Since the earth quake last Tuesday in Haiti, many people have been asking, "what can I do? How can I help?" There are so many ways presented to us- food, blankets, and water, or simply cash. But before we even ask what to give, we need to ask another question all together:
What kind of poverty is this, and how is it different from any other kind?
When Helping Hurts, a book by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett, presents this quite well in the chapter entitled "Not All Poverty is Created Equal".
"A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.
"Relief" can be defined as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from natural or man-made crisis... The key feature of relief is a provider-receiver dynamic in which the provider gives assistance -often material- to the receiver, who is largely incapable of helping himself at that time.
..."Rehabilitation"...seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions. The key feature of rehabilitation is a dynamic of working with the victims as they participate in their own recovery...
"Development" is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved -both the "helpers" and the "helped" -closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. In particular, as the materially poor develop, they are better able to fulfill their calling of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruits of that work. Development is done... with people.
So when we look at the Earth Quake Crisis- or any other situation where there appears to be in need, it is imperative that we evaluate the situation before jumping into action; because, though our motive in wanting to alleviate that need may be right, our solution may not be. And that is how we end up doing more harm than good.
In considering how to help, you may want to evaluate your own resources as well as the long term situation. Funds and volunteers are currently pouring in to help those suffering in Haiti. But what about 6 months, 1 year, 12 years from now, when those who survived are still trying to get back on their feet, begin a successful business, build better schools, or fight corruption? Because although the crisis of the moment cannot be ignored, neither can we toss our money today, and turn our backs tomorrow.