“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.”
Although our media-driven culture constantly places shocking images or words in front of us, this quote from a man or woman in Uganda emphasizes aspects of poverty that often merit less attention in North America. I am familiar with the need for food and clothing among people living in poverty, but hear less about what it is like to experience feelings of inferiority and being voiceless. What can we do so that this person has access to food and clothing as well as a sense of being heard in her community?
When Helping Hurts, the book where I found the above quote, strives to help North Americans answer this question, and its underlying questions, well. Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, the authors of this book, taught me an invaluable lesson about perspective. The quote at the beginning of this post does mention physical needs, but it, along with many others that Fikkert and Corbett use, demonstrate that when asked about what poverty is, many of the poor talk about psychological and social issues. In other words, poverty is deeper than its physical manifestations. However, when asked about the same topic, North Americans often refer to having less material things. Fikkert and Corbett go on to talk about how this lack of continuity in thinking damages the ability of wealthier North Americans to truly help those living in poverty. The authors emphasize the need for healing in relationships in order to bring about restoration and poverty alleviation.
Additionally, North Americans often perceive the poor as inferior. This can result in working for the poor instead of with them. They advise, “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.” The authors teach readers to combat this mentality of working “for” instead of “with” by using tools like asset-based community development. When beginning an aid project, a group often does a needs assessment, which essentially asks, “What is wrong?” Instead, an asset-based community development model asks, “What is right?” In other words, this method starts by asking what is good in a community that can be used to help solve whatever problems they currently face.
When I think about what I learned over the past month by interning at Mocha Club, the most important thing that comes to mind links perfectly to what I’ve learned from When Helping Hurts: Work with, not for, the people you aid. I love that the staff constantly communicates with African leaders about how to run the programs currently operating in multiple African countries. We partner with them to help their visions succeed. I think we’re part of helping, not hurting, this world, and I’m thankful to watch and participate in this work.