September 6, 2016
By Kristen Johnson
Proverbs 14:31 (NRSV): Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him.
The Bible is filled with verses about our requirement to serve our neighbors, to take care of the needy, the disadvantaged, and the poor. But, the big question is – how do we best take care of the world’s poor?
I just finished watching a fabulous documentary called Poverty, Inc. The premise of the movie is that Western nations can and should help the developing world, but the way in which we are “helping” is doing more harm than good. When we provide free goods and services, we put local business completely out of business because they can’t possibly compete with free goods. We also lend the poor a defeatist position in that offering free goods, housing, etc. perpetuates the situation and does not allow for local people to assist in making their own way, which is clearly what they want to do. People do not want to live on aid from Western nations forever – they want autonomy and the ability to build and grow businesses of their own.
This notion of “harmful” aid is not new to me. It’s been a common theme in some of my recent United Methodist Women publications and recommended books. Thinking about the best ways to encourage growth in impoverished nations and even in impoverished neighborhoods right here in the US, I think that the best solution is to “partner” with people, as suggested in the documentary. Humanitarian aid is obviously desperately needed in some areas of the world. But, after that aid is provided, it is then time to provide much-needed aid to build local economies – and that comes with partnership. It’s sort of like the mantra: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. In keeping with this spirit of feeding a man to fish, I have several organizations to recommend that follow this idea that my household currently supports:
- Plant with Purpose: This is a local (San Diego) non-profit.They work on extreme poverty by helping the environment. They plant trees to prevent deforestation in areas of extreme poverty, and they also provide communities with micro-finance loans as well as providing training in financial development and small business management. In addition, they work with local leaders and families to train and empower them to better their own situations and build up their own communities.(https://www.plantwithpurpose.org)
- KIVA: This wonderful organization provides loans for people all over the world to build their own businesses, pay for schooling, provide access to clean energy, and to improve their situations. Because the funds are loans, and not donations, people are provided a way to start businesses with dignity. An additional incentive is that people in poverty can avoid dealing with banks where they are often turned away, or subjected to oppressive lending practices. (www.Kiva.org)
- Sewing Hope: Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe started this organization in Uganda and South Sudan to assist female victims of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). They use soda can tabs (yes they will take your tab donations in the local US office!!) to make handbags and other items for resale. The schools Sister Nyirumbe has started in Uganda have provided schooling and self-sufficiency through sewing training for the residents.(www.sewinghope.com)
- Bead For Life: Similar to Sewing Hope, this organization provides women in Uganda with skills to become entrepreneurs, through the use of their “Street Business School.” The women become skilled artisans and are then able to become self sufficient. We can buy their goods online. 98% of the children of these women are in school and 81% of the women who have started businesses have kept their businesses open after 2 years. (www.beadforlife.org)
There are many other worthy organizations, but this list is a good start.
Romans 4:4 (NRSV): Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
It’s time to serve. It’s time to build relationships. It’s time to help the poor in the very best way we can.
Serve all with love.
Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io