The people of India are suffering horribly for this lack of toilets. Sharing toilets with more than one other person is highly unhygienic. The facilities get dirty quickly and can not be cleaned as often as necessary to keep them free from deadly bacteria. Obviously, since we in America require one toilet for every two people, if not one for each person, everyone else in the world deserves the same amount of toilets. It’s a human right.
This is why my dear friend, Tremainz and I have decided to start 1 Million Toilets for India, so that children across India can grow up safe and happy, without the degradation and disease that comes from having to share a toilet with too many people. We’re going to include everyone on the Indian subcontinent, too. After all, country, continent, it’s all the same to us.
You Can Help!Here’s how the project works. You, rich white people who have never been outside your little bubble world, save for that two-week vacation to a third world country that totally changed your life, you are going to donate money and stacks of toilet tissue to us. See how simple it is for you to help save the world!
Then we, the people of 1 Million Toilets for India, will solicit donations of old toilets from people in Africa. We will take your money and buy more toilets from African toilet manufacturers. Now, we’re helping those starving people in Africa, too! Next, we’ll have those toilets and tissue packages shipped across the country of Africa to India. This will help all sorts of local economies by employing drivers.
Once we get to India, we’ll use a group of volunteers sourced from our program staff, the African companies that donated and delivered the toilets, and some lucky donors who win our special contest to go to India and get their life totally changed, again.
What about the Indian toilet manufacturers and installers? Who cares! Clearly, if they knew what they were doing, India wouldn’t have this awful toilet shortage. They must be terrible at making toilets, so we’re going to ignore them.
I hope, dear readers, that you realize what is written above is totally tongue-in-cheek. Tremainz and I did develop this idea together. The joke amused us for several days at least. Spawned by the 1 Million T-Shirts for Africa ridiculousness [I’m not giving it a link, google it], we went off on a sarcastic binge against junk aid.
But this foolishness about junk aid has made me begin to question what I always thought of as decent aid. I started wondering where to draw the line. Is any aid really decent or good?
Donations of Infringing GoodsThis past week, I attended INTA, the International Trademark Association’s annual meeting. In the Exhibition Hall, generally full of vendors peddling their oh-so-useful trademark services, was a booth for World Vision.
World Vision was there to solicit donations. Donations of infringing goods that would otherwise be destroyed because of their violation of trademark law. Their display featured a series of pictures of smiling African children and adults wearing Chicago Bears Super Bowl XLI Champion t-shirts and hats. For those of you who don’t know, the Bears didn’t win that Super Bowl.
I looked at those pictures, at first slightly amused. It didn’t last too long. I soon learned where those pictures were taken. Zambia. Monze, Zambia. The Monze, Zambia I called home for two years.
The Local EconomyMy first thought was the tailors that sit outside the store fronts in Monze or under an insaka on their family compound in the village. My second thought was of the people sitting in the dusty, crowded market in downtown Monze, selling salaula (used clothing imported from the West) and new clothing imported from Asia. All these people lost something when the Bears swept down on Zambia as Champions.
Setting an ExampleMy third thought came not from my experiences in the Zambian community where these clothes were deposited, but from my training in intellectual property law. What message does it send when we say, “you must stop counterfeit goods” with our mouths, and with our hands, fill the country with counterfeit goods?
The US government, the Zambian government, most of the other governments in Africa, are trying to teach their citizens the value of trademarks and not to infringe others’ marks. There are many reasons for this, I’m not going to get into all of them here. But I will mention the one most important in this instance.
Weak protection of trademarks discourages investment in the country. It discourages new companies from forming within a country and it discourages foreign companies from entering the local market. Bad, bad, bad.
Long Term EffectsHow can we convince Company X that it should invest in Zambia, that it should open a facility and employ thousands of people and that its company will be protected from imposters when the population is taught that there is nothing wrong with infringing goods?
How can we convince Mr. Banda he should start a new business in Zambia instead of abroad when he’ll be subject to imposters and to having his company’s market overrun by free donations from abroad? (This later issue is addressed well in Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid. I highly recommend it.)
Final ThoughtsI remain conflicted on World Vision’s program. In general, I like World Vision and the organization's work. But this clothing thing has made me question their other work as well.
I understand the idea that donating something is better than destroying it. But how about just not making it at all? Do we really need to have our Super Bowl champions shirts available immediately after the game? What’s wrong with waiting a day or two?
As for the infringing goods, how about removing the mark when possible, and recycling the materials when not. There must be other solutions than drowning developing countries in our excess and illegal goods.