Helping the Poor without Hurting Them: A Primer


Lyndy Zabel, Director of Community Development for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church recently included this topic in his monthly newsletter.

Most people I know want to help those who are less fortunate. But with so many options, the question becomes “how?” Most organizations claim to be good causes. But it is good to think about what, where, why, and to whom we give. More specifically, how do we give to people without actually hurting them or ourselves? Here’s three things to consider:

  1. First, we can never go wrong giving urgent and temporary emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from natural or human-made crisis, such as survivors of floods, hurricanes, etc. Likewise with the truly vulnerable, such as the severely disabled, young orphans, the starving, sick, and the mentally ill homeless population.
  2. Secondly, after giving emergency aid, we should seek to support causes that help people help themselves. The receivers all have resources, knowledge, skills, time, and abilities just like us. Do our gifts acknowledge and compliment them? Do they help others build up from the assets they already possess? An example of this kind of gift would be giving a student scholarship to a girl in an impoverished country.
  3. Thirdly, material poverty alleviation usually involves empowering people to EARN sufficient material things through their own labor. Examples of this kind of gift are vocational training or micro-loans.

These are the teaching points that Helping Haiti Work attempts to follow. We provide the materials for Haitian seamstresses to construct a needed product (reusable menstrual pad kits), utilize the cultural knowledge of our seamstresses to educate young women about reproductive health and provide women with small business loans so that they can grow their business and better support their families.