Helping In Popular Ways (When Helping Hurts – part 10)

In coming to a close about the book "When Helping Hurts" – I want to consider why most help that non-profits and NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) provide is relief rather than rehabilitation and development. 

The authors provide three reasons why most existing organizations are focusing on providing relief.

  1. Many service organizations have a material definition of poverty, so they believe that handouts of material things are the solution to that poverty. Handouts are never the solution to poverty. They provide relief to a temporary emergency, but they do not rescue those in poverty.
  2. Relief is easier to do than development. It is much simpler to drop food out of airplanes or to feed soup than to develop long-lasting, time-consuming relationships with poor people, which may be emotionally exhausting.
  3. It is easier to get raise money for relief than for development. "We fed a thousand people today" sound better to donors than "We hung out and developed relationships with a dozen people today." 

In no way am I (or the authors) insinuating that development help is somehow better than relief help. But it does seem that a majority of help given and pursued by individuals, churches, and donors is often relief. And relief done poorly is most commonly when helping hurts. And when a majority of help given is relief without rehabilitation or development – it will eventually hurt. 

That is why, as a church, we want to participate most in relief efforts where we know there are those "on the ground" who are committed to rehabilitation and development.

The point is not that relief is bad and we shouldn't give. We need to give more, not less, money to help the poor. But how that money is given and to whom it is given is crucial. We need to look for ways to give money that builds up local organizations and that truly empowers the poor. 

I definitely look back at some mission trips I participated in over the years with regret. Probably the one that comes to my mind most often is when I took a group of twenty or twenty-five teens to Mexico to build two homes. Never did the owners of the homes we were building help us. Their wives and children would come out and thank us and even feed us, but the men of the homes never did. I'm not sure we did that in a way that truly helped their poverty. 

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