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A firsthand look at helping the people of Africa

“All a Barbie Doll does is confuse them”



Talking Rock resident Cherie New while a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia.



By Cherie New

RPCV/Zambia, 2009-2011

            I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who spent over two years in Zambia, Africa.

            Since arriving back home almost a year ago, I am constantly asked by people how they can help the poor people of Africa. I’m still amazed, and truly touched, at how many people want to help, but don’t know how to go about it.

            What do they need in Africa? Should I just send shoeboxes full of candy and toys? How do they celebrate Christmas? How long does it take mail to arrive to Zambia? Would the Christmas toys make it in time if I send it by this date?  

            I’m sorry to say, you’re only putting a band aid on a huge gaping wound - or even making that wound deeper. Most rural Zambians (as well as most sub-Saharan African countries) celebrate Christmas by killing a chicken or a goat—and that’s if they have it—and go to church. They don’t spend Christmas like most of us in Americaland; to them it’s just another day. The kids build toys out of discarded drink boxes (that at one point probably contained liquor), wire and elephant grass—very creative if you ask me.

            They do have candy in Africa (“sweeties” as they call them). Many times when I would give my local kids “sweeties” for helping me carry my water jugs, their parents would yell at me for it (yes, like American kids, little African kids also get sugar highs. They can also get a little annoying constantly pestering their parents for candy). Overall, hand outs of any kind don't help, it just makes them become more reliant on them.  

            If you’re interested in helping Zambians, or any other African country, I will tell you the best way to go about it. But first, don’t send shoeboxes full of candy, junk food and toys that don’t stimulate their minds. There are really smart kids in Africa, just begging to learn more—and all a Barbie doll does is confuse them and make them think all American women must look like that. You’re sending the wrong message. I assisted with Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), a one week camp devoted to teaching the young girls about confidence and feeling empowered by being a woman. Trust me, Barbie doesn’t fit into any of those teachings.

            Malaria is a huge killer in sub-Saharan Africa and many families do not have mosquito nets. There are organizations that you can donate to (I’ll post them below) that help with mosquito net distribution. Thousands of lives can be saved just by hanging a net over their beds at night.  

            Many Peace Corps Volunteers are currently trying to raise money for their projects. I was able to get funding by generous donors (this could be you!) for a poultry house project for an orphans and widows group. I assisted with the building, ordering the chickens and teaching them how to make a business out of it. As well as bringing in income for their group, it also provided a source of protein for the orphaned kids—most orphaned because of HIV/AIDS. Many volunteers have projects like this and could really use your help. Much better than sending a shoebox full of candy, right?

            The best advice I can give is to assist someone who is already serving there. There are countless projects to choose from! I know of so many volunteers who are trying to start a local library (I was one of them), and really need books - educational books, trade books, math books, science books...the list is endless. I also know of someone trying to get a carpentry workshop started and really needs carpentry books, tools and funds to help with their training.

            If we teach them how to provide for themselves, teach them a skill that they’ll have AFTER we leave, that is the greatest gift we can give them. PLEASE donate or get in contact with these people.They know what’s needed and are there to make sure your money and generosity are used correctly.

            Here are a few websites you can visit that would greatly appreciate any help you can give them: this organization also worked in Zambia.

            After reading a certain letter to the editor, this rang true: Matthew 6 : 2-4.

            [New is a resident of Talking Rock. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .]

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