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Monday, September 12, 2011
This is a really good column by the son of Nate Saint, who was killed by the Waodani along with Jim Elliot and other missionaries in 1956. For more good reading on this subject, check out When Helping Hurts.
Often charity to help the poor attracts more people into poverty. One example I have noticed takes place when North Americans try to care for the needs of orphans in cultures different from our own. If you build really nice orphanages and provide good food and a great education, lots more children in those places become orphans. I see this happen all over. When we attempt to eradicate poverty through charity, we often attract more people into “needing” charity. It is possible to create need where it did not exist by projecting our standards, values and perception of need onto others.
So what is poverty? We in the “Wealthy West” have little understanding of “poverty.” As our standard of living has risen in developed countries, our perception of poverty has changed.
Consider how our definition of an orphan is different from most other cultures. In the U.S., you are an orphan if your mother and father have died. In South America (where I grew up), as in other contexts where extended family structures are intact, you are not really considered an orphan as long as you have a living grandparent, uncle, aunt or older brother or sister who is capable of helping take care of you. So when North Americans build an orphanage in South America, we “create” orphans by tempting family members to take advantage of our well-intentioned largess. This is seldom in the best interest of those children who are “orphaned” by our desire to meet what we perceive as their need.