Friday, October 15, 2010

When Helping Hurts

Chapter 4: Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development

This chapter is basically a description of these three states of poverty, and an assessment of how material-poverty alleviation efforts should be designed to meet the very different needs therein.

In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.
Relief is stopping the bleeding.  Helping someone incapable of helping himself.  The mentally ill homeless person, the orphaned infant, the tsunami victim whose entire neighborhood is gone.

Rehabilitation seeks to restore communities to their pre-crisis conditions.  It begins as soon as the bleeding stops.

Development is moving all parties involved "closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of levels of reconciliation that they have not experienced before"

Relief is done for people, Rehabilitation and Development are done with people.

How do you spell "effective relief"? S-e-l-d-o-m, I-m-m-e-d-i-a-t-e, and T-e-m-p-o-r-a-r-y.
The people being assisted must be involved in developing the assistance program!  This is scary, because we like to be in control.
The authors are all about helping people help themselves.  Considering how we should run programs at a homeless shelter, how and when meals should be served, how food should be purchased or otherwise procured: "As much as possible, we need to treat people as the responsible stewards that we want them to be, even asking their opinions once in a while!  Homeless men might actually know something about, well, being homeless."

In all of our efforts, an attitude of humility and brokenness is everything.  We must work hard to prevent ourselves from developing a god-complex as we help those who have less than us materially.  "Avoid Paternalism," they say.  "Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves."  The authors present these types of paternalism: resource, spiritual, knowledge, labor, and managerial paternalism.  knowledge struck me as particularly difficult when I'm considering the Jamaica missions project that we're planning with our church, and then I read that they agree:
Handling knowledge is a very tricky area in poverty alleviation, because the truth is that we often do have knowledge that can help the materially poor. But we must recognize that the materially poor also have unique insights into their own cultural contexts and are facing circumstances that we co not understand very well.
But personally, I think managerial paternalism is the most difficult for me. I like to lead things. I find myself accidentally in charge of things. It just happens. In the context of poverty alleviation effort, I have to work very hard at developing, championing, and submitting to the leadership of those who are in rehabilitation or development.

Remember, the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs.
It is much simpler to drop food out of airplanes or to ladle soup [into] bowls than it is to develop long-lasting, time-consuming relationships with poor people, which may be emotionally exhausting. [It] is easier to get donor money for relief than for development. "We fed a thousand people today" sounds better to donors than "We hung out and developed relationships with a dozen people today." 
 My thought is, "wow, a dozen people!"

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