot take your assurances at immediate face value. I hope you will prove me wrong.


N June 1, 2010 at 4:10 am

Your comment “It’s hard to hear a story in person, one as gripping as we heard, and not want to share it and help,” shows how new you are to the aid and international development world. It shows that you haven’t learned to put these stories in to context. More importantly, it shows that you haven’t learned to master your own ego in thinking that you know HOW or even WHETHER to respond.

You say “I thought sharing the story with an audience that never would have the opportunity to hear about these things would be helpful in some way, it’s not.” I’m sure that’s the same logic that my mom follows when she forwards the latest e-mail warning that canola oil causes cancer or crayons contain asbestos. There isn’t a snopes.com for international aid, but as you’ve discovered, there’s a network of expert bloggers who perform effectively the same service.


Peter June 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm


The cache link to the original post no longer works.



Michael Keizer June 6, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Thanks, Peter, it looks like 1 million shirts have requested Google to take it down. I have now linked to the Yahoo cache, which still has it.

Jason et al: it is, of course, within your rights to ask the search engines to remove the caches. However, I would ask you not to because these incidents are important learning moments and should not disappear into the great bit heaven. Also, it will not help you at all: several people have now secured the cached version by downloading it as well as making screen captures, and I will not hesitate to post the relevant parts to the blog as fair use if you would take the yahoo cache down as well. Thanks.


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