Saturday, June 26, 2010

When Helping Hurts

Walking through Kampala on Thursday sparked a conflict in me that has always been there but just got more pronounced. I walked by two men both sitting on the ground, both without legs. They had their hand out. No question in anyone's mind, they were begging. I have often walked by situations like that without a glance. My heart was torn by the disparity of my life. I was walking by with four bottles of soda for my family to enjoy for our family night together along with well over one million shillings, a small portion of our monthly salary but far beyond a years wages here in Uganda.

I had no doubt I would encounter this dilemma but it has been compounded by a book suggested to me by both Keith McFarland (principal of the Institute of Childcare and Family) and Jonnes Bakimi (co-director of New Hope Uganda). It is called "When Helping Hurts-How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself" by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. I understand that material poverty is not the only poverty and in fact, as a westerner, I struggle with, what they would call, "poverty of being." Essentially a "god complex." Admittedly, my heart can think, if I have money or possessions, I can alleviate this person's problems because all they need is a little financial boost and their life will be better. When, in fact, I don't have a clue what they need. Does that excuse my need to get involved? On the contrary, it forces me to get further involved.

I haven't gotten all the way through the book but am only 1/3 through but facing the paradox in my life and situation. How do I help? Truly help without going deeper into poverty myself or sending someone else deeper into poverty. There is no question I must help and especially help the poor and needy but how? My favorite interrogative. How?

Case and point: a young boy from the village came to ask for any small job I might have. I gave him some work and he worked very hard for over an hour. When he was done, I asked him to take the tools to the shed. I kept an eye on him since I didn't know him very well. Unfortunately, he came out with my machete, walked over to one of our fruit trees and cut down a rather large fruit, went into the bushes and began to eat it. I was very disappointed and went out to talk with him about his hard work, the fairness of my wages I had already paid him, about trust and relationship, and about stealing. Poverty. I have it. He has it. Just in different ways. How do I alleviate poverty without hurting both of us. Any ideas are welcome...
Only by God's grace, Tim

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