Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why It is Easier to Share Our Toys Than It Is to Help Build the Sand Castle

*The first part is easier to read because it is hard hitting and we can get righteously stirred up. Development is often not fun, it is boring, and it takes a lot of time (something most of us don’t like). But if we pinpoint an issue of poverty and don't take the time to learn more or do more to fix it, we will never move forward.

It may not be a good metaphor, but I think many of us are good at sharing our toys. We are good at saying, “I have ten cars to play with. You have no cars to play with. I will play with 8 and you can have 2.” Many of us are good at this, and there are times when someone simply needs a car to play with. However, we are not as good at helping someone else to build a sand castle. Building a sand castle takes time. In order to build a sand castle with someone else we have to work together, we have to share our tools, we have to take the time to get to know someone else and how they want the sand castle to look, and we have to trust them not to knock it down at we used OUR time and OUR resources to build it. Many of us are not very good at doing this. We often approach development like we do a child trying to build a sand castle. Many of us are willing to share a little shovel if we have several of our own. Some of us are willing to give suggestions, but we usually wonder away before the sand castle is finished. A few of us will be very well meaning, stay and help, and decide that we know a better way to build the sand castle, and before long the sand castle starts to look like our vision of a sand castle instead of the child’s. I have done this before with my five year old son. Now this is not a great way to build up his confidence, our relationship, or his ability to build his own sand castle, but it is fairly harmless. However, when we start talking about development it is no longer harmless.

There are three (for this article) types of help we provide to people in tough situations.

Charity - Is giving because you have and they don't without a care for trying to reverse the situation in which you have and they don't. Giving money to a homeless person as you drive on by.

Relief work - What you do when someone has tried, but their circumstances are too overwhelming and they need help to continue meeting their basic needs. A great example is assisting with the recovery after natural disasters.

Development - The slow work of moving people out of poverty to a place where they can rely  on their own efforts and understanding to continue to improve their living conditions. Teaching someone a skill and job interview skills so that they become employable.

I think we often approach poverty reduction with a charity mind set. We are not looking at what will really help their situation we are looking at what will make us feel better. When we try to help so that we feel better, we are not targeted on solutions we are targeted on problems, because the problems are what make us feel bad. When we target problems instead of solutions we many times reward people for suffering instead of rewarding their effort. We are saying, because I feel for you (different from with you) I will help until I feel better. This is means that I stop helping, not when a solution has been reached or when you can do for yourself, but when I start feeling better.

A step up from this is relief work. Relief work has its own time and place. It is needed when the situation has either overwhelmed or eliminated the ability of someone to help themselves. Tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes are all good examples. Sometimes people just need help. However, relief work is never meant to be long term. When it stretches out for years, and especially decades it is often times no longer relief work. We are now helping to maintain those in poverty. We want to help because of their suffering, because of their overwhelming situation, but we are not helping them increase their own abilities. We are not helping them move the necessary markers of development closer we are just helping them survive their suffering. We are not helping them rise above it. It shows how we feel like their suffering is important, but their ability to work is not. We would rather provide charity than development and reward their continued suffering instead of their work.

So how do we go from one to the other? How do we get from valuing suffering to valuing work and contributions to the larger community?

Making bricks for the church building
We do have to first recognize their pain. However, recognizing pain is different from rewarding it. In one of the communities we work with you could hear the pain of the grandparents as they talked about their often orphaned grandchildren. It was good to recognize that what we were hearing was pain. It is good to know that their grandchildren are important to these people. However, giving them all some money would have only prolonged certain situations. Providing them with a flour mill and training them in business is a much better idea (and incidentally is what we are trying to do). That is the difference between relief and development, short term fixes and long term success.

I know that if you have reached here then you must either love the people writing this or are truly interested because this is not an interesting treatment of poverty. I have not given a lot of tear jerking stories (though they are there in my mind, heart, and prayers). What I really want though is for us to start thinking about this, and start rewarding efforts and providing hope. The suffering of people in our lives is great, but giving to make myself feel better doesn’t help. I have been here long enough to know that. What needs to be done is to help THEM build what THEY need for THEIR future. Let us reward their efforts, hopes, and dreams by moving the goals posts one step closer.

Clearing land for the future church site
As you are gearing up for Christmas giving this is an important thing to think about. As we start to write checks for our favorite charities in honor of our loved ones, let us put a little more thought into it. Heifer International with their training programs and the requirement to pass off-spring onto another family is a great example. Here in the Mara District we try to do the same thing as we work on training and development with everything that we do. In the new year we will start a revolving fund for churches to receive money from in order to start development projects that will allow them to pay the funds back later. We are working with congregations to build churches, but each church is making bricks, collecting stones, digging foundations in order to contribute to their own church building. We will never ask for you to contribute to the picture of suffering we see here, but we will welcome your help in building the hope that we see during this Christmas season or any other time of the year.

Hope, not because of OUR efforts to stop people’s suffering, but hope because of THEIR efforts and THEIR faith to improve THEIR own lives and communities as part of God’s light in the world.  

No comments:

Post a Comment