(from Thomas Johnson)
We’ve recently returned to Niger and one of the things that met us were three of those Christmas boxes that Western churches send to poor parts of the world and which a large Christian organization promotes. We have three young daughters and someone in the church reserved three boxes (now plastic Sterilite containers) for the girls. It’s a bit strange for American kids to get these items—and we don’t seek them out--but what can one do with a church leader places the box in your child’s hands? You say “thank you” and then the children open the box.
I’ve been in Niger since the origins of the program many years ago, which began by sending shoeboxes with kids’ stuff and marked “boy” or “girl” with an approximate age range (kids here are generally smaller than their age-mates in America, by the way). Usually there’re a few toys, some personal hygiene items (soap, toothbrush/toothpaste, a washcloth) and some literature: a pamphlet with a Christian message and perhaps a note from the person who assembled the package.
I wish all those who lovingly and thoughtfully assembled those boxes could see them being opened in Niger, where almost no young children can read English. They’d find the literature (which occasionally comes in French—the country’s official language) being tossed out in the vast majority of the cases. At the Bible School, our house has a woven wire fence on the eastern side of the campus, where the prevailing winds would gather and depose all the paper products that the students and their families threw out of their homes. For several days after the shoebox distribution, we’d literally find our fence cluttered with that literature. Almost no one reads it or even could read it in rural Niger.