Helping or Hurting?

When I returned home from Haiti after my first trip in March 2010, I was actually angry. I thought we were going to help the people of Haiti; it felt as if we were only making things worse. We gave out over 650 pairs of shoes 10,000 granola bars, over 200 basketballs and over 1,000 articles of clothing. We were very excited about being able to do provide for what we had been told were the less fortunate or “the least of these.”

However, it was quite a frustrating experience. There was a behavior – a learned helplessness – that was pervasive throughout the community that we were in. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was not something that I wanted to be part of. What we initially thought was “doing good” seemed to only be making matters worse. I felt that we were part of something that was making matters worse; we were exacerbating a deeper problem.

When I returned home from my first trip to Haiti, I ran into a friend who is also a missions pastor. He asked me how the trip was and what I thought of my experience. I told him that it was a good experience for me personally, but that I was really frustrated.

“I think we made things worse,” I said.

My friend wrinkled his face and asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well, I feel like I made things worse in Haiti than they already are. The people of Haiti, at least the ones that we were working with, are very dependent upon Americans and other people from outside their country. I feel we made it worse by just giving things away,” I shared.

His expression of concern turned to understanding with a smile. “Follow me.”

As I followed him I explained how my team and I discussed all week while in Haiti that we needed to find a way for Haitians to help themselves and that we needed to find ways to, as Benjamin Franklin so aptly stated, “teach them to fish instead of giving them fish.” My friend’s smile got even bigger as we reached his destination. He grabbed a book off of a shelf and handed it to me.

“Read this,” he said, “it will help you work through what it is that you are working through.”

The book, When Helping Hurts, changed the way that I look at the world. I remember thinking as I was reading the first few chapters “Yes! This is exactly right. This is how I have been feeling and I need to do something about it.”

The book’s authors ask many thought-provoking questions and provide so many ideas that it’s hard to summarize them in one blog post. The impact on me and how I approach not just the Hoops for Haiti organization, but my business, my relationships and the how those fit into a global context, was dramatic.

If I had to pick one topic or idea that has had the most powerful impact on me is that we – all of us, whether from a “wealthy” or “poor” country – are broken. We’re just broken in different ways. My experiences in Haiti coupled with reading When Helping Hurts and other books have taught me so much. But the main lesson is this:

I’m just one beggar trying to tell other beggars where the bread is.

I just happen to be doing in from Haiti right now.

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