Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Helping Hurts

When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor And Yourself
By Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone interested in truly helping and making a difference in the lives of people affected by one of the manifestations of poverty. It is a very thorough, fair, honest, and at times uncomfortable and very challenging summary of what it means to help someone/a community and how by trying to help you often hurt them and yourself. This doesn't have to be the case. There is another way. This is such good news. But it's not easy and takes a very intentional process. One of my favorite books related to missiology and a 'must-read' for Mission Team and Outreach Team members and really anyone longing to make a sustaining difference. The following will be a long list of some of my favorite, and I believe most helpful, quotes and concepts, mostly verbatim:

Personal piety and formal worship are essential to the Christian life, but they must lead to lives that "act justly and love mercy" (Micah 6:8). 41

The evangelical church's retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not—as many have asserted—to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor. While the rise of government programs may have exacerbated the church's retreat, they were not the primary cause. 45

Table 2.1 p55
If we believe that primary cause of poverty is…then we will primarily try to…
A Lack of Knowledge                   Educate the Poor
Oppression by Powerful People    Work for Social Justice
The personal sins of the poor        Evangelize and disciple the poor
A lack of material resources          give material resources to the poor

3 Relationship Factors into a holistic life: Relationship with God, Self, Others, and with the Rest of Creation. Poverty exists when any one of these three is broken. 57-58

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings. 62

Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. 64

The economically rich often have "god-complexes," a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority. 65

Very central point: one of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich—their god-complexes—and the poverty of being of the economically poor—their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way we act toward the economically poor often communicates—albeit unintentionally—that we are superior and they are inferior. In this process we hurt the poor and ourselves. 65

Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. … Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work. 78

Caucasian evangelicals in the United States, for whom the systems have worked well, are particularly blind to the systemic causes of poverty and are quick to blame the poor for their plight. Evangelicals tend to believe that systemic arguments for poverty amount to shifting blame for personal sin and excusing moral failure. 93

A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. The failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm. 104-105

Relief: the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis; to stop the bleeding; ie the Good Samaritan.
Rehabilitation: seeking to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions; beings when the bleeding stops; key element is to work with the victim as they participate in their own recovery.
Development: the process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved—both the "helpers" and the "helped"—closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation; not done to or for people but with people. 104-105

One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make—by far—is in applying relief situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention. 105

It is helpful for your church or ministry to have a set of benevolence policies in place to guide decision making when working with materially poor people. These policies should flow from your mission and vision and be consistent with a biblical perspective on the nature of poverty and its alleviation. …the reality is that only a small percentage of the poor in your community or around the world require relief; …including the severely disabled, some of the elderly, very young, orphaned children, the mentally ill homeless population, and victims of a natural disaster. 108-109

Avoid paternalism. Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves. 115

Paternalism comes in a variety of forms: Resource Paternalism (pouring financial and other material resources in which the real need is for the local people to steward their own resources); Spiritual Paternalism (we do have much to share out of our knowledge and experiences, but oftentimes the materially poor have an even deeper walk with God and have insights and experiences that they can share with us, if we would just stop talking and listen); Knowledge Paternalism (when we assume that we have all the best ideas about how to do things); Labor Paternalism (occurs when we do work for people that they can do for themselves); Managerial Paternalism (our being prone to take charge, lead, 'produce', and "get something done") 115-119

Consider Assets-Based Community Development (ABCD)…which puts the emphasis on what the materially poor people already have and asks them to consider from the outset, "What is right with you? What gifts has God given you that you can use to improve your life and that of your neighbors? How can the individuals and organizations in your community work together to improve your community? VERSUS Needs-Based Community Development which focuses on what is lacking in the life of a community or person, asking the questions "What is wrong with you? How can I fix you?" 125-126

Poverty alleviation is about reconciling people's relationships, not about putting bandages over particular manifestations of the underlying brokenness. 128

Never lose sight of the goal: reconciling relationships is the essence of poverty alleviation. 130

The North American need for speed undermines the slow process needed for lasting and effective long-run development. 131

Participation is not just a means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right. 145

And while the STM team is in monchonic high gear, the receiving culture is in polychromic mode, working at a slower pace. Getting the job done is less important than being together and getting to know one another. This can quickly cause frustrations for the STM team members, as they watch the seconds tick away while little is getting "done". It is not long before many of us start to look down on our polychromic brothers and sisters, quickly deciding that they are inept or even lazy. And then the paternalism kicks in. We take over and do everything because otherwise it just won't get done, at least not before the two weeks is over, which would be a disaster from the perspective of many STM teams. 168

At a minimum, the principle of participation implies that the community, church, or organization that receives the STM team needs to be the primary entity deciding that should be done, as well as how it should be done. Even more importantly, they need to be the ones requesting the team. 171

Design the trip about "being" and "learning" as much as "doing". Stay in community members' homes and create time to talk and interact with them. Ask local believers to share their insights with team members about who God is and how He works in their lives… 175