NOTE: This is a guest post from Compassion Canada.
Most of us want to help others, but we have our doubts. Does the money we give really reach that kid in the picture? Do our gifts actually make a difference? Or is our generosity just more money thrown on the pile of “bad aid”?
Historically, a lot of aid has been more of a Band-Aid — a temporary fix that didn’t really change anyone’s situation, and in some cases made it even worse. But that doesn’t mean our generosity is doomed. The development community has learned a lot over the decades about how we can do good better. Here are a few things we’ve learned at Compassion.
In the past, a lot of aid has been top-down — someone from the outside telling people what they need. One of the saddest examples of this is clothing donations to Africa. For decades, donated clothing flooded the African market, and as a result, more than 500,000 textile workers in Nigeria lost their jobs.
You can’t compete with free. Africa didn’t need T-shirts. It needed jobs. That’s why a key to helping others is local ownership. The community must be a partner in determining what its needs are and what needs to change. And when the people being helped are the ones helping make decisions, they become empowered, realizing they can change their situation.
In Niligiri, India, most dads are farmers. But as tourism becomes more and more popular, agricultural land is giving way to hotels. Fathers are losing their jobs and have no way to feed their children. One local church has seen this problem and is doing something to help. Although field hands are in less demand, tourism has put drivers in great demand. Through partnership with Compassion (all of Compassion’s programs are run through local churches who know the needs of their community) this church is offering access to driver’s education and licensing.
Now, instead of just a hand-out, fathers like Muralidharan K.R. are finding a way to support their families. “I had suffered a lot to fulfill my family’s needs and take care of our children,” he says. “But now I can achieve financial stability, as it is a permanent source of income.”
Another question to ask regarding aid is whether or not it’s sustainable long-term. In 2008, rising food prices caused a global food crisis, causing millions of children to become malnourished. In this emergency situation, bags of rice and beans were distributed. But what happens when the rice runs out? What about the next time there’s a drought or a price hike?
Emergency relief is necessary, but we have to also ask what we can do that is sustainable long-term and will help people become self-sufficient. Sometimes it’s the less tangible things that are really needed — things like training and education — to provide long-term solutions.
The town of Chajul sits in the mountains of northwest Guatemala. The people here are from a small Mayan tribe and survive by planting corn, but the over-abundance of corn lowers the price they can get and leads to malnourished children who eat a diet of only corn and beans. A whopping three out of every four children in Chajul are malnourished, but one of Compassion’s church partners is taking steps to change this through education. Gaspar is a nine-year-old who is sponsored through Compassion. This year, he’s learning how to plant tomatoes. He’ll be able to eat a more balanced diet, and they can sell the extra tomatoes at the market for a good price. Through skills training, families can learn long-term ways to feed themselves and earn money.
Something else is needed besides skills training. To break the cycle of poverty, you need a whole life transformation. The heart of poverty isn’t just a lack of money. The heart of poverty is a lie that whispers to people that they’re nothing and they might as well give up.
At Compassion, our mission is to replace that voice with the truth of their value in God’s eyes. When a child or a mom or dad learns that there is a God who loves them and has a plan for their lives, it changes everything. They move from hopelessness to hope. We’ve seen dads give up drinking and start taking care of their children. We’ve seen kids forsake gangs and begin tutoring other children. We’ve seen moms gain the self-esteem to change their family’s hopeless situation.
At Compassion, we’re constantly learning how to improve our programs so we can bring life-saving help to children in need along with the live-giving message of God’s love.
Photo courtesy of Compassion Canada.