Recently, I’ve had the opportunity in my job to read a lot about development. After all, development is what Compassion is about. We don’t want to give a handout; we want to do the things that will truly help a child become a self-sustaining, responsible adult.
And although you might not think that theories of international development have much to do with you, they certainly do.
We are compassionate and generous people, and when we hear about a need, we want to help! We want to do something! But our first reactions of how to help may not necessarily be the best ways in which we can help. So understanding how development happens is vital as we seek to do good in this world.
Here are a few things I’ve learned …
At Compassion we want to foster development, not dependence. We want to see long-term change so we don’t focus on shorter-term solutions, like food distributions.
Instead, we focus on on equipping children and partners with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes they need to take control of their own lives.
Ways we can foster development, not dependence are:
Allowing children and our partners to be active in shaping their futures, not passive receivers.
Childhood experiences teach children how they view themselves, and we can teach them to reflect on their experiences to learn how they can change their circumstances.
Limiting what is given away.
Even the poorest of the poor have much to give, such as time and energy. When we focus on just giving to the poor, we undermine what they already have to give rather than empowering them to seek solutions.
Do not do for others what they can do for themselves.
When we try to help a child or a family by doing something for them that they were capable of doing, it pulls the rug out from under them, in a way, sending a subtle message that they aren’t capable. Sweat equity is a great example — give people the opportunity to give what they’ve got to better their lives.
Focusing on partnership.
Relationships are two-way, not one-way. We aren’t the noble benefactors bending down to the helpless poor.
Our partners in the developing world have so much to offer. It’s not a relationship of givers and takers. We must treat and view them truly as partners, not as a means to an end. They aren’t just our outlet for a mission trip or a good story for our do-gooding release. They are people and partners.
Enable local ownership.
If you start a child development center in a community without a local understanding or vision, most likely it will fail. Local ownership is key in successful development.
Think of your own backyard. If a Belgian group came in and told you, “We really think you need to put in these new fancy water pumps, and we’re going to do it,” what would you think? (“Who are these weird Belgians and why are they telling me what to do?” is what I would think …)
Therefore, we have to develop initiatives jointly. Give communities an opportunity to have ownership by allowing them to be deeply involved in developing any engagement. They know their communities; they know their needs; they know their challenges.
So if you travel to see Compassion’s work, please go with an open heart, spend time finding out what our partners’ visions and dreams are. Maybe you want to help build toilets or a church building, but maybe that’s not what they need the most.
Come alongside and partner with them. Be a part of their passion and vision for their communities.
This was originally published on July 24, 2009