Interview with David Vázquez, Humana Area Manager in Catalonia

Q- Could you please tell us what exactly Humana is?
A- Humana is a non-governmental organisation for development implemented in Spain since 1987 which seeks to advance cooperation projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia. How do we raise funds for the projects? Through the second-hand clothing that people donate to us.

Q- How do you transform clothing into funds for cooperation?
A- In a nutshell, we collect the clothing, classify it and either sell it in our second-hand stores or send it to Africa so that it can be sold to local shop owners. With the profits obtained from this professional activity, we finance our projects. This model of self-financing ensures that our projects don’t have to depend on external funding which, on the whole, is conditioned by the political or economic situation at any given juncture.

Q- I had no idea that the clothing I no longer use could have this sort of yield!
A- Our job is to add value to a product that no longer holds any value for you. Some people still believe that Humana limits itself simply to sending clothing to poor countries. And that’s not true. Not only do we give them resources; we also equip them with the know-how to foster progress at the community level.

Q- What exactly happens to the clothing I leave in the container?
A- The clothing collected is brought to our sorting centre so that the garments can be sorted and separated. 15% of this clothing remains here, to be sold in the 19 second-hand stores. Here we obtain the money with which to finance our structure, in other words, pay our employees and ensure the continuity of the 3,500 containers, the sorting centre, the shops...

Q- And the rest?
A- 45% of the clothing goes to Africa, more specifically to Mozambique and Malawi. We send some 24 tonnes weekly. Once our Humana colleagues receive the shipments, they sort them and sell them to the local shopkeepers and second-hand shops. The profits from this activity go to finance cooperation projects.

Q- What happens to the remaining 40%?
A- 30% are cotton or wool garments which cannot be used because they are in poor condition but can be recycled for rags, fillings for cushions and so on...The remaining 10% is very torn or stained clothing that cannot really be used.

Q- What projects do you develop?
A- For the most part projects related with education, health, professional training and social integration and development in rural communities, particularly in African countries. One of the biggest projects we’re working on is the school for future teachers, where we train primary school teachers so that they can work in rural areas. Another major challenge is the fight against AIDS. We are working on a project to train field workers to visit rural inhabitants on a one-to-one basis, with the aim of informing them about how to prevent the disease and, if they already have it, how to live with it.

Q- How many tonnes of clothing do you collect each week?
A- Some 85 tonnes in Catalonia alone. To give you an idea, that’s enough to fill 5 or 6 trailers.

Q- And in the containers located in Mercabarna?
A- We collected 3,500 kg in our first year. Later, in 2008 and 2009, the donations went down to 2,900 and 2,800 kg. In any case, when we placed the containers in Mercabarna we knew full well that they wouldn’t be the most “productive” ones.

Q- Why was that?
A- Mercabarna is a work centre and it’s complicated for people to bring in clothing. But we thought that being here would be very worthwhile on account of the number of people who pass through it each day. And you can bet that more than one person who passes by the containers wonders just who these Humana people are, what they do, how they do it... Making people aware is also very important.

Q- I would like to donate clothing. How do I do so?
A- We accept clothing, footwear, accessories, household linen in good condition, which is to say neither very shabby nor stained. And, one thing that’s very important: it has to be left in our container in a closed bag.