The Ignorance of Distance

a5a4e6ef0e3ff0d185742eec980f09e6We all know the heroic dream of saving the world by spreading awareness of a problem and by donating a small amount of money. The ignored part is the effect that our money has on its recipients. Are the donations invested in the right projects and do they reach those in need? As a result of our ignorance, many development projects turn into dilemmas. Failure and success are determined by the characteristics of a project such as its research and elaboration. The frequent problem of aid provided by our society is that most projects are born too far from the actual happening, which makes it hard to consider all the possible influences of the unknown terrain.
The distance between the third world and us makes it often impossible to determine the needs of those we want to help. One example of this misplaced aid is the Jason Sadler’s project ‘1 Million T-shirts’. The second-hand charity sends T-shirts we don’t need anymore to poorer countries in order to help those who can’t afford them. Despite the good intentions to provide children from Kenya and Uganda with clothes, the idea turned into a dilemma. There was no need for shirts in Africa and the transport expenses were higher than the T-shirts themselves. Furthermore, the problem with free second-hand products is that they stop the market activity. Who’s willing to buy products, which they can get for free? From one moment to another, local craftsmen lose their jobs. [1](Wadhams N., 2010)


Wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing” (Wadhams N. 2010)

 The charity without research nearly destroyed the structure of their shirt market in order to provide one million Africans with unnecessary shirts.


This lack of information is not only visible in questions of “what to provide” but also in the way “how to provide the aid”.

The Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR) project of the US government in 2001 ignored the circumstances of those they wanted to help. The project destined to support Afghanistan’s war against the terrorists cluster1111soon turned into a problem. The HDR packages given to children in Afghanistan were easily confused with the BLC-97/B bomblets also dropped by American planes. Both were nearly the same size and colour, which made it impossible for children, who had no knowledge of English, to differentiate them. The choice between a 2000-calorie meal and inevitable death was a matter of luck. [2](Stupart R., 2012) [3](, 2001)

Aid dilemmas can’t be excused by good intentions. It’s necessary to consider every possible implication because each unnoticed aspect could have horrifying outcomes, such as in this case the illiteracy level and simultaneous projects.


Another consequence of distance is the lack of responsibility that people have towards their projects.

After Haiti’s earthquake in 2010, the Haitian hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean raised $16 million to help his homeland. But his charity ‘Yéle Haiti’ misused the donations for personal purposes and soon went out of business, leaving behind debts and broken promises. The announced and dismissed programs included the construction of temporary homes ($93 000), a medical center ($146 000) and the revitalisation of a public site ($230 000). In addition, he even broke more urgent promises such as food and shelter for displaced Haitians and orphans. “If I had depended on Yéle, these kids would all be dead by now,” said the leader of the orphanage Diaoly Estimé. The amount originally destined to the nutrition of orphans ($3000 monthly) was spontaneously invested in the unnecessary construction of a second orphanage. Abandoned, the starving children had to find help somewhere else. [4](Sontag D., 2012) [5](Morris M., 2013)


The true development dilemma is the blindness given by the ‘heroic’ idea of people helping strangers. Westerners ignore the distance and everything coming along with it, which can have fatal consequences.

Surely this isn’t the case for all western aid projects, some have a lot of experience and manage to transform this into something good. Research and communication are important parts of development that can reduce the mental distance but as long as projects aren’t well elaborated, they are doomed to fail at some extend.





[1]Wadhams Nick (2010) Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!) Time [Online] Available from:,8599,1987628,00.html

[2]Stupart R. (2012) 7 Worst International Aid Ideas 7 Matador Network [Online] Available from :

[3]Unknown author (2001) U.S. changes color of food aid, [Online] Available from :

[4]Sontag D. (2012) In Haiti, Little Can Be Found of a Hip-Hop Artist’s Charity, International New York Times [Online] Available from:

[5]Morris M. (2013) 10 Attempts At Charity That Stupidly Made Things Worse, [Online] Available from :



  1. I like your post!
    When we a join charity program, we tend to think “We’re doing the good things for helping people,” though we never know the outcome or how the money was used.

    Star: Using the example of “1 millionT-Shirts” project conceived me that what we think “aid” does not always meet the demand that the recipients really need, rather, that it can aggravate the situation.
    And the video you put at the first part is good to interest your post.

    Hope:To tell the truth, I don’t occur the point you have to change. If I try to say, it may be that it’s better to say your suggestion for solving the problem of the lack of information.




  2. This is a really well-written and interesting post, I appreciate when these posts use solid, in-depth examples to illustrate their point and yours did just that. I can’t tell you how cringey it is to read about the Afghanistan mixup as an American who obviously never hears these sorts of mishaps, but it’s eye-opening and that’s important. I also don’t really have a negative point to make, I suppose expanding on potentially solutions? But really I think this is overall one of the best I’ve reviewed so far!



  3. A strong analysis of the development dilemma of misplaced aid. Presentation is great, and I like how you have made your point with several carefully chosen examples. I have one suggestion which would be to tighten the argument a little, it feels like you are saying several things. One the one hand you criticise poorly though-out projects in a general sense, and then you criticise celebrity involvement in development in promoting projects that are poorly thought-out. I would suggest both narrowing the focus and finding counter-examples to balance the piece. For instance you could focus just on celebrities including some reference to academic literature on the topic, and perhaps find a counter example of how someone has been involved in a well though-out project and what factors made this scenario different. Overall though, a great start for a dilemma post.


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