Helping Without Hurting

Walking with the Poor, by Bryant Myers

Written by on September 24, 2011 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 1 Comment

I suspect Cambodia would be better off if most of the foreign organizations and people doing development and compassion work left.  Of course, everyone would think they are among the few that should remain.

I’m reading a new book, Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, by Bryant Myers (1999).  I hope it will help answer some questions that I have.

How can I walk alongside the poor in a way that lifts them up, rather than lifting up myself? How can I lead in a way that doesn’t seek control but respects the ability and freedom of the poor to make their own choices for change?  What can I do to support genuine, lasting transformation in individuals, communities, and society?

Who is this for?

In the Foreword, Paul Hiebert says Walking with the Poor is “a masterpiece of integration and application in thinking about Christian ministry.”

Christians have a mixed reputation in development. Frankly, so do non-Christians. Human beings helping others, despite our best intentions, have similar habits of playing god and under-appreciating the abilities of the poor to help themselves, even as we talk about mutual respect and empowerment.

The book is for people …

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Poverty waiting for opportunity

Written by on March 31, 2011 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

I took a group of Japanese to a school in a very poor community. They visited each grade level, sang songs, then asked and answered questions. Each time they asked the kids, “What is your dream for the future?”

A first grader said he dreams of having a job, that’s it, followed by another who said he wants to be a motodop (a motorcycle taxi driver). Several others said they dream of having a factory job. What dreams? I thought. Working in a factory is a hard life: 12 hour days, six days a week, about 60 dollars a month (25 cents an hour). That wage is just enough to survive on, barely.

Some  second graders also mentioned factory jobs, with a couple exceptions, one who wants to be a teacher and another who wants to be an engineer. The third and fourth graders gradually abandoned the factory theme in favor of more stereotypical dream jobs: doctor, lawyer, engineer…

I think the youngest children were  repeating what they overhear their parents and older siblings hoping for–steady if brutal work they can get. The older kids have learned the list of obvious jobs that are supposed to make you rich and …

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Partnership or bust

Written by on October 17, 2010 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

We love to use the words “partner” and “partnership” in cross-cultural and development work, but do people on the other side feel like partners or means to an end? Do we really want partners, or do we want locals to help translate and implement our ideas and projects? We need to honestly ask.

If that catches your attention, see what Vinoth Ramachandra wrote this week.  He’s writing about Christian mission,  but it’s a short step to apply these thoughts to development work as well. Here’s something to wet your taste.

It is troubling that mission has been reduced to what we (the relatively well-off) do in other cultures and places, and does not seem to apply to what the poor can do for us and what we can do for them where we are. Those who live in the poorer South are constantly at the receiving end of “packaged” gospels, discipleship courses, leadership seminars, church-growth “gurus”, even sermons and “worship” DVDs from rich churches abroad. The latter have no desire to learn from others and, ironically, have little impact in their own societies…..

“Partnership” has been a buzz-word…cynics will say that it is simply a disguise for neo-colonial mission. Like

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Are we helping or hurting?

Written by on October 16, 2010 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

I’ve been reading When Helping Hurts, a book about how many international aid and development efforts end up harming the recipients.

This isn’t a new idea, but I think this is the first book to address the issue from a Christian perspective. Christians play a huge role in relief and development work around the world and in their home countries, mostly with the best of intentions, but the sad truth exposed in this book is that many of their efforts have more negative effects than positive ones. The positive message is that we can do better and be part of genuine development and change; but it’s not going to be quick or easy.

[Update: To be clear, negative effects are an issue across the board, not just in Christian aid efforts.]

I had a conversation once with someone who asked why I would criticize well-meaning people. My short answer: Because they hurt other people. I think people who really have good intentions want to know this and change course.

But how can this be? How can professional agencies created to help people in need become complicit in their suffering and injustice? How can a caring student in Texas start …

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What is development?

Written by on July 10, 2010 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

“…development is the gradual emergence of a problem-solving system” (William Easterly)

Development isn’t the same as targeting aid to solve problems. The truth is, when international aid hinders or delays locally initiated and developed solutions, then it is counter-productive to development. International aid needs to work itself out of a job, but will the institutions behind international aid let that happen?

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The lonely international aid critic

Written by on October 22, 2009 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 2 Comments

William Easterley reflects on why critics of AIDS vaccine research are applauded for discovering a fraud, but critics of international aid are like unwelcome guests at a party. Easterley argues that those who say we can end poverty through “simple panaceas” unsupported by the facts are not unlike the researchers who faked their vaccine research.

So why does medicine welcome critics and aid hates them? Perhaps us aid critics are just not as good as the medical critics. Or perhaps it is because we care so much more whether medicine really works than whether aid or military intervention really works?

Drug companies sell cures. What is international aid selling, and to who?

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