lightmagazine.ca Last month The Light Magazine explored how short-term missions can appropriately serve the group they intend to help. This month, we examine some of the unintended consequences of North American giving, as well as some ministries that are doing community development work well.
From paternalism to partnership In the documentary Where’s my goat?, director Christopher Richardson journeys to Zambia to track down a goat his company bought a third world family. The director brings a light touch to a heavy theme: how the best of the West’s intentions to benefit those in the ‘majority world’ are often interpreted very differently by the recipients of that charity.
life, to be a person of significance, to feel like I have pursued a noble cause … to be a bit like God.” Fikkert concludes, “Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with lowincome people is likely to do far more harm than good,” The good news is that, as always with God, there is another choice. And some groups are trying to get it right.
When helping hurts Are North Americans addicted to “By focusing on symptoms rather than on the high of giving? the underlying disease, we are often hurting “For sure,” says Ben Hoogendoorn, the very people we are trying to help. Surpris- president/CEO of FH (Food for the Hungry) ingly, we are also hurting ourselves in the Canada. “It’s about stuff. Easiest thing in the process,” writes John Perkins in the Foreword world to do, just to give stuff.” to When Helping Hurts. “As followers of Jesus Christ, we simply must do better.” The authors of the book, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, conclude that North American Christians, as the “richest people ever to walk the face of the earth,” are often using methods that are “exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.” While North Americans usually focus on the material lack in ‘poor’ ting nations, the authors contend that mony, celebra re ce g in en p anda O poverty has more to do with broBusekera Rw . ship with FH er ken relationships. For people to be a new partn whole and wealthy, they must be fully “Sustainable community development functioning in four building blocks for all of is actually quite boring,” adds Hoogendoorn, life – their relationships with their Creator, who has worked for FH Canada for over a themselves, each other and the rest of credecade. “Because you’re there a long time, and ation: “If we reduce human beings to simply progress can be very, very slow. But the results physical – as Western thought is prone to do at the end are very exciting.” – our poverty-alleviation efforts will focus on FH’s motto is “to walk with churches, material solutions. But if we remember that leaders and families in overcoming all forms humans are spiritual, social, psychological and of human poverty by living in healthy relationphysical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts ship with God and His creation.” will be more holistic.” Many of their programs begin in a relief or By focusing on material needs, Fikkert crisis situation, but then the government asks proposes that North American Christians are FH to stay and help with development. “You simply feeding their “god-complex … a subtle have to transition from relief into rehabilitaand unconscious sense of superiority in which tion, and then into long-term development,” they believe that they have achieved their says Hoogendoorn. “Most of the time, the staff wealth through their own efforts and that they we have working in relief we can’t have workhave been anointed to decide what is best for ing for us in development, because they are of low-income people.” the mindset that they want to continue to give “We are often deceived by Satan and by our things.” sinful natures,” writes Fikkert. “Part of what What’s needed in North American givers is motivates me to help the poor is my felt need a “cultural shift, a whole paradigm shift,” says to accomplish something worthwhile with my Hoogendoorn. “If we see pictures on televi-
sion with starving children, it must mean they don’t have enough money, so we should just give them money.” “Now that is partly true, because if people are starving, then they do need something. But you can’t just leave it at that. What happens tomorrow, next week, next year? If you’re going to see a situation and throw money at it, then you’re going to continue to do that until the end of time. You have to go back and find the root cause.”
by Tobi Elliott
forever, so every community we go into, there’s an exit strategy.” Sometimes FH’s approach results in the agency being turned down by communities that are used to accepting aid and financial support. “We do not want to engage with a community unless there’s a total buy-in from their leadership,” stresses Hoogendoorn. “They’re ultimately responsible for seeing growth and progress.” Of FH’s 2,000 staff, 96 percent are nationals. Another organization that emphasizes Partnership: “walking with”, not “do- partnership is MCC. Phil Schafran, the Mening for” nonite Christian Committee’s director of Hoogendoorn pointed to the definition of Resource Development and Communications, paternalism: doing something for says their approach to development is to build relationship. “We try to work with local partners, so we’re not bringing in a Canadian agenda or solution to their local issue. We’re trying to find trustworthy reliable partners that we can have a longterm relationship with. Similar to FH, they ask their local partners what they need help with. “We want to build their capacity, we want to strengthen Cubi Rwanda them, we want them to take the Graduation ce lebration leadership in the project,” says people they are able to do Schafran. “I think we recognize that themselves, which creates dependency, not money is power and whenever you’re bringing thriving sustainable communities. money into the equation, the person bringFH’s approach emphasizes “walking with” ing the money has the power, so you have to rather than “doing for,” allowing the commumitigate that power. So rather than saying, ‘we nity to develop its own model of a preferred have the money, we’ll make the decisions, we’ll future. This means that instead of pouring in tell you what to do,’ we’ll listen to them.” funding, FH staff work with the community to identify the root cause that is keeping it from Tobi Elliott, a 30-something writer from Abbotshealth and sustainability. ford is interested in your feedback. Contact her In the case of one community in Uganda, at firstname.lastname@example.org it was a belief that they had been cursed with poverty for generations. FH staff “started Recommended reading: to tell them that they were created in God’s When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate image, that they did have value, that He had poverty without hurting the poor and a purpose for them and it was not God’s plan yourself, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett that they should be like this,” relates Hoogen(Moody, 2009). doorn. “That community graduated with unbelievable results, after 11 years.” Editor’s Note: please note in last month’s article They have graduated 34 communites since Short Term Missions by Tobi Elliott, we incor1994, the latest being the village of Cubi, rectly reported Phil Schafran’s position with Rwanda. “Our brand promise is to graduate MCC. He is the Director of Resource Developcommunities after 10 years,” said Hoogenment and Communications. doorn. “We don’t want to be in a community