Saturday, March 14, 2015

When is Helping Not Helping?

How do we help in constructive ways that will build a better world for the next generations?

As I was talking with some Central Africans who are working with a humanitarian aid project recently and one commented that it is not good to just give people things because then they expect to get more later and aren’t willing to help.  Wow!  What an insightful comment!  This man is working in an area that was devastated by fighting 18 months ago.  People fled, spent weeks in the bush, and came back to burned out houses and destroyed crops.  A humanitarian crisis of major proportions. 

My friend reported that a couple of the villages received monetary and food aid.  (I don’t know the details and didn’t ask.)  Now, he is working with Lutheran Disaster Response and the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Central African Republic in an accompaniment model project.  That means that the beneficiaries are actively involved in all aspects of the project – from planning, to implementing, to evaluating.  Further, villagers are organized into teams who share tools and work together to make mud bricks and build houses.  Later, as the rains come, they will work together to plant and harvest. 
Most people are thrilled to have the support and anxious to be involved.  These are their villages, their lives.  They like having some control and being active participants.  We hope that in working together, they can rebuild peace and various groups be reconciled to a life that includes respect for those who are different than they are.  We hope, too, that they will all be less willing to destroy houses in the future since they helped build them! 

There are, however, the one or two villages that received “free” aid some time ago.  My friend says they now sit back with their arms crossed and ask for more.  Why aren’t you feeding us as we work?  Why can’t we have houses with tin roofs instead of thatch?  Why can’t you just give us the money? 

They got once (or often, who knows?) so now they sit with their hands (figuratively) out wanting more.  Those who want to do “drive-by” giving often throw money at a problem or give what they think is needed because it can be done quickly and the giver can feel good about having done something.  This is (often intentionally) condescending and paternalistic.  In the long run, I believe it is also harmful to both the giver and the receiver.  The receiver will, sooner or later, become resentful and/or dependent.

I am pleased to say that the people expecting handouts are the minority.  (And, they don’t get what they ask for!  They, too, have to participate to benefit.)  But I think their attitude shows the huge advantage of accompaniment projects as opposed to those which bring materials or food or money and just leave it. 

This situation makes me think of a great poem by Shel Silverstein, “Helping.”  The first examples are
accompaniment (not that he would have called them that).  The teams work together to complete the task and then benefit together.  And then there is Zachary Zugg.

Accompaniment is needed in many situations, not just CAR or strife-torn regions.  How can those of us who have more work with those in need in ways that are respectful, inclusive, and based on the true needs of the “beneficiaries”?  We can also learn and grow, but it demands some time and effort on our parts.  And, initially, we may be viewed as hard-hearted or mean that we won’t just give what we have.  It is worth insisting on accompaniment.  

1 comment:

  1. Well stated, Susan! Thanks for your sharing and insight. Peace from Fargo, ND...Tiffany Sundeen