So my thoughts at the moment are on how do we really help people? I know we are called to Love people - in the truest sense of the world - see 1 Cor 13 for the real definition of love... and that is a big massive challenge to all of us, no matter where we live! But my struggle at the moment is how do we help people living in poverty, in a really helpful way?
Reading books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity as well as seeing the impact on villages here from short term mission teams and longer term missionaries- including myself- has given me much food for thought. I assume that we are all just working to the best of our knowledge, wisdom and ability and I dont mean to be critical of anyone - we all have to be accountable to God for our actions, right? I also had to learn not to be critical of myself for precious mistakes!But... how do you really help without accidentally causing harm?
Harm can be caused by making people dependent on US, the ones who can meet the needs. I dont think we mean to do this, but helping people does feel good. You do get to feel happy at being able to be involved in helping a girl to see again. You feel like you have a purpose and you feel good. But sometimes this feeling good can come at a great cost to someone else - without us even meaning too! Like any welfare or benefit system, things can be abused and its up to the missionary or aid worker to try and distinguish from a real, real real, need and a want.
Let me explain a little - in 2012 I thought I was helping people when I distributed some beds in Esperanza village. I had seen people sleeping on floors, or sleeping with bits of metal spring digging into them, crammed 4 to a bed etc. I thought it was a good idea to help by buying a dozen beds. A dozen...for a community with 264 homes in.... hmm. I didnt think through the impact of neighbours being envious, or the bare fact that a bed doesnt really change your situation in life all that much. Im not saying no one should ever buy beds - Im sure there are many cases where a bed is a really great help to a community member. Its not so much about the individual who receives the bed, its about the rest of the community - its about the damage to those who didnt get one and the change of their mindset from "how can I buy a bed' to 'how can i get HER to buy me a bed.' I still have people asking me for beds now, 2 years later - even though for two years I have been saying that I dont have money for beds. 2 years ago, 12 beds changed some peoples mentalities... even some of the people that I did get beds for are asking for another one! It's not about gratitude, its not about me not wanting people to ask for beds - its about the village mindset that now seems to be that I will buy the beds. I did that. I caused that by buying the beds! I took away the responsibility.
I dont know if that makes sense to you, if you havent ever had to think about these things then it might not. But really, real help has to be help that is aimed at the whole of a community, that improves the lives of everyone. SO for example the birth certificate scheme - it doesnt help very much if I randomly go and select 40 people from the village and get them a birth certificate. That causes stress and anxiety and desperation in everyone that wasnt in the magical 40. Instead I have to follow a process - I will always try to get the certificates for the top year group in the village school. Parents of children who are in the first year come to me desperately wanting their child to get their certificate - I explain the process and they seem to relax. Following a rule helps.
|2013 graduating class with their birth certificates.|
All that said, its not always that straight forward. Right now I am trying to think of how I could help some of the elderly in the village. These are thin, old men - some of whom have no family around to help them. I would love to open some kind of feeding program for them, providing a simple meal. My concern is though that this will then take away their independence. Right now no one is starving - everyone is finding a way and everyone has food. If I create a program then people loose their independence and responsibility and become dependent on my help - which ultimately is not as helpful to them or the community. Imagine if I open a feeding program for them, they let their gardens go to waste as they no longer NEED to work in them to feed themselves. Then after a year my funding runs out - Sorry guys, no more food... their gardens are done. They no longer have the land. They no longer have a means to provide for themselves and they are now dependent on anyone and everyone. All because I didnt think and just jumped in with my big warm heart.
There are always exceptions, there are a few people that the village leaders have asked me to help - and i do so willingly, exceptional cases like people who are very sick and cant grow their own vegetables etc.
|It's a bit like stepping back a few hundred years! Many of the older men work their gardens and grow just enough to eat.|
I think that what Im trying to learn right now is how to help in a long term way. How to move from helping individuals to helping a whole community. How to think more with my head and less with my heart but also being open to God and to those Exceptions that come along!
Trying to make sure that the programs I put together for the mission teams that I lead are following these ideas too - helping, not hurting. Helping communities, building real relationships and seeing development happening.
I also want to acknowledge that the things I have said here and the examples I have used are specific to the work I am doing in the Dominican - and to the community I work with. I am sure that across the world there are many feeding programs that are totally needed and without which people would starve. This is not one of those communities though. As I said, I dont wish to criticise anyone elses work, I am just reflecting on my own little life lessons thus far!