We had our second team meeting for the Uganda trip two weeks ago and I wanted to share more about the prep work we are doing before our trip. A lot of it is reading and discussing the book we are reading together called, “When Helping Hurts”, which is an in depth look at poverty alleviation and talks about how to do it well (and how not to do it.)
The book talks about 4 main relationships that we experience in the world and we how can experience poverty in all 4 of them (i.e. there are more types of poverty in the world than just material poverty.) Those 4 are: relationship to God, self, others, creation/world/material things.
There are 3 types of aid work: relief (going in days after a hurricane or earthquake), rehabilitation (going in months after a disaster), and development (going on all the time.) Basically the differences are “give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” People who live in poverty are smart, capable, and want the dignity of being able to do honest work to take care of their families. We don’t have to go in to do for them. We want to empower them to take care of themselves. Give a hand up, not a hand out.
When we work in communities with poverty, the most effective method is called “Asset Based Community Development” which means going in and supporting them in what they do well instead of going in and saying “what can’t you do? what needs can’t you meet, we’ll meet them for you.” That’s fine with relief work, but not with rehab and development work. We want to find out what they do well, encourage and empower that, and then they can have the tools to meet their own needs. Sounds a little backwards I know, what we don’t want to teach dependence, we want to help bring about sustainable change.
The book goes on to talk about how to do this kind of work in other countries and also in North America with the history of oppression in our systems that routinely create and maintain poverty levels in certain communities. It’s a hard book to read, super challenging to the ways I always thought I could “go and help” but encouraging at the end with “even though there are a lot of ways to mess up aid work, here are a bunch of ways to do it well and effectively.”
This book is an important guideline that the UWP uses for all of its work. It’s not a manual and they don’t follow it word-for-word, but it is an important read when stepping into development work.