Foster Development, Not Dependence

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.

foster development

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

20 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Deanna October 8, 2017

    I gave a family gift a couple of months after my sponsorship began. If you read about your child on your account, it will tell which is the coldest month, the hungry month, the harvest month, etc. This was what prompted me to send the family gift when I did. I just recently received a letter and pictures about what was purchased with that gift: clothes & shoes for the entire family, a tall set of plastic drawers (to store the clothes in I guess), and some ladles for the kitchen. What a blessing for me to be able to not only provide this basic need but also to know how it must have raised their spirits & given them hope to be able to put on these nice new clothes & shoes. I was very humbled to see the picture.

  2. Tristin February 20, 2016

    This post has definitely given me light to a different way of thinking. I think that sometimes we try to give to the less fortunate and are not thinking about the things that they may also have to give, just not from a financial standpoint. We must be open-minded as to what they have to offer to make them feel important or a part of the process as well. For example, instead of giving money to someone we could instead invite them to complete a work involved task in exchange for money. This may in turn, make the receiver more appreciative at the approach the giver took at making this possible. Although there are multiple ways to look at this, the best thing to consider when giving is to do so with a loving and kind heart. After all, that is the most important thing. As a teacher with plenty of experience in being kind, I can honestly say that a little does go a long way. 🙂

  3. Chak February 28, 2015

    Thanks Amber! Great sharing!

  4. Jimmy Wambua June 10, 2010

    Thanks Amber!
    Well put! I learned how to think not what to think and this became possible because the sponsorship came alongside me and nurtured my vision to become independent.

  5. Kees Boer August 3, 2009

    Amber, this is a great post. I have to say that having been in Holland, I was almost suprised that you didn’t threw in an inside joke of the Belgiums wanting to put up a French Fries stand! (The Dutch and Belgiums tell jokes about each other)

    I have thought about this quite a bit. I’m hoping to stay in touch with my sponsored children after they graduate. Having thought about that, I have thought too about what if the formerly sponsored child or adult now would come back to me and ask for money. I want them to be able to support themselves. It’s great post.


  6. Amy Wallace July 26, 2009

    Great post, Amber!

  7. Dana Young July 26, 2009

    I love fostering developement not dependence. This I am sure is a blessing to our sponsorees as well. Feeling like they are pulling their families out of poverty and not feeling helpless by constant handouts. I’m this is good for their self-image as well.

  8. Sara Benson July 25, 2009

    Thank you for writing this post Amber! I am going to be meeting my some kids in about a week and reading this gave me a bunch of ideas of what to talk about with the project workers and families.

  9. Sara F. July 25, 2009

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. I appreciate your thoughts. So far we have heard from 2 families, and they did use the money for practical items like a bed, mosquito nets, and food supplies. I am very glad that Compassion works with them to decide where the money can best be used.

  10. Judith Tremblay July 24, 2009

    @Sara F. – I, too, am a relatively new sponsor (just coming up on a year) and I did send a small family gift back in March. I don’t know what they did with the money yet…letters have been taking a while. But as for waiting until a need is expressed: what I’m wondering is, will we even know whether there is a need? Is it something that the children/families would mention?

  11. Joyce July 24, 2009

    Sara, I don’t believe you should wait until a need is expressed before giving a family gift. In 7 years as a sponsor, none of the 5 children or teenagers we have sponsored has ever mentioned a need. But when we send family gifts, once or twice a year, it is clear in their thank-you letters that the gifts met a real need, such as buying concrete to repair a home. They and their families are so grateful for your basic sponsorship, I just don’t think they would presume to ask for more.

  12. Steve Williams July 24, 2009

    I agree 100%. This “development” you speak of was observed in action and understood by me when I was on the 2008 Ethiopia Sponsor Tour. I noticed how all of the Student Center leaders and workers were natives, from the neighborhood. Our sponsored children are being taught by their own people, not by us foreigners who might just try to turn them into little americans. Whole communities are being established for future generations because of the wonderful work of Compassion sponsors. Yeah!

  13. Cheryl J July 24, 2009

    Thanks, Amber. That was so well-put. I have been thinking lately about the fact that this is a two-way street. This isn’t about us getting our do-gooding in by sponsoring these kids. We are to be a blessing to each other. I love to ask them to pray for me when I need it.

    To Sara – likely your children will not express needs. Giving a family gift is a great idea. You can tell from what they spend it on how much it is needed. The father of one of my kids spent the family gifts I sent on animals – a cow, a goat, chickens and ducks. I feel like he knew what he needed to do for his family, he just didn’t have the means. He just needed a chance. But they never said what they needed. I only found that out after the fact.

  14. Dwight July 24, 2009

    I doubt the family will ask for a gift. I have even asked in my letters does the family…have any specific needs. I get vague answers. Culturally I think it’s difficult for them to ask for more. I try and send a family gift each fall so it arrives around Christmas. I have found they always buy very practical things for the family like clothing and food. The ability for all the family members to buy a new piece of clothing is not life and death but I think emotionally encouraging. If you sent $100 every month that could create dependency but if you send a gift once a year for a birthday and a family gift in the fall around Christmas or before school starts…that’s encouraging and showing your concern and love for the family. We give our kids birthday gifts and back to school clothing…. Done in moderation giving a gift is a way to show you care. Families in poverty need encouragement more than money but a new pair of pants… and some food will lift their day.
    Why do American women buy so many shoes…it’s a mystery to me…but it brings a little joy to them so it’s not really all the bad.

  15. Amber Van Schooneveld July 24, 2009

    Hi Sarah, Great question! What typically happens when a family gift is given is that the project staff will sit down with the family and determine with them how it can best be used based on the family’s greatest needs. They also sometimes try to find gifts that can become income-generating, like a sewing machine or chickens. So, in this way, family gifts for unspecified needs can help families to become more self-sustaining long term and the family is involved in determining how best to help themselves.

  16. Vicki Small July 24, 2009

    Good explanation, Amber. Thanks.

  17. Sara F. July 24, 2009

    Very well said! It reminds me of the saying that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. I think that in seeking to allow the “man” to be part of the process of deciding what he needs (maybe he’s a farmer rather than a fisherman at heart) it takes that one step further.

    Do you have thoughts on family gifts? My family gave our families each one this year in honor of Easter. I was so excited about giving it, that I really didn’t think about any expressed need. We were are relatively newer sponsors and haven’t been in contact long enough to know the families really well. Should family gifts only be given when a need is expressed? What do you suggest?

  18. Mike Stephens July 24, 2009

    It is hard to put into words development and measure it b/c it has so many facets

  19. Chuck Guth July 24, 2009

    Amber- very insightful and well said!

  20. Caitlin July 24, 2009

    Very well done. Thanks for the insight, Amber!

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