Very often in charity and foreign aid work, we forget that the people to whom charity and aid are given are quite capable, smart and resourceful but are simply caught in difficult situations. I recently had a chance to speak with Mary Dailey Brown, the founder of SowHope. She shared with me her organization’s method of meeting with the leaders of villages and areas that SowHope is interested in helping, listening to what they have done and wish to do, before SowHope makes any suggestions. In this way, SowHope follows the lead of those who know what is needed and what assets are already in place, rather than coming in and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do for you.”

The poor are poor. They are not lacking in dignity or capability. Latifah Kiribedda from Uganda, has written a compelling paper entitled, “When Helping Really Helps: How to Effectively Help Without Hurting the Poor at the Bottom of the Pyramid in Developing Countries“, while a student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She outlines seven principles she believes should guide development work while preserving the dignity of the poor.

  1. Be aware of the global view held by the people in the local community, it can heavily influence their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty.
  2. Address underlying factors that perpetuate poverty.
  3. Before you offer help in a local community, evaluate whether it is relief, rehabilitation or development aid.
  4. Be cautious of the “Savior Mentality”.
  5. Start with the assets and not just what is lacking in the community.
  6. Ensure that the local people are active and full participants in the planning, designing, implementation and evaluation of the projects.
  7. Build relationships that can forge trust between you and the local people in the community you intend to help.

Kiribedda states, “The people are the number one resource, not money. When people are empowered as full participants in the process, they can teach others, improve existing structures, and expand the momentum of what they want to see in their community.” Viewing the poor as fully capable peers in development instead of mere recipients of charity will not only give appreciation to their dignity as God’s children, but allow their voices to take the lead in the progress to alleviate poverty.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

  • SuchindranathAiyer

    The worst crime on this planet is preventing the unfolding of human potential.