How we provide dignity though our free shops

30/12/16

Changing the way we manage distribution of items through our free shops has been the single biggest thing we’ve done to put dignity first.

Here you can see the system in action:

In essence, we give each individual on the camp a certain number of points every week (100 per adult, 75 per child, 50 per foetus) and each item in the shop has a points value (20 points per euro). When they come to the shop, they can ‘spend’ their points on whatever is in the shop.

It sounds simple and it is – it has to be when the people managing it are short-term volunteers and knowledge is constantly disappearing. But it’s also just a basic shopping experience that everyone is familiar with.

Our old system involved giving refugees a basket of goods we believed they wanted and them having to accept it or go without. Our old system was a way of getting essentials into the camp to everyone but it was unfair to larger families, and volunteers often had to deal with dissatisfied customers. Worse, it was paternalistic and undermined any power the refugees have, forcing them to meekly accept what was provided to them.

Using a points system is not a new idea but it does take humility and a desire to place the needs of refugees first. The advantages make it all worthwhile:

  • It places dignity right at the heart of what we do, putting the needs of refugees first rather than those of donors and volunteers
  • Refugees get to experience a normal shopping experience that many of us take for granted
  • Families shop together and it’s more fun for everyone
  • It’s fairer because larger families get stuff relative to their size (no more wondering how many boxes of tea to give per family)
  • We can subsidise key items (like fruit and veg) and run ‘special offers’ just like any other shop
  • We can collect feedback on what they really want and then we can provide it, even if not many want it
  • It reduces waste because they only take what they want

When you donate to Refugee Support, you give refugees something extra: a little of their dignity back.