February 11, 2010

Boats, not shoes

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column by John Vigor.)

ON TELEVISION the other night I saw a man begging for shoes. Not for himself, but for the suffering victims of the Haiti earthquake. He had already collected thousands of shoes of all sizes, but he needed more, he said, because only one in every 10 Haitians owns a pair of shoes.

Regrettably, as is usual with the modern media, nobody challenged him. Nobody asked him for the source of his information. I, for one, would like to know where he got that figure from because I seriously doubt it.

But that’s not the main point. I’m sure this man was very well intentioned and acting out of the goodness of his heart, but frankly, shoes are not the things that Haitians need most right now.

I grew up in Africa and, like kids of all colors, I didn’t wear shoes all of the time. Not because my parents couldn’t afford them but because I didn’t need them. The weather was warm and our feet quickly toughened up. It felt nice to splash through the rain barefooted and let the red mud squish up between your toes.

When Shaka was the legendary king of the Zulus, not one of his warriors wore shoes. Shaka trained them to run barefooted over thorns to toughen them up for their many wars against other African tribes. To this day, Zulu kids and white kids run round South Africa all day without shoes. And so it is in Haiti, I bet.

You can probably think of a dozen things that dispossessed Haitians need more than shoes, but I have a suggestion someone might consider.

Instead of shoes, or the money for shoes, why not send them a sailboat? Or money for a boat. I’m thinking of a fishing boat that could help feed them, one that would still be feeding them long after their shoes wore out, one that could land on a beach and easily be hauled out.

I suggest a sailboat, and probably a wooden one, not only because it’s simple, but because they don’t need fuel or fancy spares for an engine, and they can repair wood themselves with simple hand tools.

We’d need to send over a designer, and possibly a practical fisherman, to assess the situation and decide what type of boat to build. Perhaps something like the Arab dhows so prevalent in East Africa.

I can’t help feeling that aid should be practical, that it should be something the Haitians actually need, not just something that will make Americans feel good.

Today’s Thought
To treat a poor wretch with a bottle of Burgundy and fill his snuff box, is like giving a pair of laced ruffles to a man that has never a shirt on his back.
— Goldsmith, The Haunch of Venison

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #13
Bad weather. The average rate of advance of a depression is 17 miles an hour. Two to three days is a common time taken to pass over one spot. Secondary depressions might pass in 24 hours.

A cute blond entered the animal rescue center. She said to the handsome young man behind the counter, “I want a pet.”
“Me, too,” said the man, “but the boss is awfully strict. Why don’t you come back after work?”


Aaron Headly said...

I heartily agree with the sentiment of getting Haitians fishing again, but, sadly, perhaps, Haitians are already building their own boats.

Kiva is a place you can go to make small loans to entrepreneurs in many developing countries, including, I'm pretty sure, Haiti. (All of my loans are to Africans, though.)

They currently only list two people raising money for fishing, but there's plenty of other things to support there.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful comments. We Americans tend to be overly ethnocentric and believe we know what others need. Has anyone asked the people of Haiti what they need...is it shoes? Probably food and water are higher up on the list. I did read, but can not recal where, of a group that is sending old donated sails to fishermen in Haiti. I'm sure their are a host of old sails tucked away in lofts that could be put to better use.

andre said...

John Welsford's Trover originated in a call for a cheap boat for disaster stricken islanders.
-good to read the real idler again after so many years-

rgds, andre

John Vigor said...

Hi Andre, my word but you must have a good memory if you can remember the days when I wrote The Idler's Column.

Anyway your comment about John Welsford's wooden "Trover" design is right on the button. Thanks for the info.

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