Friday, May 14, 2010

When Helping Hurts Part 5: Crisis?

What is the proper response to each of these situations?

1. An inner city American neighborhood. High crime. Poor nutrition. Few jobs. Overall feeling of being trapped.

2. Small island nation suffers devastating earthquake. Much of the little infrastructure that did exist is destroyed. General stability is mostly restored, but damage is ubiquitous.

3. American city hit by historic hurricane. Extensive wind and flood damage. Waters are yet to recede and thousands are without access to clean drinking water, health supplies, and stable supply of food.

For many of us, each of these situations would elicit the same response, to provide aid in the form of relief. A relief response is one that seeks to directly meet the basic needs of the affected population. So if food is needed, we send food. If water, send water. If medical help, send doctors. The vast majority of poverty alleviation efforts pursued by North Americans are ones of relief.

And while sometimes necessary and most-certainly they can be great acts of self sacrifice, I would argue that relief is very rarely the best response to poverty. Further, Americans are particularly quick to jump to the relief option because of our material definition of poverty (see post 2).

There are basically three ways all poverty alleviation can be classified: relief, rehabilitation, and development.

However, don't take these as hard and fast rules, if someone downtown asks you for some change, I'm quite confident you won't get to Heaven and find God confronting you for "giving too much money to crackheads" (to borrow a line from Shane Claiborne). On that note, remember we're people who have been given grace that we in no way (by definition) deserve and often fail to be grateful for AND often misuse. But anyways . . .

So relief, rehabilitation, and development.

In brief, relief is ideally a seldom, immediate, and temporary response to a crisis at hand. In my above scenarios, only the hurricane recovery would be an appropriate time for relief efforts. Relief is intended to provide for immediate needs in what could become a life-or-death situation. That's it. And once the immediate threat is gone, relief efforts should be transitioned into . . .

Rehabilitation is what comes after relief. It seeks to return an area to what it was before a disaster struck. The earthquake situation from above would be an appropriate context for rehabilitation.

These two options will almost exclusively be used to counteract some sort of natural, social, or political disaster. But all of them should lead to the third type, which is development.

Development is the best goal of poverty alleviation efforts. It takes longer. Its more complicated. Its more difficult. And its a heck of a lot harder to raise funds to do. But it works!

Development is "a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved--both the "helpers" and the "helped"--closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation."

Prepositions are important. Development is not done to someone, nor is it done for them, but rather it happens with them. Development requires considering the best, long-term option for all parties involved and not just for their physical or economic well being, but also for their humanness, for their dignity, and for what it would take to truly love them.

Development also works best when it is asset based, basically meaning, poverty alleviation efforts work best when the skills, gifts, and abilities that already exist in the neighborhood, town, or village are considered rather than bringing in extensive outside supports.

I won't get any further into the nitty-gritty of how this works, but the book does, so please go read it if you're interested. But on the practical level, I would say this, if you or your church is involved in relief or rehabilitation efforts don't pull back from them, but rather ask, "How can we do these in a developmental way?"

Do you serve meals to the homeless? Great, now what would it look like to involve the impacted population in the task? Could they help prepare the meal? Do you get to know them? Do they know you?

Are you going to New Orleans for hurricane rebuilding? Wonderful. Carefully choose the group you go with and when you're there, be a learner. Ask about the long-term plans for rebuilding, find out how you can continue to be involved, and if you meet people remember they are a million times more important than any "project."


Dan&Van said...

Thanks for these posts, Marc. Helps to understand the ideas behind the actions...I've been wanting to read a good beginner's book on poverty...looks like When Helping Hurts might be a good choice.

Marc Nettleton said...

You can borrow my copy in a couple days!