Kids singing New Year’s anthems… it’s the flemish equivalent of Halloween’s trick or treat. Here’s how it goes: the doorbell rings, you open and three or four brave little kiddos start singing. Some sing with passion, some compensate with surprisingly witty lyrics. All have one thing in common: they hope to be rewarded with some candy or, preferably, some cash.
Let me be blunt: I was never a big fan of this tradition. As a kid I disliked it because I could not sing one note, even if my life depended on it. Seriously to this very day even Playstation’s Singstar boos me all the way back to the couch whenever I give it a shot. I am a firm believer that one can accomplish many great things, if he or she puts his or her mind or body to it… but singing… apparently you either have that or you don’t.
Let me just say I was not prepared to make a fool of myself back then. I am now though:
So, do I like the tradition nowadays?
Nope. Still dislike it… but for two entirely different reasons.
Number one: not having any kids of my own, I get caught by surprise. Usually it goes like this:
Ding Dong. Me waking up… there’s someone at the door this early? Muffled voices start chanting… Cold sweat starts to form on my forehead… Oh no!!! It’s happened again! We forgot to stash up on candy and coins! SCRAMBLE!!
Next thing you know, I’m scrambling for leftovers: some chocolate and mandarines from Sinterklaas. Sofie’s last tea biscuits (sorry, you’ll get new ones tomorrow!). That one banana that still had some yellow spots. Some old candy… all coins I could muster. For one moment I even considered handing out those ridiculous copper coins, but that would have been cruel. Besides, I found a much better use for those.
After years of confusion I finally learned that kids sing on different dates depending on where you live in Belgium.
Number two: Come to think of it, it’s a rather peculiar habit isn’t it? Encouring eating habits with kids that will inevitably lead to diabetes and obesity. How is that enriching, rewarding or inspiring? You can also opt for cash, but that means you’re just paying part of a toy or videogame that they would have gotten anyway.
I appreciated the community spirit behind this tradition but I wanted to give the little buggers something more original. A more meaningful experience…
I’d give each little singer a coupon together with a one or two sentence introduction on fair trade. Oxfam sells juices, candy, honey, chocolate paste, toys, childrens books and jewellery so kids would be able to choose their own little treat with their coupon. They could also combine coupons and share a toy or a book.
Most importantly they would visit that quaint little shop where they could learn a thing or two about fair trade. Hey, even the parents would get a nudge towards a shop they may never visit otherwise! That’s what I call a triple win!
So, that Saturday, instead of doing something passive I decided to pitch my idea to Greet Daneels of our local Oxfam store.
Lucky for me, she loved it!
Estimating how many children would come singing at my doorstep was one thing, guessing how many of them would actually exchange their coupons was more difficult. I ended up setting aside a budget of 140 euros (70 coupons of 2 euros). I expected to spend about half of that: 70 euros.
Expensive? Hey, handing out some candy or a euro per kid is not that different 🙂
Admittedly, I did feel pretty foolish when I gave the first group my “educational talk”. I could picture some of my ex-colleagues roll their eyes and say: “Oh no, ‘Let’s-change-the-world’-Kenny is at it again…”
To my relief several parents complimented my “engaging and original idea” which encouraged me to carry on.
Much to my surprise, many kids were already familiar with the whole fair trade concept. Apparently Oxfam gets invited to local schools in our village. The volunteers bring a basket full of fair trade goods to demonstrate what they have to offer.
How cool is that?
Needless to say some little singers were excited to go visit the shop.
A Nijlenaar always pays his debt
I gave it two months before I decided to go pay my dues. As it turns out, only 10 in 60 coupons got exchanged. A bit less than I had hoped. I suspect 2 euros was a bit low for people to cross the threshold.
Nevertheless, Greet from Oxfam was willing to join forces again next year. And so am I. We can do better than 10 coupons, I’m sure. At first I planned to double the amount but Sofie had a better idea: offer a coupon for a refreshment (orange- or apple juice) at Oxfam. We’d be giving them something tangible.
Sipping their fair trade juices, the kids would browse the shop and mingle with their friends and neighbours…
It would surely liven things up at the Oxfam store!
Not the brand, but the Oxfam experience
To all the cynics… I hear you thinking: “why not buy a few boxes of Oxfam juice yourself, hand those over to the kids at your doorstep and be done with it?”
It’s not the same… I want the kids to experience that special little place where making profit does not come first. Where sustainability and fairness get priority. I want the little ones to meet the gentle and positive minded volunteers who work there. Who knows, perhaps some of them will pop for a juice or a chat when they’re older.
And maybe, just maybe, later they get engaged and start giving monthly contributions, like me, allowing the organisation to continue their amazing work abroad. We need definitely need more engaged people in this world.
So, long story short: with one simple idea and some self-printed coupons, I was able to turn a stressful day of scrambling for chocolate and coins into something to actually look forward to: a day of sharing, learning and giving back… true to the spirit of NoMoreMovies.
Special thanks to Greet Daneels from Oxfam Nijlen for supporting my little project.