Subject: SMH: East Timor says no thanks to thongs, teddies

Sydney Morning Herald December 27, 2000

East Timor says no thanks to thongs, teddies

Photo: Show them the money ... goods, such as these cots, however appropriate, are costly to ship to East Timor. Aid agencies prefer cash. Photo: Brendan Esposito

By Louise Williams

Sydney, you can't rebuild East Timor with teddies and thongs. And you shouldn't even give a child a teddy to play with outside in a tropical climate, because the soft, new toy quickly becomes a filthy health risk.

Australian aid organisations, faced with another wave of festive season generosity, have launched an unusual new appeal for East Timor: "No more teddies and thongs, please."

So overwhelming, and in some instances so inappropriate, has been the response to the suffering in East Timor that scores of warehouses around Australia are still packed with donations that are of no practical use, or which are too expensive to ship.

In Dili, thousands of teddies representing last year's Christmas spirit are still clogging up a warehouse, with at least as many thongs. More than a year after the carnage that sparked the Australian-led military intervention, generous Australians still want to send gifts. The "no more teddies" campaign treads the fine line between offending donors and educating the public about what people really need in a poor, newly independent country like East Timor. It also challenges the notion that the poor in developing nations should be grateful for cast-offs.

At the top of the list of what is most needed is cash, says Ms Jenny Wells, the program co-ordinator of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA), the peak body for non-government aid organisations.

Goods, however appropriate, are costly and logistically difficult to transport, and inappropriate gifts just create more work and have to be given to other charities.

"From the information we get from our members it seems there are lots of warehouses which are chock-a-block and other stuff which is sitting on wharves and no-one knows who it belongs to and where it is going," Ms Wells said. "'Teddies for Timor' and 'Thongs for Timor' were two slogans which captured people's imagination. We got loads and loads of teddies, but teddies are not part of the culture for a start, and raise a substantial health risk because of the climate. If the weather is not dry and dusty, then it is wet and muddy and the teddies are filthy.

"The thongs idea came from the defence forces and they were just inundated. Unfortunately, thongs are made locally and are cheap, so we could be undermining the local industry."

Ms Lorraine Lock, the communications manager of the Australian Foundation for the Peoples of the Asia-Pacific Region,

said one of the most successful donations was 40,000 metres of new fabric which East Timorese women used to make clothes. Another useful clothing donation came from a school that was changing its uniforms.

Aid organisations are appealing for basic gifts: money, tools, pots and pans, paper, medical supplies and bats and balls for children to play with.

To contact ACFOA, (02) 6285 1816, email, or the Web site

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