Continuing this somewhat protracted commentary on the strongly recommended book, When Helping Hurts, we will now see what the authors say about Principles that need to be followed to avoid causing damage to those who are in need.
Relief, Rehabilitation and Development
First, it is important to distinguish between Relief, Rehabilitation and Development. In true crisis (e.g. tsunami) people cannot help themselves and need Relief. After the crisis there is Rehabilitation when people can start to help themselves but need others alongside
Development is about empowering, the point at which great discretion is needed – ‘handouts’ can be very damaging, especially if the reason for needing help is of a person’s own making e.g. through irresponsible living such as alcohol abuse.
At all times we must be careful not to impose our own cultural standards on another person. This is particularly important cross-culturally (internationally) as expectations in two nations differ widely, and to impose one on the other can be damaging and can separate the recipient of help from his community.
Where possible, people themselves should be involved in defining the help needed – they know more about their circumstances than we do so they are the experts. But wisdom must be exercised in not agreeing to all they want.
Paternalism can be very damaging, whether expressed through having more resources, or thinking we have greater knowledge or spiritual maturity. While some of these may be true they often are not! Even if they are true, paternalism is very offensive and needs to be avoided at all costs. Much more healthy is to go into a situation as a learner and be grateful if there is something you can contribute. Managerial paternalism must particularly be avoided. To ‘take over’ for the sake of getting the job done may deny someone the opportunity to be empowered.
A ‘fix it’ attitude
Early in chapter 5 the authors make a provocative statement when assessing need. ‘Starting with a focus on needs amounts to starting a relationship with low-income people by asking them “What is wrong with you? How can I fix you?” …it is difficult to imagine more harmful questions to both low-income people and to ourselves!’ We must avoid a ‘fix it’ attitude, particularly in the majority world.
Asset Based Community Development
ABCD seeks to identify what is already to hand that can be tapped to bring about improvement e.g. ‘What skills do you have?’, ‘What is available in the community?’ It may take longer than giving a handout but the long-term investment by using local skills and resources will pay dividends later.