Volunteers often ask if they can take small gifts to a community they’re working in as an extra way of helping those in need.
But in communities with little to no resources, many of the items you would like to gift may be of no use. Your generosity may also have the potential to overwhelm and create reactions you weren’t expecting.
So what are the best gifts to give?
In our experience, items that can be shared, are practical, affordable and fun are the best options. We’ve put together the following list of ideas to help you make the most of your opportunity to give back:
- Instax camera
This is like an old-style polaroid. Take loads of extra film so you can give people you meet along the way printouts of the photos you take of them. You can keep a copy too by taking a photo of the photo with your digital camera.
- HP Pocket Sprocket
This nifty compact printer can print multiple copies of photos from your phone to give to people while still retaining a copy for yourself.
- Food parcels
Discuss with your volunteer organisation what food is appropriate. We suggest buying locally and providing staples like rice, flour, sugar, tea, coffee, tinned fish, UHT milk, soap and washing powder along with a treat like sweets or biscuits.
- Personal care packs
Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, socks and small solar flashlight all make great gifts. Feminine hygiene products appropriate to the culture you are in are also really appreciated.
- Toys for your sponsored child
If you are visiting your sponsored child, a soft toy, sports ball or educational supplies are a good idea. Your sponsor organisation (World Vision, Tear Fund etc) can guide you on what would be most useful depending on the age and location of your child.
- School supplies
Pencil cases, pens, pencils, rubbers, stickers, notepads, blank journals, colouring books, crayons etc will be welcome in most countries. Giving these to local schools is best as they know who needs them most.
Things to remember
- If the items you’d like to gift can be purchased in the country you’re visiting, considering buying them there to support the local economy.
- Avoid ‘over giving’ which can encourage people to expect gifts from travellers and cause jealousy amongst neighbours and friends. Save your gifts for those special moments where you make a real connection with someone.
- Never give out cash. We know it’s hard, but it sets up expectations for future travellers and can often undermine a local organisation’s work toward community self-sufficiency. Cash donations are best given to the local partner or volunteer organisation where they can receipt and account for the use of funds in a transparent way.
- If you’re not sure about what and when to give, always check with your volunteer organisation first. They usually know what items are needed in which countries.
- Check out the SWEDOW flow chart (‘Stuff We Don’t Want’) to help make your decision on what gifts to take. https://buildingmarkets.org/blogs/blog/2010/05/17/swedow-flowchart-send-sell-or-trash/